James Bishop vs. The Dutch Atheist, “Is there evidence for a god?” [Opening Speech]

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Note: The way The Dutch Atheist and I have agreed to conduct this debate is that each of us will post our respective transcripts on our own sites and link readers to the replies on the opponent’s site. Catch The Dutch Atheist’s opening statement here.

1. Introduction.

I give thanks to The Dutch Atheist (here on simply “Dutch”) for his (or “their” since they are are four) willingness to debate and enter dialogue with me over this important topic: “Is there evidence for a god?” I don’t think that either of us would deny the importance of this question, nor would I disagree with Richard Dawkins that “The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important that we have to answer” (a1). My intent will be to show that there is persuasive evidence for the existence of God. And I am sure that this debate will prove profitable for Dutch, myself, and our readers.

2. On the Nature of Arguments.

Dutch and I shall be presenting arguments and therefore I think we need to know what makes a good argument. A good argument is one that is logically valid (its conclusion follows from the premises by the rules of logic), and one with premises that are true. Therefore, if an argument is sound we then have reason to believe that the conclusion is true. Moreover, a convincing argument has premises that are more plausible than their negation given the evidence. A sound argument also does not absolutely, conclusively “prove” a proposition; instead it provides one with sufficient reasons to accept it. There is a difference between absolute certainty and having reasonable belief in a proposition. When it comes to this debate both Dutch and I will be trying to give reasons for our respective positions. Neither of us can absolutely prove that we are correct or the other is absolutely wrong. We simply have to weigh the evidence and come to a conclusion. I shall be presenting four arguments for God.

3. Arguing for God.

3a. Kalam Cosmological Argument.

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

The argument uses scientific evidence to come to the conclusion that has theological significance. The real question is whether the two premises are more plausibly true than their denials. Whether or not the universe began to exist is precisely a question that science has tried to answer, and as far as our best scientific evidence goes, the universe began to exist.

Premise 1: “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.”

Premise 1 seems to be obviously true. Everyday experience and scientific evidence confirms our first premise, namely, that if something begins to exist it must have a cause. This is more convincing than its negation. The alternative would essentially be to believe that things could pop into being uncaused out of nothing. We clearly wouldn’t consider that to be rational; if a universe can pop into existence out of nothing then why can anything else? Again, premise 1 seems obviously true.

Premise 2: “The universe began to exist.”

Premise 2 is supported both by philosophical argument and scientific evidence. Philosophically, one can show that it is not possible to have an infinite regress of past events. It is impossible for an infinite number of things to exist which would suggest that an infinite number of past events cannot exist. The conclusion is that the series of past events must be finite and have had a finite beginning. Scientifically, the evidence is grounded upon the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the expansion of the universe. By far the overwhelmingly accepted scientific model is the Big Bang which says that all physical space, time, matter, and energy came into existence at a finite point some billions of years ago. According to atheist Stephen Hawking, “almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang” (a6).

Now, one shouldn’t deny that alternative theories have been proposed attempting to negate a finite beginning to the universe. However, the Big bang has been widely affirmed within the scientific enterprise in comparison to these alternative theories that have commanded, at best, minimal acceptance. As Guth and Vilenkin have shown, namely, that a universe such as ours that is expanding, or in the state of cosmic expansion, must have had a finite beginning. Moreover, our evidence from the Second Law of Thermodynamics persuasively shows that in the future the universe will end up being in a cold, dark state. However, if one accepts a universe that has existed eternally then it show now be in a cold, dark state. But is is not, thus it must have a finite beginning.

Premise 3: “Therefore the universe has a cause.”

We will wait to see Dutch’s response to the first two premises but if it follows logically then we ought to accept that the universe has a cause. Now, the implications of premise 3 are quite significant for both atheism and theism. If we grant that the universe has a cause then whatever caused it must be spaceless (since it created space), timeless (it created time), transcendent (it exists beyond the universe it created), supernatural (it created the natural), and overwhelmingly powerful (it created the universe without any material cause). The first cause must also be metaphysically necessary since there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. In other words, something has always had to have existed for everything to exist now. This would do away with the argument of “who designed the designer?” I am sure we will tackle that in my first rebuttal. Now, if we grant the supernatural and transcendent properties of this cause then atheism goes out of the window since on atheism these properties cannot exist.

A Sample of Common Atheist Responses to the Beginning of the Universe.

Atheists have traditionally held the universe to be eternal rather than finite. According to some contemporary atheists, “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created” (a2). However, this falls both philosophically and scientifically. Other atheists like Lewis Wolpert concedes that “there’s the whole problem of where the universe itself came from,” and then asks “How did that all happen? I haven’t got a clue” (a3). Many atheists are content to admit that they do not know probably because as atheist scientist Stephen Hawking admits that “Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention” (a4). I’d argue that claimed ignorance can be lazy since it merely refuses to adopt a position (either the universe began to exist or it did not) and have to explain how is sits with one’s atheism. Atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett agrees that the universe has a cause and that it began to exist a finite time ago, but he then argues that the cause of the universe is itself (a5). This is clearly irrational for essentially he is saying that the universe had to already exist in order to bring itself into existence. It would have to exist before it existed! His view is logically incoherent. Lastly, Stephen Hawking proposes that that the origin of the universe is explainable by the law of gravity (a7). This is problematic firstly because scientific laws are descriptive and do not create anything and, secondly, gravity from which the universe sprung is not nothing. I look forward to see how Dutch deals with this dilemma.

3b. Argument from Objective Moral Values and Duties. 

  1. If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Premise 1: “If God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.”

The first premise is not disputed by atheists. They generally accept that moral absolutes do not exist if God does not exist, as Jean-Paul Sartre explains, it is “extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of… values… There can no longer be any good a priori…” (b1). The late William Provine also said that “No inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there any absolute guiding principles for human society” (b2).

Furthermore, by “objective” morality I mean “independent of people’s opinions.” Alternatively, “subjective” would mean “dependent on people’s opinions.” Now, to claim that objective moral values exist is to argue that certain acts are good or evil independent of human opinion. For instance, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was objectively evil regardless of what one thinks of it. The same would apply to the Holocaust, the Columbine massacre, child sacrifice etc.

Lastly, the only way to ground objective moral values and duties is to do so in a transcendent standard that is grounded in God. If one does away with this standard then moral values and duties merely become relative and nothing more than one person’s opinion over another. Atheist philosopher Julian Baggini captures this well explaining that “If there is no single moral authority [if there is no God, then] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error” (b3).

Premise 2: “Objective moral values and duties do exist.”

Here we need to show that there are sufficient reasons for holding to objective morality. Firstly, objective values and duties is incompatible with Dutch’s atheism since, on atheistic naturalism, we’re just advanced animals, and animals aren’t moral agents. However, let’s look at several pieces of evidence in support of this proposition.

[1] Across nearly all human cultures there exists the same basic standards of morality as well as truly altruistic acts which lead to no genetic benefit. [2] The majority of people who outright reject the existence of objective morality still act as if objective morality exists. [3] There exists a nearly universal human intuition that certain things are objectively right or wrong. [4] Many atheist naturalists (Sam Harris and Shelley Kagan) affirm the existence of objective moral values and duties even though there are problems for how they ground them.

Consider line (2); perhaps a clear example would be anti-theist Richard Dawkins. He first pens that “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference,” (b4) then subsequently chastises religious parents for indoctrinating their children, condemns the God of the Bible as evil, argues that faith is one of the “greatest evils” and so on. On one hand Dawkins denies moral absolutes then routinely affirms certain acts to be genuinely evil. Elsewhere one reads the atheist’s outrage at God for allowing evil things to happen. However, this same atheist may very well deny objective moral values and duties which is profoundly inconsistent. Regarding point (4) a study of philosophers found that 56,4% hold to moral absolutes (b5). And since a sizeable percentage of philosophers identify as naturalists (49.8%) it would necessitate that many of these naturalists affirm the objective nature of moral values and duties. John Cottingham says that “the increasing consensus among philosophers today is that some kind of objectivism of… value is correct” (b6). Lastly, since human experience so overwhelmingly affirms the objective nature of moral values and duties, in the absence of a defeater, we are rational to accept it.

Premise 3: “Therefore God exists.”

God is thus the foundation, and the transcendent standard, upon which we can ground objective moral values and duties. According to the late atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie, if there are “objective values, they make the existence of a god more probable than it would have been without them. Thus we have . . . a defensible argument from morality to the existence of a god” (b7).

3c. Argument from Miracles.

  1. If a personal God does not exist then miracles do not occur.
  2. Miracles do occur.
  3. Therefore, a personal God exists.

This argument suggests that events occur that are not explicable by natural or scientific laws but are instead best explained by the intervention in the natural order by a supernatural agent.

Premise 1: “If a personal God does not exist then miracles do no occur.”

I’d speculate that Dutch will not find premise 1 problematic. A miracle is supernatural, and if the supernatural does not exist, then it would follow that miracles do not occur.

Premise 2: “Miracles do occur.”

I provide evidence for premise 2 through eyewitness testimony, (2) video testimony, (3) evidence for Jesus’ miracles (excluding the resurrection), and (4) atheist conversions to Christianity due to miracles.

Line (1) is supported by academic studies as well my own personal investigations. The most comprehensive academic exploration of this subject is Professor Craig Keener’s two volume tome, ‘Miracles.’ Keener provides excellent testimonial and medical evidence for many remarkable claims. One should also interact with Chesnut (c1), Hwa (c2), Pothen (c3), Martin (c4), David (c5), and Kwon (c6) for several decent examinations of miracle evidence. A further study of 1100 doctors found that 55% of them have claimed to have seen miracle healings (c7) which led most most physicians to pray for their patients as a group (51%) as well as individual patients (59%). I have personal evidence of this from my doctor. Ingrid booked an elderly lady in for a back operation to rectify a dislodged spinal disc. A few days before the operation, in which my GP was operating as an assistant, the woman returned claiming that her back had healed after her family had prayed for her. Subsequent scans of her back confirmed this full recovery and the operation was cancelled. When I asked my GP what she thought of this she said that “some things are not scientifically explainable.”

My own investigations have proven quite persuasive. Let me mention some of the more remarkable testimonies. Pastor Desmond of a church in Pinelands, Cape Town explained how a woman with several cancerous nodules was fully healed after walking through a prayer chain. On a missionary effort a fellow team member of Desmond’s recounts how after prayer a beggar’s stump leg had grown over a dozen centimetres in front of his eyes. The team was confused as to why God had not fully restored the man’s leg. Their theory was that the miracle “was about him, God never intended to fully heal his leg.” This man has now “given his life to Christ.” A mature pastor of 37 years that I interviewed in Mossel Bay explained that he prayed for a deformed baby as well as anointed it with oil. The prospects of survival were dire but after the prayer and the anointing the baby fully recovered. The pastor was invited to her 2nd, 3rd and 4th birthday parties. Moreover, after witnessing this dramatic turn of events one doctor remarked, “I don’t believe in God, but whatever you did worked.” Particularly insightful is my lecturer in Ethics. Grant is also a pastor. He prayed for a man with a cancerous tumour on the brain. Again, prospects looked dire and doctors believed he had a few months left to live. However, in that very moment of prayer the man had an overwhelming heat sensation in his head. Scans the following week revealed that the tumour had shrunk to the size of a scab, and had relocated to the bottom of his brain at the back of his head.

(2) I’d like to touch on Jaco van der Westhuyzen’s testimony which is quite extraordinary. Jaco, now retired, was a successful rugby player in South Africa. He also played rugby in several countries such as Japan and England. He has also been to the World Cup representing South Africa. Long story short, Jaco ruptured his posterior cruciate ligament in a local professional match. This was to rule him out from playing rugby again. However, he found a Nigerian pastor, TB Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, widely known for miracle healing. Jaco, after visiting TB Joshua, was fully healed after prayer. Now, the evidence is excellent. Firstly, we have it caught on tape (c8), in the media via respectable and widely read publishers (c9), it made headlines in Afrikaans newspapers presenting medical evidence (c10), and via Jaco’s own testimony (c11). Jaco, fully healed, and having returned to play for the Bulls, went on to win the Super 14 competition. During the team photo he took off his bulls shirt to display the words “Jesus is King” (c12) as a reminder of his radical healing. Moreover, Jaco came to know of TB Joshua after a friend of his was healed from a brain tumour (c13). I have a similar testimony of a friend who likewise visited the Synagogue Church of All Nations. When she entered the main auditorium she recounts how an elderly blind woman broke out into a state of euphoria when her sight had returned to her.

(3) Jesus’ ministry considers historical evidence for miracles. We have decent historical evidence for the miracle status of Jesus that is embedded in every layer of our textual evidence (c14). We have Jesus’ miracles in several independent early hypothetical sources (Q, L, M, the pre-John Sign Gospel), and the gospel traditions (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John). Historians are happy to just have two historical sources confirming a historical event which is a general standard they work from (c15). However, for Jesus’ miracles we have no less than five early & independent sources (c16), with some dating going back within years of his crucifixion therefore negating the challenge of mythological embellishment. Professor Craig Keener explains that “all of the many ancient sources that comment on the issue agree that Jesus and his early followers performed miracles: Q, Mark, special material in Matthew and Luke, John, Acts, the Epistles, Revelation, and non-Christian testimony from both Jewish and pagan sources” (c17), and thus passes the criterion of multiple attestation (c18). Moreover, the Jesus’ performing of miracles best explains his popularity with crowds (c19) (c20), was attested to by his very enemies (c21) (c22), and are unusually unique in their diversity (c23). The late scholar Marcus Borg of the radical Jesus Seminar penned that “more healing stories are told about him than about any other figure in the Jewish tradition… he was the most remarkable healer in human history” (c24). Agnostic and critic Bart Ehrman explains that “Jesus was widely reputed to have done them [miracle healings]” (c25) whereas according to prominent scholar Craig Evans, “It is no longer seriously contested that miracles played a role in Jesus’ ministry” (c26). Thus, unless we are to constrain ourselves by an unwarranted methodological naturalism which rules miracles out a priori then we should accept the evidence that Jesus was really a miracle worker.

(4) However, what about atheist conversions because of miracles? This is persuasive evidence since atheists are not predisposed to believing in miracles so when they do attest to one it requires an explanation. In one case professor Keener interviewed several pastors who knew a prominent atheist family. The elderly mother was diagnosed in three hospitals as having inoperable brain stem cancer and her walking soon became impossible. Within a month after prayer, however, the tumour had shrunk from two centimeters to the size of a grain of rice, and she soon began walking and carrying on normally, to the astonishment of her physicians. The entire family are now believers, and the elderly mother has testified widely of her recovery (c27). In a taped interview Keener discovered that an atheist whose daughter had heart disease became a believer since her daughter, after prayer, “could leave the hospital because she was much better” (c28). Atheist Mohan had a heart attack since there was a 95% blockage of three major arteries. However, after his daughter prayed for his recovery he was healed and had less than 50% blockage, and thus no longer needed surgery. Mohan subsequently donated 15 000 000 rupees to church work and left his business for ministry. In an exploration by Dr. Claudia Währisch-Oblau a non-Christian was fully healed from an inability to walk after prayer from his brother (c29). An atheist church attendee with a severely painful leg was healed, and to this atheist’s surprise the pastor announced that God wanted to heal a painful leg after which he was healed, and became a believer (c30). In Ecuador an atheist professor of educational research at Quito’s Central University of Ecuador, Dr. Luis Flores witnessed the healing of a number of chronic conditions, including “deviation of the fifth lumbar vertebra, chronic pharyngitis,” allergies “and a duodenal ulcer” (c31). Flores converted and is now a pastor. Moreover, an atheist from El Paso, Texas, not only witnessed healings but was himself healed from a serious organic illness (c32).

Premise 3: “Therefore a personal God exists.”

 The evidence from miracles suggests that not only does a being exist that transcends the natural and thus dwells within the supernatural, but that this being must also be personal since it takes initiative to intervene to bring about an intended cause. This is because this being, as our evidence affirms, has the benefit of human beings in mind. The best explanation of this is God.

3d. Argument from Jesus’ Resurrection.

This argument posits God as the best explanation for the resurrection of Jesus. We shall focus on Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach (MFA). The MFA, explains Habermas, “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones” (d1). This comes after Habermas has sifted through some 3000 peer reviewed academic articles penned in several languages. Having done so Habermas identifies 12 such facts (d2) (d3) but we shall focus only on four that I need to make my case:

(1) Jesus’ crucifixion.
(2) Jesus’ burial.
(3) Jesus’ empty tomb.
(4) Jesus’ post mortem appearances.

General Reliability.

Since we will review the New Testament I want to make the case that we can trust them as historical documents. We won’t assume that the biblical texts are inspired or that they are inerrant. We shall simply approach our New Testament as historical documents. As I have argued before there are six main areas we will focus on (d4). The gospels are our primary sources for learning about Jesus. Contemporary critic Bart Ehrman affirms we can make use of the “New Testament Gospels.” He explains that doing so “is not for religious or theological reasons… these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons, pure and simple” (d5). In agreement Professor Richard Burridge claims that when “judged by the criteria of the 1st century and I think they [gospels] are pretty reliable documents” (d6). It is thus not disputed that the gospels do, to a greater or lesser extent, give us historical information on Jesus. Such a position is strengthened since consensus (d10) today holds the gospels to be the “genre of biographies” (d7), “ancient biographies” (d8), and “as modified ancient biographies” (d9). This important fact conveys to us the author’s motive, namely to provide an account of what really happened. It would be a different thing if the authors intended to write romantic fiction or lyric poetry instead.

Historians note that archaeology supports the gospel accounts which goes a long way in demonstrating that they are grounded within history. There are many such confirmations concerning the gospels, as Distinguished Professor Craig Evans explains, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the book of Acts—these are the basic narrative books of the New Testament. They talk about real people, real events, real places, and the archaeologist can show that” (d11). Scholar Paul Johnson agrees writing that “Historians note that mounting evidence from archaeology confirms rather than contradicts the accounts of Jesus” (d12). Then historians have extra-biblical affirmation of gospel events, as exegete Habermas explains, “When the combined evidence from ancient sources is summarized, quite an impressive amount of information is gathered concerning Jesus and ancient Christianity” (d13). Moreover, general reliability is further enhanced by manuscript attestation. We have over 5000 copies in the original language of Greek (d14) which surpasses anything else we have from other ancient Greco-Roman works. Habermas captures this well, “What is usually meant is that the New Testament has far more manuscript evidence from a far earlier period than other classical works. There are just under 6000 NT manuscripts, with copies of most of the NT dating from just 100 years or so after its writing…In this regard, the classics are not as well attested. While this doesn’t guarantee truthfulness, it means that it is much easier to reconstruct the New Testament text” (d15).

Then equally as important is the earliness of our textual evidence. Our entire New Testament dates prior to the end of the 1st century. Jesus died around 30 AD, and most scholars date our gospels from 70 to 95 AD whereas Paul’s letters date even earlier from the 50s onwards. This means that what we have is 1st century testimony to the life of Jesus. Scholar Mike Bird argues that this is early especially in “comparison to other historical figures” (d16). Professor Keener explains that “Gospel materials written within four decades of Jesus’ execution therefore provide a remarkably special opportunity for early insight into Jesus’ ministry” (d17). Scholar Dan Wallace claims that “it cannot be denied as a fact of history that these gospels are our earliest witnesses to what Christians in the first century believed” (d18). Scholars also demonstrate that we can actually get back earlier than that 70 AD mark when we analyse the traditions behind our gospels.

The Minimal Facts.

We shall work from the basis that historians usually accept two independent sources confirming an event of history to be likely historical (d19). I shall also make reference to the Criterion of Authenticity (CoA). CoA is a tool historians use that assigns probability to the deeds and sayings of Jesus, and, of course, the greater the probability the more confident we can be in an alleged saying or event (d27). Of CoA we shall focus on (d28):

  1. Independent & early attestation: Event appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which it is alleged to have occurred.
  2. Embarrassment: Event is awkward or counter-productive for the persons who serve as the source of information. It is highly unlikely to have simply been made up.
  3. Enemy attestation: Event is attested to by enemies which gives it a high probability.

Fact (1) Jesus’ death by crucifixion – No mainstream historian doubts that Jesus was crucified. According to Professor James Dunn the crucifixion of “Jesus command[s] almost universal assent” and “is impossible to doubt or deny” (d20). Bart Ehrman agrees that it “is one of the most secure facts we have about his life” (d21). Professor Luke Johnson says the evidence “is overwhelming” (d22), atheist Professor Ludemann says the “crucifixion is indisputable,” Crossan says he takes it “absolutely for granted” (d23), Borg calls it “so probable as to be certain” (d24), and Paula Frederickson says it “is the single strongest fact we have about Jesus” (d25). The crucifixion is independently attested in no less than 11 independent sources from both within and outside of the New Testament: Pre-Mark Passion Narrative, Q, John, Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter 2:24, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Martyr, Josephus Flavius, & Cornelius Tacitus. Pre-Mark and Q are very early dating to within years of the actual crucifixion. Other later, less valuable, sources such as Lucian, Serapion (depends on dating), Thallus and the Talmud all affirm a constant tradition of Jesus’ crucifixion (d26). The crucifixion also passes the CoA. It is early and multiply attested (d29), passes the criterion of embarrassment (d30) (d31), coherence (d32), as well as being archaeologically consistent (d33). Gospel crucifixion details also match what we know from contemporary medical science which gives them credibility (d33) (d34).

Fact (2) Jesus’ burial – Consensus affirms Jesus’ burial. In accordance to CoA it is early and multiply attested. It is affirmed within an early pre-Pauline creed that Paul received less than five years after Jesus’ crucifixion (d35). Habermas explains that these creeds “preserve some of the earliest reports concerning Jesus from about AD 30-50” (d36). The burial is further attested in Mark’s Pre-Passion Narrative material which, according to exegete William Craig, “is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony and dates to within several years of Jesus’ crucifixion” (d37). Professor Richard Bauckham also dates it prior to 40 AD and probably “goes back to the Jerusalem church” (d38). This is powerful early and independent evidence. The burial is further independently attested to by unique material M & L, Acts and John. In total we have six independent sources with several that are very early attesting to Jesus’ burial. According to John Robinson the burial is one of “the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus” (d39). Moreover, the burial is enemy attested. The religious Jewish enemies of Jesus accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb according to Matthew 28:13, Martyr (Dialogue with Tryphyo, 108), and Tertullian (De Spectaculis, 30). Such an accusation assumes that Jesus was buried within the tomb and that it was found empty.

Fact (3) Jesus’ empty tomb – Fact three is the exception since it is affirmed by roughly 75% of scholars as opposed to 99% upwards. However, that is still a majority as Habermas explains, “…a strong majority of contemporary critical scholars seems to support… that Jesus was buried in a tomb that was subsequently discovered to be empty” (d40). Firstly, it is implied in the early pre-Pauline creed of 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 as William Craig notes, “For in saying that Jesus died – was buried – was raised – appeared, one automatically implies that the empty grave has been left behind” (d41). Secondly, Christianity would have hit a wall if the tomb wasn’t actually empty. The easiest way to disprove the early Christian message of a resurrected saviour would be to go to the tomb where Jesus was laid, and expose it. Paul Althaus explains the resurrection proclamation “could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned” (d42). Thirdly, that Jesus’ women followers were the first to discover the empty tomb passes the criterion of embarrassment, as Chris Price illumines that “In light of this cultural context, if you are going to create a story about an empty tomb you don’t make women the first eyewitnesses. This is a counterproductive detail included by the writer simply because he was committed to telling the truth” (d43). It also boasts independent attestation. It is early and independently attested in 1 Cor. 15:1-11 and the Pre-Markan Passion Narrative (d44). It is also attested in the synoptics (Mark, Matthew, Luke) and John. That is four independent sources as Habermas notes: “[the] empty tomb is reported in at least three, if not four, of these Gospel sources” which is why it is “taken so seriously by contemporary critical scholars” (d45). It was also part of the early Christian preaching in Acts (3:29-31 & 36-37 ) and is likewise enemy attested (d46).

Fact (4) Jesus’ post mortem appearances – Consensus holds that James, Paul and the disciples had resurrection experiences of Jesus. According to atheist historian Gerd Ludemann “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ” (d47). Agnostic James Crossley says it is “the hardest, best evidence we have” (d48), and Ehrman calls it “a historical fact” (d49). All four gospels independently attest to the resurrection. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Luke, and the appearance to the Twelve by Luke and John. We also have independent witness to Galilean appearances in Mark, Matthew, and John, as well as to the women in Matthew and John (d50). It’s further attested in Paul’s early creed (1 Cor. 15:1-11), in Paul’s authentic & disputed epistles, Q and Acts. The early creed is most significant since it records that Peter, the twelve disciples, 500 witnesses, James, and lastly Paul had experiences of the risen Jesus. Moreover, Clement of Rome provides 1st century and Polycarp early 2nd century supporting evidence of the resurrection appearances. Both Clement and Polycarp knew the disciples which gives their testimonies credibility.

Moreover, the disciples, James and Paul were sincere in the proclamation of the risen Jesus as affirmed by nine early and independent sources. Before his conversion, Paul persecuted the early church until Jesus appeared to him personally (d51). James was Jesus’ unbelieving brother who was likewise convinced on the basis of a resurrection appearance (d52). We also know of 11 sources that inform us of the disciples’ early proclamation of the resurrection and their willingness to suffer and die for it (d53). Finally, we know that the early Christians Paul, James (Jesus’ brother), James (brother of John), Stephen, and Peter were all martyred for their belief in the risen Jesus. Moreover, these appearances cannot be explained away as hallucinations since Paul believed in Jesus’ physical resurrection (d54), the risen Jesus ate fish (Luke 24:42), offered his disciples an opportunity to touch his resurrection body (Luke 24:39, John 20:27), had some grab hold of his feet in worship (Matt. 28:9), and the disciple Thomas allegedly put his finger and hand into the place where the nails had been in Jesus’ body (John 20:27). According to exegete Craig William Craig explains, “we have a completely unanimous testimony in the Gospels that all of them were physical” (d55).

Conclusion: “Therefore, God is the best explanation of the data.”

My argument is that the resurrection most appropriately explains this set of data and that God’s existence is more probable given these facts. I look forward Dutch’s response.

[Words: 5063]


a1. Richard Dawkins quoted by Van Biema in God vs. Science (2006). Available.

a2. Humanist Manifesto I. Available.

a3. Wolpert, L. 2007. The Hard Cell. p. 18.

a4. Hawking, S. 1988. Brief History of Time. p. 46.

a5. Dennett, D. 2006. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. p. 244.

a6. Hawking, S. 1996. The Nature of Space and Time. p. 20.

a7. Hawking, S. The Grand Design. p. 180.

b1. Sartre, J. 2007. Existentialism Is a Humanism. p. 28

b2. Provine, W. 1998. Scientists, Face it! Science and Religion are Incompatible. Available.

b3. Baggini, J. 2003. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction. p. 41-51.

b4. Dawkins, R. 1995. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. p. 132—33.

b5. Bourget, D. & Chalmers, D. 2013. What Do Philosophers Believe? Available.

b6. Cottingham, J. 2006. “Philosophers are finding fresh meanings in Truth, Goodness and Beauty” in The Times.

b7. Mackie, J. 1982. The Miracle of Theism. p. 115-116.

c1. Chesnut, A. 2011. “Exorcising the Demons of  Deprivation: Divine Healing and Conversion in Brazilian Pentecostalism” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing. p. 169–85.

c2. Hwa, Y. 1997. Mangoes Or Bananas?: The Quest for an Authentic Asian Christian Theology. p. 230.

c3. Pothen, A. ‪1990. Indigenous Cross-cultural Missions in India and Their Contribution to Church Growth: ‪With Special Emphasis on Pentecostal-charismatic Missions. p. 189.

c4. Martin, D. Evangelical Expansion in Global Society. p. 288.

c5. David, A. 2012. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China And Changing the Global Balance of Power. p. 76.

c6. Kwon, T. 1985. The Theoretical Foundations of  Healing Ministry and the Applications to Church Growth. p. 187.

c7. Kessler, G. 2004. Science or Miracle?; Holiday Season Survey Reveals Physicians’ Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles. Available.

c8. YouTube. 2008. ‪SA Rugby Player Jaco Van der Westhuizen’s torn knee ligament INSTANTLY HEALED! Available.

c9. The Observer. 2004. Triumph and Despair. Available.

c10. YouTube. 2008. ‪Ibid [3:40-3:52]. Available.

c11. YouTube. 2008. ‪Ibid. Available.

c12. Sport24. 2008. Jaco’s message: Fair or foul? Available.

c13. YouTube. 2008. ‪Ibid [4:22-4:24]‪. Available.

c14. Blomberg, C. The credibility of Jesus’ miracles. Available.

c15. Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb. Available.

c16. Habermas, G. 2005. Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels. Available.

c17. Keener, C. 2012. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. p. 241

c18. Blackburn, B in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (1998). p. 356-57. According to Blackburn, “The miracle-working activity of Jesus–at least exorcisms and healings easily passes the criterion of multiple attestation.”

c19. Fredriksen, P. 1999. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. p. 115. According to Fredriksen, “An ability to work cures, further, coheres with another datum from Jesus’ mission: He had a popular following, which such an ability helps to account for.”

c20. Anthony Harvey quoted by Darren Sarisky in Theology, History and Biblical Interpretation (2015). p. 393.

c21. Brown, R. 1994. An Introduction to New Testament Christology. p. 62-63. According to Brown, “It is noteworthy that Jesus’ enemies are not presented as denying that he did extraordinary deeds; rather they attributed them to evil origins, either to the devil (Mark 3:22-30) or in the 2d-century polemic to magic (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.32.3-5).”

c22. Sanders, E. 1995. The Historical Figure of Jesus.

c23. Price, C. 2004. The Miracles of Jesus: A Historical Inquiry. Available.

c24. Borg, M. The Mighty Deeds of Jesus. Available.

c25. Ehrman, B. 1999. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 199.

c26. Evans, C. Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology. p. 34. Available.

c27. Keener, C. 2011. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. p. 472 (Scribd ebook format).

c28. Keener, K. 2011. Miracles: The Reliability of the New Testament Accounts. p. 446-447 (Scribd ebook format).

c29. Währisch-Oblau, C. Healing in Migrant Churches. p. 89.

c30. Hege, N. 1998. Beyond Our Prayers: Anabaptist Church Growth in Ethiopia, 1948–1998. p. 170.

c31. Castleberry, J. 1999. It’s Not Just for Ignorant People Anymore: The Future Impact of University Graduates on the Development of the Ecuadorian Assemblies of God. p. 112–13.

c32. Laurentin, R. 1982. Miracles in El Paso? p. 59–64.

d1. Habermas, G. & Licona, M. 2004. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. p. 44.

d2. Habermas, G. 2012. The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity. Available.

d3. 12 Historical Facts (Most Critical Scholars Believe These 12 Items). Available.

d4. Bishop, J. 2016. The General Reliability of the Gospels. Available.

d5. Ehrman, Bart. 2008. The New Testament. p. 229.

d6. Burridge, R. 2013. All Four One And One For All. Available.

d7. Stanton, G. 2004. Jesus and Gospel. p. 192.

d8. Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making. p. 185.

d9. Cornerstone Institute. New Testament Studies. 2015.

d10. Keener, C. 2009. Will the Real Historical Jesus Please Stand Up? The Gospels as Sources for Historical Information about Jesus. Available.

d11. Evans, C. Interview: Is the Bible Reliable? Available.

d12. Johnson, P. 1986. A Historian Looks at Jesus (Speech).

d13. Habermas, G. 1996. The Historical Jesus:  Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. p. 219.

d14. Elliott, K. & Moir, I. 2000. Manuscripts and the Text of the New Testament. p. 1.

d15. Habermas, G. Dr. Habermas Answers Important Questions. Available.

d16. Bird, M. 2014. Yes Jesus existed… but relax, you can still be an atheist if you want to. Available.

d17. Keener, C. 2009. Will the Real Historical Jesus Please Stand Up? The Gospels as Sources for Historical Information about Jesus. Available.

d18. Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. p. 100.

d19. Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb. Available.

d20. Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making. p. 339.

d21. Ehrman, B. Why Was Jesus Killed? Available.

d22. Johnson, L. 1996. The Real Jesus. p. 125.

d23. Ludemann, G. 2004. The Resurrection of Christ. p. 50.

d24. Crossan quoted by Stewart, R. & Habermas, G. in Memories of Jesus. p. 282.

d25. Paula Frederickson, remark during discussion at the meeting of “The Historical Jesus” section at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 22, 1999.

d26. Habermas, G. & Licona, M. 2004. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. p. 50.

d27. Bishop, J. 2016. The Historical Jesus and the Criteria of Authenticity. Available.

d28. Craig, W. 2013. A Reasonable Response. Also see, Craig, W. 2014. Gospel Authorship – Who Cares? Available.

d29. Craig, W. The Resurrection of Jesus. Available.

d30. Hengel, M. 1977. Crucifixion. According to Hengel: “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.”

d31. Craig, W. 2013. Stephen Law on the Non-existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Available.

d32. Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. p. 109.

d33. Edwards, W. 1986. Journal of the American Medical Association. p. 1463.

d34. Bishop, J. 2015. Jesus Fact #2 – The Piercing of Jesus’ Side and Medical Science. Available.

d35. Ludemann, G. 1994. The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology. p. 38.

d36. Habermas, G. 1996. The Historical Jesus:  Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. p. 143

d37. Craig, W. 2009. Independent Sources for Jesus’ Burial and Empty Tomb. Available.

d38. Bauckham, R. 2008. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. p. 243.

d39. Robinson, J. 1973. The Human Face of God. p. 131.

d40. Habermas, G. The Empty Tomb of Jesus. Available:

d41. Craig, W. The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus. Available.

d42. Althaus, P. quoted by Dale Allison in: Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. 2005. p. 317.

d43. Price, C. 2015. Resurrection: Making Sense of Historical Data. Available.

d44. Exploring Biblical Greek. 30-60 AD – Pre-Markan Passion Narrative. Available.

d45. Habermas, G. 2005. Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels. Available.

d46. Flowers, D. 2013. The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Available.

d47. Ludemann, G. 1995. What Really Happened? p. 80.

d48. Crossley, J. 2015. Unbelievable? New Testament Q&A – Gary Habermas & James Crossley.

d49. Ehrman, B. 1999. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 231.

d50. Craig, W. The Resurrection of Jesus. Available.

d51. Ehrman, B. 2006. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. p. 101.

d52. Habermas, G. 2003. The Risen Jesus and Future Hope. p. 22.

d53. Sources: Luke, Paul, Josephus, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Tertullian, Origen, and Hegesippus.

d54. Bock, D. & Wallace, D. 2010. Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. p. 208.

d55. Craig, W. 2008. Reasonable Faith. p. 383.

15 responses to “James Bishop vs. The Dutch Atheist, “Is there evidence for a god?” [Opening Speech]

  1. Nothing new here. You’ve just rehashed and consolidated posts from over the last week or two. I’ve already posted rebuttals to nearly all of those prior posts.

    Repeating misinformation and faulty logic will not make it any more true.

    • You say: “Repeating misinformation and faulty logic will not make it any more true” – so why do you insist on doing it then?

      • Spare me. Neither you nor James have made the slightest effort to refute my prior rebuttals.

        If you have meaningful counter arguments, then share them.

        • As far as I am concerned, in the light of James’ brilliant opening speech above (which I suggest you read) your so-called prior “rebuttals” are meaningless and not worthy of further debate.

  2. Pingback: James Bishop vs. The Dutch Atheist, “Is there evidence for a god?” [1st Rebuttal] | James Bishop's Theology & Apologetics.·

  3. Hey James, great post! I thought I’d just bring attention to one quick point. Your argument from miracles uses an invalid disjunctive form, since it affirms the consequent. The valid forms either affirm the antecedent or deny the consequent. So the valid form would be: 1) If a personal God exists then miracles do occur. 2) Miracles do occur, 3) Therefore a personal God exists.

    • 1) Why does the existence of a personal god lead to the conclusion that Miracles occur?
      2) Please prove that miracles occur.
      3) Well, the conclusion is invalid, due to failures of 1 and 2.

      • The point of my comment was not to defend the argument, just to point out that its form, as James presented it, is logically incorrect. The logically correct form of the same argument would be one like I provided in the comment. As for your 1) and 2), they would not show the conclusion to be invalid, only, if the objections are successful, to be unsound.

        • Fair enough on your first point, though the fact that you prefaced your response with “great post” implied that you agreed with the argument (as you restated it).

          On the 2nd point (“invalid” vs. “unsound”), you are correct. My apologies for the sloppy semantics.

          • I do think that overall the argument probably works, although I’m not sure how strong it is alone. For 1), the fact that miracles occur might not necessitate that a personal God exists, but, seeing as how miracles are by definition supernatural, would at least show naturalism to be false. So the argument could be reconfigured as an argument against naturalism rather than a positive argument for theism. One might also be able to argue that miracles require supernatural agency, but I’d have to think more about that. As for 2), I think James provided some pretty good reasons for thinking miracles do occur in his post.

            • But your statement of point 1 was “If a personal God exists then miracles do occur”. You are now discussing the reverse – If miracles do occur then a personal God exists”.

              I agree that a true miracle would disprove strict naturalism, since a miracle is, by definition, the supernatural.

              On point 2, I obviously disagree, and have expressed rebuttals in other posts. The core of our disagreement is that, whereas I accept the standard that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, he has set the bar much lower (perhaps you have as well).

              The naturalist is equally skeptical of extraordinary claims, whether they are of a natural or a supernatural variety. For example, I saw a writeup in the newspaper several years back, where a local inventor claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine that also produced energy. Needless to say, I was highly skeptical. Aside from the variety of Physics laws that the concept ignored (e.g. friction, the conservation of energy, etc.), his demo lasted all of about 60 seconds, at which time it was terminated, with speculation that, with just a few mods, it would run forever. And to doubters, he pointed to various famous inventors and science of the past, arguing that folks doubted them too.

              • Sorry my response is so late, I overlooked the notification. You’re correct, I reversed the subject and predicate of the two propositions. The existence of a personal God would not necessarily entail the occurrence of miracles. So the actual valid form of the argument would be: 1) If miracles occur, then God exists. 2) Miracles do occur, 3) Therefore God exists. This affirms the antecedent so it is logically valid, although of course the individual premises might still be false.
                I guess my question for point 2 is what counts as “extraordinary” here, and how do you know?

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