Monday, November 15, 2010

Common Objection #13- "If Jesus really performed miracles and rose from the dead, we would have more historical records referring to Him."

I believe this to be a fair question for those who are inquiring about the historical Jesus. As a sincere reader recently challenged:

"If these sorts of things really did happen on such large scales we would expect a myriad of eye witness testimonies and outside biblical reports around that time frame, but outside the bible, we don’t find any."

I believe Dr. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona offer a satisfactory answer to this point in their book The Case for the Resurrection:

"In the first century, people did not have access to all of our convenient ways to record and preserve the facts about events. Further, we know that much of what was recorded in the past has been lost. New Testament Scholar Craig Blomberg , who served as an editor for and contributor to a large scholarly work on the Gospels, provides four reasons why more was not written on Jesus in his time: "the humble beginnings of Christianity, the remote location of Palestine on the eastern frontiers of the Roman empire, the small percentage of the works of ancient Graeco-Roman historians which have survived, and the lack of attention paid by those which are extant to Jewish figures in general." We know that about half of what the Roman historian Tacitus wrote is no longer available. Only a fragment of what Thallus wrote in the first century about ancient Mediterranean history has survived. Suetonius is aware of the writings of Asclepiades of Mendes, yet, his writings are no longer available. Herod the Great's secretary. Nicholas of Damascus, wrote Universal History in 144 books, none of which have survived. Livy, the great Roman historian, has suffered a similar fate. Only his early books and excerpts of the rest survive.

We also know of several early Christian writings that are no longer available. For example, an influential church leader of the early part of the second century named Papias wrote five books that are quoted by several early church fathers. However, none of these books have survived. Only a few citations and slight summary information remain. Quadratus was a Christian leader who wrote a defense of the Christian faith to the Roman Emperor Hadrain around 125. However, if Eusebius had not quoted a paragraph and mentioned his work, we would be totally unaware of its composition. The five books of Recollections, written by Hegesippus in the second century, have likewise been lost. Only fragments have been preserved, mostly by Eusebius.

What we have concerning Jesus actually is impressive. We can start with approximately nine traditional authors of the New Testament. If we consider the critical thesis that other authors wrote the pastoral letters and such letters as Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians, we'd have an even larger number. Another twenty early Christian authors and four heretical writings mention Jesus within 15o years of his death on the cross. Moreover, nine secular, non-Christian sources mention Jesus with the 150 years: Josephus, the Jewish historian; Tacitus, the Roman historian; Pliny the Younger, a politician of Rome; Phlegon, a freed slave who wrote histories; Lucian, the Greek satirist; Celsus, a Roman Philosopher; and probably the historians Suetonius and Thallus, as well as the prisoner Mara Bar-Serapion. In all, at least forty-two authors, nine of them secular, mention Jesus within 150 years of his death.

In comparison, let's take a look at Julius Caesar, one of Rome's most prominent figures. Caesar is well know for his military conquests. After his Gallic Wars, he made the famous statement, "I came, I saw, I conquered." Only five sources report his military conquests: writings by Caesar himself, Cicero, Livy, the Salona Decree, and Appian. If Julius Caesar really made a profound inpact on Roman society, why didn't more writers of antiquity mention his great military accomplishments? No one questions whether Julius did make a tremendous impact on the Roman Empire. It is evident that he did. Yet in those 150 years after his death, more non-Christian authors alone comment on Jesus than all of the sources who mentioned Julius Caesar's great military conquests within 150 years of his death.

Let's look at an even better example, a contemporary of Jesus. Tiberius Caesar was the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus' ministry and execution. Tiberius is mentioned by ten sources within 150 years of his death: Tacitus, Suetonius, Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Seneca, Valerius Maximus, Josephus, and Luke. Compare that to Jesus' forty-two total sources in the same length of time. That's more than four times the number of total sources who mention the Roman emperor during roughly the same period. If we only considered the number of secular non-Christian sources who mention Jesus and Tiberius within 150 years of their lives, we arrive at a tie of nine each." [1]

So, the historical data we actually do have, especially after one considers other examples from antiquity, is actually impressive.

Finally, I would also like to add that I believe it to be mistaken to adopt the attitude that the gospels are not a reliable source of history.

For an exhaustive treatment of this question, see here or visit our Old and New Testament research page located here.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

Resource:

1. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection, p. 127-128.

22 comments:

Mariano said...

Pardon the pseudo-spam but here is a little FYI:

Here are 236 texts that reference Jesus dating from pre 70 AD to 280 AD.:

http://www.truefreethinker.com/articles/historical-jesus---three-centuries-worth-citations

Keep up the good work and the God work.

Chad said...

Mariano,

As always, your links are always a bonus!

Thank you and I hope you and your dear family are well!

Godspeed

John Wilkinson said...

Truthbomb,

Thank you for the great blog. You guys do great work. I couldn't help but notice, though, that in your byline you mention "reason is a must."

I am increasingly distrustful of sources of truth that are dependent on human-centered sense and reason. I think the BIble is clear that God's logic appears to us at times to be complete nonsense.

What I don't 'get' is the effort of logicians to somehow make it more rationally compelling. Isn't it obvious that the 'logic' of God was more relational rather than descriptive? In other words, instead of delivering to us the string theory parsed out for our scientists, God gave us the person of Jesus - who was Himself a personification of the Law. It is clearly presence that God prefers and not precepts.

So I wonder why we have to continue to pursue a course of 'fighting fire with fire' among those who are skeptical. Isn't the glorious oddity of the faith (what Paul called 'foolishness', enough?)

Thanks for your comments.

John Wilkinson
http://noargumentforgod.blogspot.com/

Chad said...

Hello John,

I greatly appreciate your encouragement regarding the blog. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment.

I am increasingly distrustful of sources of truth that are dependent on human-centered sense and reason.

Saying reason is a must does not mean that the reason being employed is human-centered.

What I don't 'get' is the effort of logicians to somehow make it more rationally compelling.

And yet scripture calls us to “”sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” [1 Peter 3:15; NASB].

Further, we see this modeled by the Apostle Paul and Jesus Himself in the Bible. [see below]

God gave us the person of Jesus - who was Himself a personification of the Law. It is clearly presence that God prefers and not precepts.

And yet this very Jesus was the one who told us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” [Matthew 22:37; NASB].

Finally, I fear that your position may end up being self-refuting. If I understand you correctly, it seems you are using reason to make the objection that we should not use reason.

Jesus Himself was extremely intelligent and used logical arguments. For a great example,
see here.

Godspeed

Cobalt said...

Haven't seen this link pop up at the bottom of this post yet, so I thought I'd let you know this has been linked on reddit and there's some discussion there.

Bhikkhu aggacitto said...

Hi Chad!

It's all an interesting excuse until you remember that it was presumably the personal son of the almighty God himself that we are supposedly talking about! As regards the assertion of non- Christian sources that some talk about (there by hopefully doing away with any Christian bias type story telling) I would recommend a web page that deals directly with this:

http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/josephus-etal.html#dennis

You have made a least an attempt to address this issue. After doing some research on the matter I have also found that there are those who have been credited with mentioning Jesus but actually have not, or to say the least, the factual evidence shows something else more likely.

Have a great day and thanks for the post!


Bhikkhu aggacitto

Chad said...

On this issue, I will have to agree with famously liberal Professor Bultmann, who said:

Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community.

I urge readers to checkout a past post on the topic here.

Further, I would recommend Mike Licona’s newest book for a serious, scholarly look at the historical Jesus. Check it out here.

Respectfully

Jason Bishara said...

Hey Chad,

Sorry for the late reply mate. You put a lot on the table to discuss! First off, as much as I hate dropping links in a conversation (I feel it takes away the personal aspect to the conversation, but obviously I understand you were busy! So I give you a free pass :). I have only one link to share. It sums up a lot of what is just too hard to say in a limited blog discussion like this. It’s a letter addressed to Gary Habermas written by an agnostic critical scholar.

Click here


For the record Gary Habermas is one of my favourite scholars. Despite our obvious difference in theological conclusions I admire the man immensely. I was nearly brought to tears reading about his wife in strobel’s case for Christ. Maybe if I had discovered him as a Christian, things might have turned out different. Anyway, here are my responses to what I believe the bulk of your argument is :)

Now, do these sources specifically reference all the miracles you listed? No. However, they do suggest that something extraordinary was going on.

I think we can both agree something “extraordinary” happened. But the word “extraordinary” covers quite a large number of ideas and speculations. I personally believe it’s quite reasonable to assume that something extraordinary happened without having to throw out any natural explanations and jump straight to the conclusion that all the events we read in the gospels are 100% truthful, literal accounts of what actually happened.

It seems a lot of your hard work and resources go to proving that there were early Christians who worshiped Jesus. No one doubts this! I do not think that Christianity arose from one man in a cave who decided one day to write a nice story. But carefully read each extra biblical source and ask yourself a question. What is this specifically telling me about Jesus? None of them are first hand, they are all references to his followers. (excluding Josephus who was altered by later Christians). I personally believe the gospels are history wrapped in first century theology, interpretations and emotions. The hard part is deciphering these elements.

Jason Bishara said...

Finally, I would argue that even if we had no extra-biblical data for the life of Christ and His miracles, the gospels would still offer plenty of evidence for the seeker of truth.

The main problem I have with the gospels is there lack of objectivity. For example John admits that his gospel was written "that ye may believe”. John is basically saying that everything he has written was fashioned to persuade you of his theological beliefs about Jesus. How objective can someone like that be? With the exception of Saul (Paul) who was converted. But if read carefully, he actually tells us very little about the historical Jesus, It would seem the details came later. The gospels were written by believers, and if you watch any documentary on any number of cults, you will see the obsession that some believers have with their leader. Would you trust them to write an accurate description of the life and events that surround their leader? I wouldn’t. I’m not saying Christianity is a cult; just that psychology plays a bigger role in our beliefs than I think we are willing to give it credit. Including mine!

Historians generally trust ancient documents that have far longer gaps.

Historians trust it because that’s all they have to go by. And let’s clearly differentiate when we read history that coincides with our picture of reality, and history that has clearly been altered and interpreted in some fashion. For example the miracles attributed to Mohamed in the Quran, I dare say you would believe somewhere along the line these stories were added or interpreted into the texts? Why do think this is? I’m guessing because it conflicts with your picture of reality, that only the authors of the bible were given true divine inspiration to document truth. People who have no religious or spiritual affiliation are simply doing the same thing with the gospels; they conflict with our perception of reality. We are both sceptics of holy texts Chad; I just take my scepticism one book further.

Therefore, a gap of several decades between the writing of a document and what it describes provides no reason to distrust it.

Come on Chad, where’s your doubts? Where’s your scepticism? Do you really believe the uneducated men and women of the superstitious Middle East 2000 years ago were incapable of human error? They may have been great at memorising lessons, but they weren’t robots. Nor were they free of the very human tendency to interpret events through our current understanding of reality. The gospels were written by first centaury Jews and much of the gospels have deeply rooted Jewish symbolism. Any good open minded historian must leave at least a little room open for this.

Jason Bishara said...

I think you are making some big assumptions here. As the Groothuis quote highlights, we must remember the type of culture we were dealing with. Not everyone was a scribe. This was an oral culture.

Perhaps I’m making big assumptions. But is it really so implausible to postulate that an event that took place on such a large scale, like feeding 5000 people at once, would have inspired perhaps at least one first hand historian of the time to write it down? If zombies really did rise from their graves as Matthew states, surely any Jewish or roman historian at the time could have easily recorded it firsthand. The irony of all of this is the picture your painting of the people that were around Jesus in the first century, and who’s testimony were supposed to take as gospel truth, were uneducated men and women who couldn’t read or write. Excluding Paul, who wasn’t an eyewitness. It just makes things cloudy for me.

My final objection to the historical evidence you provide is not a historical objection, but a philosophical one, which may or may not provide a clearer insight into my core struggle with Christianity. This is perhaps the biggest and hardest fence for me to climb. My biggest struggle with the Christian faith (or other faiths for that matter) is the reliance on other people’s experiences. We are required to believe in the experiences of men living 2000 years ago in the superstitious Middle East for our eternal salvation. The disciples were supposedly given resurrection appearances, the 500, and also Paul. Why did Jesus stop? Why did he stop appearing to people? Why didn’t he appear to people all around the world? Why can he not appear to me today? If Paul, in his hatred for the Christian faith required a personal visit from Jesus to convert him then I only ask for the same treatment. How hard would it be for Jesus to appear in some form to me? How many times do I have to plead and ask? I am a true doubting Thomas.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25 NIV)

And this was a guy who followed Jesus and witnessed all of Jesus miracles, and he still doubted! How much more should we doubt. If I am to hop on board the Christian train again, it will require much more than a few ancient documents from early church fathers coupled with a psychosomatic emotional high some get when they pray or worship. I guess the only person who can make me a believer again is Jesus. According to scripture, Thomas eventually got his wish. I can only hope that one day, I might get mine.

Much love

Jason

Chad said...

Hello All,

For the benefit of our readers, I wanted to make everyone aware that Jason's comments are a continuation of a discussion that started here.

Godspeed

Chad said...

Hello Jason, [Part I]

to throw out any natural explanations and jump straight to the conclusion that all the events we read in the gospels are 100% truthful, literal accounts of what actually happened.

I never suggested such an approach. Please understand that I have looked into these matters with moderate depth. To suggested otherwise is misguided at best.

What is this specifically telling me about Jesus? None of them are first hand, they are all references to his followers.

However, we still must deal with the fact that both Christian and non-Christian scholars generally agree that Jesus' disciples were radically changed after they experienced what they believed to be the risen Christ.

excluding Josephus who was altered by later Christians

Ah, we must be careful here. Do we then conclude that Josephus' accounts tell us nothing of value? Nothing could be further from the truth:

Click here

The hard part is deciphering these elements.

It may be "hard." But it does not follow that it is impossible to do so. Some of the links I provided for you were meant to aid you in the deciphering process.

Chad said...

[Part 2]

The main problem I have with the gospels is there lack of objectivity.

To be quite transparent, I have always found this type of objection in regard to the gospels very weak for a few reasons.

Some skeptics assert that books such as the gospels can't be trusted for objective information because such books are written by religious people who have an agenda. In fact, many skeptics view the Bible as a biased book written by biased people. However, what is often overlooked is the fact that even atheists, skeptics, and agnostics who write about religion have their own biases and viewpoints.

Does it then logically follow that we can't trust an author who has an agenda? I don't think so. In fact, I would argue that if that were the case, no book is objective, including those written by non-believers because all authors have an agenda or at least [I hope]believe what they write. But that doesn't mean that what they write is false or subjective.

A good example of this is survivors of the Holocaust. Those who recorded their observations and experiences could certainly not be called "neutral bystanders." They believed passionately that the Nazis were wrong, and they were driven to record their experiences so the world never forget the Holocaust and, hopefully, never repeat it. Are we to assume that their passion caused them to bend the facts? I don't think so. In fact, their passion may have produced the opposite effect. While passion may tempt someone to exaggerate, it may drive others to be all the more meticulous and accurate so as not to compromise the credibility of the message they wish to get across. [1]

We should reject or accept somebody's testimony based upon the evidence they succeed or fail to provide.

We are both sceptics of holy texts Chad; I just take my scepticism one book further.

Are you comparing the historical evidence for the NT to that of the Qur'an?

Further, as the links I provided in the other comments section demonstrate, there are good reasons to trust the NT documents were handed down accurately.

Come on Chad, where’s your doubts? Where’s your scepticism? Do you really believe the uneducated men and women of the superstitious Middle East 2000 years ago were incapable of human error? They may have been great at memorising lessons, but they weren’t robots.

Here, I believe you are straw-manning me. Where have I asserted these things? How do you know I have never dealt with doubts? Further, because they were "not robots," are we then to conclude that there is no historic core to what they recorded? Are you familiar with oral cultures or oral tradition?

Resources:

1. Geisler and Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p.13-14.

Chad said...

[Part 3; the final chapter]:-)

The irony of all of this is the picture your painting of the people that were around Jesus in the first century, and who’s testimony were supposed to take as gospel truth, were uneducated men and women who couldn’t read or write.

Have you been reading your Bart Ehrman? I plan on addressing this specific objection in a forthcoming post.

As of right now, I am tired. I will address your other questions and comments in the near future. I hope you are well.

Respectfully

Chad said...

continued...

who’s testimony were supposed to take as gospel truth, were uneducated men and women who couldn’t read or write.

You can find my reply to this objection here.

Respectfully

Jason Bishara said...

However, we still must deal with the fact that both Christian and non-Christian scholars generally agree that Jesus' disciples were radically changed after they experienced what they believed to be the risen Christ.

Yes, but again we find ourselves at a cross roads. For we both agree on this matter, however you have come to the conclusion (through your own investigation) that Jesus did literally rise from the dead, where as I (through my own investigation) reside with a symbolic interpretation of the events. Whether the story we get through the gospels was literal or symbolic, it still doesn’t mean it was any less life changing or real to those in the first century. Some of the most powerful life changing moments happen in our subjective minds, when we have an epiphany of sorts, when things just seem to come together in life. Perhaps Jesus disciples began to connect the dots with what exactly the Jewish theological meaning behind Jesus life and death was and it changed them forever. literal or not, It was real to them.

Ah, we must be careful here. Do we then conclude that Josephus' accounts tell us nothing of value? Nothing could be further from the truth

No, but If we can conclude that Josephus was in fact tampered by Christians, how can we be sure what was an addition or what never existed. It becomes a matter of speculation, which is fine. But when Josephus text is stripped down by Christian scholars to the point of what you’re referring to as “the value” of the text. It really is no were near as helpful. It also raises questions in my mind of the power early Christians had over other historical sources.

It may be "hard." But it does not follow that it is impossible to do so. Some of the links I provided for you were meant to aid you in the deciphering process.

If I thought it was impossible I wouldn’t be here discussing this with you. I appreciate the links, they have helped :)

“many skeptics view the Bible as a biased book written by biased people. However, what is often overlooked is the fact that even atheists, skeptics, and agnostics who write about religion have their own biases and viewpoints.

Yes, I agree everyone has their own set of biases and presuppositions. But in saying that, you must then agree with me that the authors of the gospels had their own too? You can’t say they were free of this. No one in their right mind should ever pick up a book thinking its written truth, Christian or atheist literature. Critical thinking and scepticism must be exercised on all fronts. You would of course agree entirely.

But that doesn't mean that what they write is false or subjective.

False no. Subjective yes. Every experience had by any human is subjective. To some degree that’s all we have, our subjective thoughts and our experiences. Everything is experienced through the subjective mind. This is why I cannot believe on the basis of someone else’s experiences, I have to have my own. Also understanding how vulnerable the mind is too different states of consciousness can leave one with some serious doubts when contemplating testimony on the miraculous and unlikely level that the gospels portray. Yes even if Jesus did actually rise from the dead in a literal sense, it’s till unlikely!

Jason Bishara said...

Are you comparing the historical evidence for the NT to that of the Qur'an?

No, I was trying to bring light to the difference we have in our standard of the miraculous. I think we’re all too easy to subscribe to the miraculous events that we’ve grown up with, that we have been subjected too since children or such long periods of time and that we have become to an extent, desensitized to. Our first reaction to the hearing of miracles from other religions or even of miracle healers today is one of disbelief and scepticism. If you’re going to argue that the gospels are too close to the events they narrate to have been fabricated , all you need to do is to look at the countless miracle and faith healers we have all around the world today! Take Sathya Sai Baba for example, the famous Indian guru. Millions of people worldwide believe this man to be a genuine healer and miracle worker and he’s still alive! Here is a testimony. My point is it doesn’t have to take years for stories of the miraculous to be fabricated and interpreted, it can be miss-interpreted from the get go! If you’re open to miracles as you say, you could go visit this guy yourself. Check out if he really does have supernatural powers. I mean if there’s a God, anything’s possible right? Or are you sceptical?

Here, I believe you are straw-manning me. Where have I asserted these things? How do you know I have never dealt with doubts? Further, because they were "not robots," are we then to conclude that there is no historic core to what they recorded? Are you familiar with oral cultures or oral tradition?

I apologise, it wasn’t my intention. But let’s be clear about something first, we don’t know all that much about each other lol. Short of reading some of your posts and the few exchanges we’ve had, I have no idea if you became a Christian, have always been one, take the bible completely literal or leave some room for interpretation? In my defence, my comments were in the form of questions. Instead of retorting to the defensive you could have just as easily used this opportunity to clarify for me, and perhaps some of your other readers if you take the bible as infallible, and perhaps what some of your core struggles and doubts are with your faith?

Yes I believe there is history at the core of the gospels. I thought I made this clear when I said: “I personally believe the gospels are history wrapped in first century theology, interpretations and emotions.” My problems arise when people take the word for word approach and completely rule out any possible symbolic interpretation, which may or may not be your position.

No I’m not very familiar with oral cultures or traditions, I’m 22, I’m not familiar with a lot of things in life! Haha, Thanks for the links thou :)

Jason Bishara said...

Have you been reading your Bart Ehrman? I plan on addressing this specific objection in a forthcoming post.

Haha Yes, I have been reading my Bart Ehrman :) I’ve also been reading my William lane Craig, Gary Habermas, lee strobel, Craig Bloomberg and Timothy Keller to name a few. I know Ehrman is fround upon by the evangelical community for his obvious “troubling” scholarly approach. But he is still a critical voice in the mix that I think is needed to give scholarship its balance. Because let’s face it, the majority of people willing to do the extensive research into the bible are Christians, obviously. What secular person would dedicate their lives to studying a book they have no emotional attachment too? All critical scholars I know of started out as conservative Christians, such as Bart D Ehrman, John Shelby Spong, john Dominic crossan, John Robinson, and Robert price. All of the most evil heretics around, they all happen to be really nice people too. I find them refreshing to listen to because they bring in a different perspective. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

Hope your well rested,

In peace and love

Jason

Chad said...

Hello Jason,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think it's important to point out that I am arguing for what philosophers refer to as the best explanation. I don't pretend to possess air-tight proof and of course there will be counter-arguments.

However, it's important to consider which arguments provide us with the "best explanation" of the evidence we have. It continues to be my conviction that it is Christianity that does so. If one is looking for loopholes in the form of:

but it could be

or

well, maybe...

or

how do we know that [fill in the blank]

he or she will always find them.

Skepticism is healthy not matter what your worldview, but there is a type of skepticism that becomes useless and in it's purest form, self-defeating.

Please know that I will continue to pray for you and provide materials via this blog that hopefully will aid you in your search for truth.

Respectfully and Kindly

Jason Bishara said...

Hey Chad,

Well it seems our conversation is at an end. Thank you for engaging with me to openly discuss this important issue. You have been very helpful, both in your responses and in your kind hospitality. It’s nice to know I have got a place to come and be challenged and wrestle with new ideas and thoughts.

I agree, no one has air tight proof to the big questions (if such a thing even exists). I also agree that we should always look for the “best explanation” to the great questions. However, is it just a coincidence that the best explanation you offer is also the explanation that gives your life its meaning, purpose, comfort and the promise of eternal life? We share a lot in common when it comes to our methodology in which we search for truth, despite our different conclusions. It seems were we part our separate ways is in the matter of faith. Now you can define faith in your own terms, but the clearest description of faith I found in the bible was the following:

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

You have chosen not only what you think is the “best explanation”, but you have chosen to wrap that explanation in deep, personal conviction. This is where I can not follow you because we all know once a belief is cemented under faith it becomes deeply rooted in one’s personal life. The moment you start teaching it to your children, speaking out in public, spending countless hours managing a blog declaring the “truth”, once this happens, if hypothetically you are wrong, your personal and emotional attachment to your faith will overshadow any “proof” that myself or anyone else could offer you. In a sense your faith, if it isn’t the truth, will end up blinding you from what is. I do not want to put myself in that position (again). I want my mind to be as clear as possible and attempt to position my beliefs as close to the truth as I can get, regardless of what it is.

If there is such a God that requires me to believe by faith, then I hope he or she can forgive me for not finding it in myself to accept that truth can be found by matters of personal belief, or “faith”. I look around the world and observe people of all faiths arguing the truthfulness of their own faiths and traditions. They can’t all be right, so instead of choosing one I instead opt to withhold judgment until I come across evidence strong enough to convince me beyond matters of faith. Or if God is willing to convince me, my mind and heart are always open.

Thanks again for the conversation and your prayers Chad,

As always in love and civility,

Jason

Chad said...

Greetings Jason,

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas holiday with your friends and family!

It’s nice to know I have got a place to come and be challenged and wrestle with new ideas and thoughts.

I’m glad to know you feel comfortable doing so here!

Now you can define faith in your own terms

You are correct, I can; however, I would rather define it biblically. I have addressed this briefly here.

your personal and emotional attachment to your faith will overshadow any “proof” that myself or anyone else could offer you. In a sense your faith, if it isn’t the truth, will end up blinding you from what is. I do not want to put myself in that position (again). I want my mind to be as clear as possible and attempt to position my beliefs as close to the truth as I can get, regardless of what it is.

To be honest, I find this type of thinking to be problematic for a few reasons. I believe Richard Dawkins gets it right when he says, By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out. Meaning, our minds should be opened to consider various conclusions and then if we find what we believe to be true, we should hold to that truth.

Further, to imply that I have somehow hindered my search for truth by holding to a position is misguided at best. Do you think Christopher Hitchens or Bart Ehrman, for example, don’t have a position? Of course they do, but this says nothing about the truth of their position. This is where good arguments come in.

If I follow your thinking to it’s logical conclusion, I really couldn’t trust anything that anyone writes or shares because everyone has a bias. This is why philosophers and historians have developed methods for the inquirer to detach themselves from their biases as much as possible.

Everyone brings their own views and biases to the table; however, if one is aware of them and strives as much as possible to overcome them, as painful as it can be, it is my conviction that we can take a fairly objective look at the available data and evidence.

I would encourage you to consider the following quote from Roy Hoover:

"To cultivate the virtue of veracity, you have to be willing to part with the way tradition and conventional wisdom say things are, or with the way you would prefer things to be, and be ready to accept the way things really are. Veracity has to be the principal moral and intellectual commitment of any science or scholarship worthy of the name. That means, as I see it, that as a critical biblical scholar you have to be concerned first of all not with how your research turns out, not with whether it will confirm or disconfirm the beliefs or opinions or theories you had when you began the inquiry. You have to care only about finding out how things really are- with finding evidence sufficient to enable you to discover that and with finding also whether or not what you think you have discovered is sustainable when it is tested by the critical scrutiny of others...But to be open-minded interminably, or to be locked open, as a colleague of mine once put it, is not a virtue. It is a failure to think, a failure to learn, a failure to decide and perhaps a failure of nerve."

Chad said...

Finally, when you state I want my mind to be as clear as possible and attempt to position my beliefs as close to the truth as I can get, regardless of what it is you are stating what your position is. We all have one. The question is, “Who’s position is correct?”

I would hope that someone would judge the truth or falsehood of my beliefs by the quality of the evidence and arguments I present or fail to present.

They can’t all be right, so instead of choosing one I instead opt to withhold judgment until I come across evidence strong enough to convince me beyond matters of faith.

So, as a fellow seeker of truth, I would want to ask, what are your tests for truth?

Or if God is willing to convince me, my mind and heart are always open.

Fair enough; however, I would encourage you to consider that perhaps God operates on His own terms, not your own.

Take care