An Agnostic doubts the validity of the Gospels
This dialogue is a good illustration of the importance of dealing with a person's presuppositions. We must understand that we all have glasses through which we interpret our world. Whether or not those glasses are correctly rendering what we see, is the issue. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy this dialogue.
Hank: Wow, I've actually never seen you logged on before. Awesome.
Matt: It happens
Matt: A little. What's up?
Hank: So, wait. Is this is the guy who runs the Carm website?
Hank: Wow...in the flesh
Hank: I'm a fan
Matt: 3 bladed, four, or five?
Matt: I like 3 myself... more efficient.
Hank: Like the trinity.
Hank: I used to read everything on your site.
Matt: Not anymore?
Hank: Haven't had much time. And I became an Agnostic/Atheist a couple of months ago.
Hank: Seemed weird to declare Christianity as absolute truth. That's a declaration.
Matt: Is there such a thing as absolute truth?
Hank: Yes, theoretically. I don't think we can ever know it, however.
Matt: Isn't that an absolute truth statement you just made?
Hank: I didn't say there isn't absolute truth. And I'm very familiar with the argument you are about to use.
Matt: To say "I don't think we can ever know it" is an absolute statement. It is either true or false. Either way, it establishes absolutes. The law of excluded middle says that a statement is either true or false.
Hank: But I'm no disagreeing with you. I believe that there IS absolute truth.
Matt: Oh, okay. Great. Then may I ask you some questions?
Hank: Be my guest
Matt: Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead according to the eyewitness accounts tell us in the Gospels?
Hank: I see no reason to believe that those "eyewitness" accounts accurately depict what really happened.
Matt: Why not?
Hank: Because it's a religious text. The same reason you don't believe that the Hindu or Muslim texts are valid.
Matt: I do not mean to be impolite, but you really don't know why I consider the Hindu texts to not be valid. [added here later, I didn't see the word "Muslim" at first, but I also deny their validity.]
Matt: But, for now, let's stick to whether or not the gospel accounts are reasonably accurate. Why we do not consider them accurate since they claim to be eyewitness accounts?
Hank: That's the wrong question to ask, though. Many religious texts claim to be true accounts. The question is why would I believe this one?
Matt: I understand that. But regarding the Gospels themselves, why would you not consider them to be accurate? After all, they claim to be written by eyewitnesses, are historically accurate, have been verified archaeologically, etc.
Hank: They have verified archaeologically that Christ was born of a virgin and rose from the dead?
Matt: Of course not. But there is nothing that has been "unearthed" that conflicts with the gospels, right?
Hank: Just like nothing has been "unearthed" that conflicts with the theory that the pyramids were built by aliens. The burden of proof lies with Christianity to prove its validity.
Matt: Proof can be an ambiguous thing since different people have different requirements to qualify as proof.
Hank: This is true.
Matt: The Gospels present the evidence of Christ's miracles, prophecy fulfillment, death, burial, and resurrection. From what I have seen, there is no reason to deny their accuracy. Btw, may I use this on my CARM dialogue section if that is okay with you? I may or may not use it and if I did, I would change your nickname to something else. If you say no, that's OK.
Hank: I would be honored, seriously.
Matt: LOL, thank you.
Hank: To say that a text is historically reliable and contains eyewitness accounts of miracles is one thing. To say that it's absolute truth is another, isn't it? I mean, the best way to lie is to mix a little bit of truth in there, too
Matt: That is true. Simply saying it doesn't mean it's true. When I look at the Gospels I see eyewitness accounts. I also see that they were written in that time and in that location. Also, when you look at the behavior of the disciples I think it is fair to conclude that something very significant happened that would cause them to become so strong in their beliefs. I mean, why would they lie?
Hank: To promote a religion. Not unheard of.
Matt: Please hold on while I write a response
Hank: It's all good
Matt: OK, if that were the case, then what would they gain? Remember, they were in an environment where Roman rule (that taught emperor worship) and a Jewish culture, which included acknowledging the one and only God revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. To go against either one, would be very costly. What would motivate them to establish a religion based upon something they knew to be false; namely, the resurrection of Jesus? In their present situation they would have lost their families, lost their means of income, risked social rejection, and could even have lost their lives. Remember, that's what happened to Jesus. So, if you were going to discount the Gospels shouldn't you provide an alternative explanation for the claims and actions of the gospel writers?
Hank: I have no idea what there motivation was. Throughout history, people have died and been persecuted for other religions. We have no idea what they were thinking. People do weird things.
Matt: You are correct. Countless thousands have died for their beliefs. But let me try and make a point. Muslims, for example, believe in Islam and die for what they believe about the Quran. The Quran does not say that Mohammed rose from the dead, performed any miracles, etc. Yet, Muslims will die for Islam. What makes the account of the disciples different is that they said and proclaimed that the reason they were doing what they were doing was because Jesus had risen from the dead. Any followers of a religion can become fanatical and even suicidal. It neither proves or disproves the validity of that religion. But, with the followers of Christ, the disciples specifically and publicly declared that Jesus had risen from the dead. There were many people alive at that time we could've disputed this, but, as far as I am know, there are no ancient records of any disputations. If Jesus had not risen, all the Jews had to do was produce a body. Anyway, the claims of the disciples themselves are the motivation.
Hank: There are no records of dispute because any heretical texts that existed during the Crusades or Inquisition were destroyed.
Matt: How do you know that? There have been many archaeological discoveries of ancient documents since the Crusades and the Inquisition. Therefore, your argument doesn't carry very much weight.
Hank: Yes, they have been discovered after the inquisition was over. But what about all the texts that were discovered during the Crusades and Inquisition?
Matt: I don't know about those. All I know is that archaeology has continued to produce all sorts of ancient documents and so far, nothing has contradicted the gospel accounts...that I'm aware of. Anyway, can you propose a replacement theory for the claims and behavior of the gospel writers to account for their claims and actions?
Hank: I can propose the theory that a number of their actions were never performed.
Matt: Such as?
Hank: Doesn't matter. What about stories of their persecution.
Matt: I think it would matter because it is possible that your proposed theories might not carry any weight under cross examination. But, we don't have to discuss that. What do you mean, "what about stories of the persecution"?
Hank: All I'm getting at is what if some of their stories are just fabrications.
Matt: How would you know?
Hank: I don't. But some of the stories seem like folk-tales
Matt: Okay, then isn't what you're offering me a subjective rejection of these accounts? It would tell me that you have a suppositional based at the miraculous cannot occur? Am I correct?
Hank: You are.
Matt: If you presuppose that the miraculous cannot occur, then by definition you have ruled out God being able to work in our world to the demonstration of anything "out of the ordinary." This means that you would not be able to recognize whether or not God was working. In essence, you have built a fence around yourself through which no evidence of biblical inspiration, miraculous accounts, Jesus' resurrection, etc. can get through. Therefore, I can't convince you that Jesus was who he said he was and rose from the dead, can I?
Hank: If I witnessed a biblical miracle that couldn't be explained by any other means, my mind would be changed.
Matt: I do not mean to be overly contradictory, so please excuse me if I appear to be rude, but if you already deny the possibility of the miraculous and reject the gospel accounts because of that, what makes you think that I would believe you that if you saw something miraculous, that you wouldn't interpret it in a manner consistent with your presuppositions and then reject it?
Hank: I don't DENY that miracles can happen. Since I've never seen any and never heard of any being documented in modern history, I have concluded that they probably do not happen. It takes more than reading about them in an ancient text to sway me.
Matt: Well then, why don't you ask Jesus to reveal himself you? If you believe that the miraculous as possible, then is it not possible that the Lord could reveal himself to you?
Hank: I have. I was a really devout Christian for 2 years. I believed I experienced miracles. But when I actually looked at the facts of what happened to me, they could all be explained. A sea being split in two could not be explained away. Neither can turning water into wine.
Matt: Could they have also been explained by God having done them?
Hank: Anything can be explained by God doing them. Old polytheistic religions had a god for everything: water, fire, weather. But later, civilization became educated and realized what those things actually were. So "one God for everything" was a reasonable solution. No matter how much we learn, there will always be another level of our natural universe that we do not understand. God can always be put in that place. I have no problem with that.
Matt: Well, I would never defend any other religious system other than Christianity. I'm not concerned, at the moment, of those claims of other religious systems. Since we're talking about the validity of the Gospels, I'm concerned only with their claims.
Hank: Christianity falls in the same category as any religious system. It was just more successful
Matt: It is definitely successful and I believe it is so because of the truth it contains. It teaches about love, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, faithfulness, etc. And, all of these positive moral values, according to the New Testament, are based upon the teachings, miracles, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus. I believe it is successful because of Jesus.
Hank: I have no doubt you do. But come on, Christianity wasn't largely spread by love and compassion.
Matt: Yes it was.
Hank: So brute force and coercion played no part in it?
Matt: I certainly acknowledge that there have been many who have claimed to be Christians who have used the sword to spread it. But you and I would both agree that this is not what Jesus taught.
Matt: True Christianity is not spread by force.
Hank: When you say True Christianity, that term is referring to people that belong to the same sect of Christianity as yourself. It's a very subjective term
Matt: No. True Christianity fallows what Jesus taught. Jesus did not teach to spread Christianity with the sword. Simple. There certainly are essential doctrines revealed in the New Testament which we cannot deny and be Christian. But we have to understand that even though many people claim to follow him, many do not. It is easy to say that you are a Christian. It is another thing to live it.
Hank: But that doesn't matter. The reason Christianity is so big is BECAUSE what those guys did with the sword.
Matt: I don't agree. The Crusades were a defense against the movement of Islam from the east. Islam definitely teaches spreading itself by the sword. There were many injustices done on both sides. But the point is, Islam teaches killing in the name of its God and its prophet. In order to spread itself. The New Testament does not teach such a thing.
Hank: Irrelevant. I'm not only talking about the crusades. I'm sure you're aware that in most Christian nations, it was law to be Christian.
Matt: To be honest, I don't know about that. Anyway, I don't think your reasons for rejecting the gospel accounts are very good.
Hank: Of course you don't. If they were good, then you would believe them. And you would deny your faith. Nobody likes to deny their faith.
Matt: "If they were good." Then aren't you admitting that they aren't very good reasons?
Hank: From your point of view they aren't very good. I thought you would gather that.
Matt: You're correct. I don't think they're very good reasons. I see the gospel accounts as being sufficiently accurate, very well preserved, and depicting eyewitness accounts. When I see the Old Testament documents, which were obviously written before the time of Christ, predict with great accuracy the arrival of Jesus, and then when I see that arrival fulfilled in the New Testament, I further believe their accounts.
Hank: You believe evolution occurred?
Matt: I believe that there is sufficient genetic information in organisms to account for minor variations due to environmental pressures. This is called microevolution. I do not, however, extrapolate that to accommodate macro evolution which is completely different genetic information formation where new species form, essentially, through randomness.
Hank: Why does 99.9 percent of the scientific community disagree with you?
Matt: First of all, you do not know what the percentage actually is. Second, I do not believe it's nearly as high as you say it is. Third, whether or not it is a majority is relevant to whether or not it is true. After all, everybody has presuppositions and since science is based upon naturalistic materialism, it automatically excludes the miraculous. Therefore, many who call themselves scientists are by default negating the supernatural in their studies. What would you expect with such presuppositions?
Hank: For one thing, I do believe the percentage is about that high or higher. Scientists have a completely different approach than Christian "scientists". I'm sorry. I feel greatly honored that I got the chance to talk to you.
Matt: Well, I do not believe it is that high so let's agree to disagree on that statistic.
Matt: Well, I'm honored to speak with you.
Hank: You gonna use this?
Matt: Yes, I think so.
Hank: That would be awesome. I've read about every single dialogue on your site
Matt: Well, if you want I could modify it and mock you mercilessly, just for fun. :)
Matt: Okay then. Essentially, I think what this whole discussion comes down to is your presuppositions. I think that you have basically prevented yourself from objectively looking at the gospel accounts so that you cannot believe what they say.
Hank: But you understand I can use the same argument that you rely on your presuppositions
Matt: Yes, but I see no problem with my presuppositions since they include the possibility of the supernatural, scientific reality, and logic. I do not believe that my acceptance of the gospel accounts is inconsistent with reality or truth. If there is a God, then why can he not intervene in our world? If there is a God and the miraculous can occur, then the miracles and claims of Jesus are perfectly possible. If they are possible then I need to assess them and since I see no contradictory reason that would lead me to reject them, I believe them.
Hank: Yes, but I don't believe ancient texts are sufficient proof.
Matt: Being ancient or current is irrelevant. We have the record of different individuals. Whether or not you accept the record is the issue.
Hank: Being ancient is absolutely an issue.
Matt: Why? Why does being ancient invalidate it from being true?
Matt: Just because something is old that does not mean it is wrong. If that were the case, grandparents could not be trusted.
Hank: It's just not as reliable as, say, an account of something that happened a year or two ago.
Matt: How do you know? Someone can give a very inaccurate account of something that happened two years ago. Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because something is old, it is untrustworthy.
Hank: 100 years, 200 years, is different than 2000 years.
Matt: Yes, so? If someone wrote 2000 years ago that Jerusalem existed, are we not to trust it because it was written 2000 years ago? That is illogical.
Hank: If something happened 2 years ago, there would be other sources that would verify it.
Matt: Yes, and there are other sources that lend validity to the gospel accounts.
Hank: The New Testament is the only place where Jesus is depicted as being the son of God. Other historians mention he existed, but that's about it.
Matt: Then there is validation of his existence from non-biblical references. But, you must understand that the four gospel accounts are four different sources. They have been collected and put into what we call the New Testament. This gives the erring impression that it is all one book. It isn't. So, we have multiple witnesses and non-Christian accounts as well.
Hank: So the book claims. We haven't any idea who wrote those individual accounts
Matt: Yes, we do. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Hank: Name one place outside of the bible where there is an account of Christ performing a miracle.
Matt: I can't at the moment.
Matt: If Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written after the destruction of the Temple, they would have included the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy in them. Since they don't, it is very strong indication that they were written before 70 A.D.(http://www.carm.org/evidence/written_after.htm) Basically, the book of Acts was written by Luke. But Luke fails to mention the destruction of Jerusalem in 79. A.D., nor does he mention the deaths of James (A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65). Since Acts is a historical document dealing with the church, we would naturally expect such important events to be recorded if Acts was written after the fact.
Hank: I'll take a look at that.
Hank: I have to go now, however. When can I see this on your site?
Matt: Okay, it was nice talking to you. I hope that the Lord will bless you.
Matt: It is on my site now and has been for quite some time. Go to http://www.carm.org/evidence.htm
Hank: I'm talking about our conversation
Matt: Oh, hopefully I will put it up soon. Okay?
Hank: Good deal