James Bishop vs. The Dutch Atheist, “Is there evidence for a god?” [2nd Rebuttal]

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1 – Dutch’s Opening Statement.
2 – James Bishop’s Opening Statement.
1 – Dutch’s 1st Rebuttal.
2 – James Bishop’s 1st Rebuttal.
1 – Dutch’s 2nd Rebuttal (forfeited).
2 – James Bishop’s 2nd Rebuttal.
1 – Dutch’s Concluding Statements (forfeited).
2 – James Bishop’s Concluding Statements (to come).

Note: It would appear that Dutch has forfeited the debate. It has been nearly three weeks and I have had no response from Dutch despite an attempt to contact him (Dutch was previously very efficient in responding to messages until now). The door is still wide open should he wish to jump in again. Either way I will finish off this debate in the manner we agreed to conduct it.

1. Answering Dutch’s Treatment of the Argument From Objective Moral Values and Duties.

Dutch begins saying that “Morally “good” choices tend to manifest through desirable, pro-social consequences while morally “evil” choices are those which tend to do the opposite… Any time we say a thing has certain value or that a thing is good, we’re not talking about some intrinsic physical quality of the thing itself.  What we’re really saying is that somewhere, somehow, a subjective agent has arbitrarily decided to place value on that thing in the form of a preferential desire with respect to other things.”

In other words, what Dutch is essentially saying is that it’s not intrinsically immoral, or objectively evil, to rape or murder innocent people. Thus, that we view certain acts as “immoral” is only because “a subjective agent [like you and me] has arbitrarily decided” that it is so. So, when professor Wendell Johnson experimented on 11 children in the “Monster Study” which left the children traumatized for the rest of their lives, it isn’t actually intrinsically wrong according to Dutch. Instead, he defends that it is merely the arbitrary decision of some human beings. So, that the Nazi scientists surgically removed the limbs and joints of Jewish victims and transplanted them into other limbless victims, wasn’t morally wrong on Dutch’s atheistic worldview. In fact, Dutch has not leg to stand on (pun intended) to say that what the Nazi scientists did, namely to mutilate and hack innocent Jewish victims, is morally wrong. After all, it is just the “arbitrary” decision on the part of the Nazi scientists that what they were doing was in fact right as opposed to my arbitrary view that what they did was evil. What this demonstrates are the real consequences of adopting an atheistic worldview. Atheist philosopher Peter Cave disagrees with his moral relativist comrades on that “Whatever skeptical arguments may be brought against our belief that killing the innocent is morally wrong, we are more certain that the killing is morally wrong than that the argument is sound… Torturing an innocent child for the sheer fun of it is morally wrong” (a1). Philosopher Louise Antony agrees, “Any argument for moral skepticism is going to be based upon premises which are less obvious than the reality of moral values and duties themselves, and therefore can never be rational to accept moral skepticism” (a3).

Then Dutch misunderstands what I mean when I say that there is persuasive evidence for objective moral values and duties. He contends that “A billion subjective evaluations does not prove objectivity.” Some paragraphs later he pens, “I am very curious about how James is going to prove all of this is objectively evil. What axioms and rules of inference does he exercise to arrive at that conclusion? What truth-assignment functions does he use and why? Don’t just assert that all of the above is objectively wrong, prove it.”

I argued that human beings possess a powerful inner witness that certain acts are morally evil. This is not absolute proof in the mathematical sense nor was that what I was arguing for. In fact, one could rephrase the question back to Dutch and, to help sketch out an analogy, focus it on objective realism. For example, what axioms and rules of inference does Dutch exercise to arrive at the conclusion that the external world of physical objects really exists? What truth-assignment functions does he use and why? Why doesn’t he prove it?

Now, it is impossible to “prove” that a physical world exists external to our own minds. Moreover, attempting to do so simply begs the question since one is left with no other option than having to use his own mind in order to come to the conclusion. However, none of us would give credence to the idea that the external world does not exist; in fact, we’re all objective realists whether we know it or not. But why do we hold to this metaphysical belief even though we can’t prove it? Simply put, because such a belief is wholly consistent with our every day, human experience. And, therefore, in the absence of a defeater we are rational to hold to the belief in the existence of the external world. The same applies to the argument for objective moral values and duties. Objective morality is consistent with our overwhelming, every day human experience, and therefore we are rational to belief in it even though we cannot “prove” it. I suspect Dutch’s subpar concept of proof comes down to his profoundly reductionistic worldview, irrational scientistic outlook, as well as his undermining of philosophical reasoning.

Dutch attempts to catch me out, “Also, did you mention [notice?] that James uses the word “nearly”? Wouldn’t that be “all” if morality was objective?” to which I’d answer with a no. That there exists a realm of objective moral values and duties, of which we undoubtedly perceive to be real, does not necessitate that everyone will choose to act morally or even have the ability to comprehend such a realm (think of psychopaths, for example). The moral argument does not, therefore, depend on the proposition that all people acknowledge objective moral values and duties. However, as I argued, a persuasive line of evidence is that the overwhelming majority of human beings do apprehend such a realm. One may parallel this to objective realism; just because some people might have problems with sense perception of the physical world doesn’t mean that there external world of objects does not exist. That the external world exists is not dependent on everyones perceptions of it.

Dutch asks, “Can someone please now tell me in what logical universe does any of this imply anything that even remotely resembles the singular deity of classical monotheism?” The moral argument certainly gets us to a God that is transcendent over his creation. Dutch is correct that it doesn’t get us to the biblical God, but it does get us to a God which is all we need to make our case (more in a moment). Dutch, moreover, disagrees with my comparison between human beings and animals. Essentially I argued that human beings, on an atheistic naturalistic worldview, are no different to mosquitos or a lions in the moral sense. In other words, no-one charges a lion with murder if it kills a zebra. But on atheism that is all we are, merely highly evolved animals. So, given that, it is impossible to sustain the view that a human beings is any more of a moral agent than is the lion. But Dutch believes that “This, of course, is flat out wrong. Yes, humans are animals but if we look to other animals we cannot but help to acknowledge that they have morals. Primatologist Frans de Waal has been studying primates for decades now and he acknowledges the existence of certain morals in primates…

However, it is quite clear that Dutch misunderstands what I mean when I say human beings, unlike lower animals, are moral agents. We are moral agents because we apprehend a realm of objective moral values and duties of which other animals like cows, lions and dogs do not. But what Dutch really means by “morality” is survival instinct that is no more than a “group-oriented phenomenon born from the fact that we rely on a support system for survival…” This quote, from Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal, does not, however, get Dutch to where he wants to be. de Waal’s quote is exclusively a scientific observation, however, the ontological question of objective moral values and duties is a question of metaphysics. In other words, that de Waal explains that “Morality is a group-oriented phenomenon” is not an observation in the philosophical sense, and thus can neither affirm or deny objective morality as I’ve presented. Then Dutch attempts to identify several “pitfalls” to my presented evidence for objective moral values and duties, “Just because all of the above feels wrong to you doesn’t make it objectively so. So what can James appeal to beyond our personal subjective preferences in order to settle any dispute.

Again, one could parallel this to objective realism, namely the belief we have that the external world of physical objects exists. Essentially Dutch may as well say something like, “Just because we all feel that there exists a world of physical objects beyond our minds doesn’t make it objectively so. So what can James appeal to beyond our personal subjective preferences in order to settle any dispute?” Well, nothing! There is no way through which we can prove that an external world of physical objects exists, just like there is no way to prove that objective moral values and duties exist either. Rather, what I did was present several lines of evidence that point towards, rather than absolutely proves, the existence of objective moral values and duties. So, I am sure we’d all agree that it is rational to hold to the existence of a world external to our own minds, and if we do, then we shouldn’t be skeptical of our apprehension of a realm of objective moral values and duties. Philosopher William Craig captures this well, “In moral experience we apprehend a realm of moral values and duties that impose themselves upon us. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world” (a2).

Dutch goes on, “I do not care if a billion people think all of the above are wrong. A billion subjective evaluations does not prove objectivity.” However, Dutch under appreciates these “subjective evaluations.” Rather it is not a mere “billion” people who view rape and murder as being morally wrong; rather it is the overwhelming majority, independent of culture, that do view it as a moral evil. That would arguably branch into the six billion range. So, it doesn’t “prove” the objectivity of moral values and duties but it remains one line of evidence that point in that direction. Further, Dutch points out that human societies have often condoned immoral acts, “Not so long ago societies all around the world assumed that slavery was okay even though today we all tend to think it’s evil.”

Firstly, as pointed out, there is no warrant for Dutch to refer to certain acts as being objectively evil (as he evidently believes slavery to be), but he does so anyway which shows how impossible it is to live consistently on an atheistic worldview. Moreover, that some cultures condone immoral acts does not negate the existence of objective moral values and duties. It is merely points out that some cultures do morally abominable things which already assumes that we can identify the existence of objectively evil acts. He continues, “…James is not allowed to make any appeal to the positive or negative consequences of our actions with respect to the health, happiness, or well being of human cultural groups. That’s my moral philosophy, not James’. James rejected that the minute he became a moral realist.”

Firstly, there exists no moral philosophy on atheism that proves to be consistent with one’s own atheism. Secondly, I don’t actually understand what Dutch is trying to say here… why can’t I make appeals to what I believe is morally good or evil if I am a moral realist? Dutch merely states that “Christian moral realism is antithetical to consequentialism,” and leaves it at that. There’s no argument provided, explanations of terms, or anything else for one to consider. However, I’d argue that is precisely because I am a moral realist that grounds my ability to claim that certain acts are either morally good or evil. Dutch then asks, how does the moral argument “imply anything that even remotely resembles the singular deity of classical monotheism?…. There’s no logical connection between these two statements.”

The argument demonstrates that a transcendent moral law requires a transcendent moral lawgiver. The best explanation of a transcendent lawgiver is a transcendent being, God. Dutch is right that the moral argument doesn’t get us to “classical monotheism” although I contend that it does get us to God. And that is all I really need to make my case. If I wanted to supplement the moral argument in favour of the Christian monotheistic God then I would use in the argument from Jesus’ resurrection and ministry. But all I need to be successful in this debate is to demonstrate sufficient reasons to believe in God, and I believe the moral argument does just that.

Further, Dutch accuses me of circular reasoning in that “God is literally a subjective agent by definition and the whole point of the argument is to prove God’s existence in the first place. Referring to God would turn the whole argument into circular reasoning.” However, I am not using God “as proof for [my] proposition.” Rather I am using our apprehension of a realm of objective moral values and duties as evidence for the concluding premise that God exists. Further, this argument takes the logical form known as Modus Tollens: 1) If P, then Q, 2) Not P, 3). Therefore, not P. Premise one isn’t begging the question, it’s known as a conditional: “If P, then Q”. So if “not P” is true, then “not Q” can be logically inferred. Also, that Dutch says “God is literally a subjective” is odd. Just because people have subjective ideas about God it doesn’t mean that God’s nature is subjective. God is defined as a maximally great being as Anselm put it, “that which no greater could be achieved.” So If God is maximally great, then he cannot change. Dutch needs to do a bit more than merely assume God is a subjective being.

2. Answering Dutch’s Treatment of the Argument From Jesus’ Resurrection.

Dutch affirms that he isn’t “a mythicist.” I think that’s quite refreshing considering so many online village atheists do take that position. So, I am quite glad to see Dutch say that “there was a historical Jesus and that we can learn some things about him [and that] we should treat the Gospels and even the other books in the New Testament as any other historical document. To discard the Gospels all together is on purely ideological, not historical, grounds.” This is a really promising start since it opens up the possibility of our discussing and making sense of our primary texts.

Dutch correctly identifies that when it comes to history “we can only have levels of probability about what happened in the past…” This is because the historian, unlike the scientist, does not have the means to repeat and re-observe certain scenarios unfold under controlled conditions. Instead, historians make us of a kind of residue that comes down to us from history and then utilizes tools to make sense of that residue. Dutch then subsequently outlines several criteria for establishing historical authenticity although the proposed model is not the only one that exist. There are several models, some with overlapping criteria, that each attempt to make sense of historical evidence as objectively as possible. Dutch then erroneously claims that the resurrection is impossible because “somebody being resurrected after being dead for three days is a violation of the known laws of physics…

Firstly, this is not a historical challenge as opposed to a scientific one. Miracles, however, are by definition improbable. They are rare events that occur which are intended to capture our attention. As soon as they become commonplace then they can no longer be defined as “miracles.” So, Dutch’s claim that the miracle of the resurrection is improbable is not a challenge to the actual resurrection event itself. In fact, due to its improbability it actually demonstrates just how unique and miraculous it actually is. After all, Dutch wouldn’t be making this argument if people were resurrected from the dead all the time. Philosopher of science, John Lennox says as much, “scientific observation can make miracles very improbable. We observe that dead people don’t normally rise, that is of course the case. But if you are going to recognize a miracle… [that] is by definition something very much out of the ordinary, you’ve got to know what the corresponding regularities are or you couldn’t tell whether the things is a miracle or not” (b1)

Now, I have already touched on Dutch’s Humean argument against miracles in my 1st rebuttal (see point 7), and therefore I will try to keep my remarks brief lest we repeat ourselves. Firstly, the laws of physics are descriptions of what normally happens within the universe and is the basis from which scientists can make predictions. Now, theists believe that God not only created these laws but also sustains them. Lennox captures this well, “God the creator is not a prisoner of those laws. He can feed, if he so wishes, a new event into the system. And, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the laws immediately take over… the laws of nature cannot forbid God feeding the new event into nature. After all, the laws of nature cannot prevent God creating the whole thing in the first place with the regularities that science has observed. So, it seems to me to be a very wrong deduction to say that science prevents somehow miracles.”

So Dutch’s challenge not only rings hollow but it also requires him to shoulder the burden of proof. Essentially he has to defend his proposal that should a god exist then it would be impossible for this god to intervene in his created natural world in order to bring about a certain outcome. Why can’t a god do this? Is this god too impotent? And why should we buy into Dutch’s unproven assumption? Just because science, in accordance with methodological naturalism, entertains natural explanations it doesn’t therefore follow that there isn’t a supernatural agent that doesn’t intervene in the natural world. Dutch merely assumes that this must be the case. It is no good simply defining miracles out of existence by alleging that they violate the laws of physics. Then he says, “Even if it did happen, it can’t be proven historically since a miracle is the least probable explanation of an event and the least probable explanation can not be the most probable.”

Translation (as I see it): “even if Jesus really was resurrected from the dead for my sins, and even though I am aware that my eternal destiny hangs on this very act, I still wouldn’t believe in it because I define miracles as being the least probable explanation of an event”! I suppose that settles it. Miracles don’t happen because I say they don’t happen. I hope it comes as no surprise that I find this line of reasoning problematic. In fact, we could actually turn Dutch’s challenge on its head. What I like to demonstrate, as I did in my opening, is that Jesus’ resurrection best explains a set of facts known as the minimal facts. The minimal facts considers historical data that the majority of scholars accept. There are four that we can use for our case, namely, that -1- Jesus died via crucifixion, -2- that he was buried, -3- that three days later the tomb Jesus was placed in was found empty, and -4- that the disciples, the persecutor Paul, the doubting brother James, and others had post-mortem experiences of the resurrected Jesus. Now, given these facts (with special emphasis on 3 & 4) it is highly improbable that we would have them if Jesus had not been raised from the dead. It is improbable that Jesus was not resurrected when we consider the dramatic conversions of Paul, James and the disciples coupled with an empty tomb and the origin of Christianity. It is therefore far more probable that Jesus was resurrected than him not being resurrected. It is unlikely that all this evidence would just happen to exist on the basis of no resurrection. So, essentially what Dutch defines as being “the least probable explanation” actually becomes the most probable explanation given the historical data.

So, what about when Dutch says that “the resurrection is in all cases a theological explanation, not a historical one”? Simply put the resurrection, as our New Testament presents it, is an alleged objective historical truth that obviously has theological significance. Either Jesus was resurrected from the dead for our sins or he wasn’t. The historian is thus able to consider the historical data and come to an informed conclusion, and should the resurrection best explain the data then it should be accepted independent of one’s own personal beliefs. The unfortunate scenario, however, rears its head when we realize the shackles that methodological naturalism puts on historical investigation. Sometimes historians will adopt any naturalistic hypothesis over the resurrection hypothesis no matter how unlikely the naturalistic hypothesis is. Dutch does this. He claims, for example (or rather takes from the skeptic Bart Ehrman), that it is far more likely that Jesus had a twin brother who convinced everyone of his resurrection than that Jesus was really resurrected. This hypothesis is implausible on many grounds and Dutch, like Ehrman, will claim that even though it would make for a terrible hypothesis (Dutch in fact calls it “highly improbable”) it is still more likely than the resurrection. But this proves to be no more than an anti-supernatural bias that refuses to let the historical evidence speak for itself. It also doesn’t seem to be an attempt to take the evidence seriously since it imposes subpar naturalistic hypotheses that are explanatorily deficient just in order to avoid a supernatural explanation. Therefore, no-one is under any obligation to accept Dutch’s anti-supernatural bias. Dutch, nor anyone else, has ever proved, or at least provided evidence, that miracles cannot happen and, as I argued in my opening, we have good reason to believe that they actually do. Lastly, it also demonstrates the double standard that atheists have. They try to posture themselves as the pinnacles of reason and inquiry yet will accept any non-supernatural hypothesis no matter how contrived and ad hoc it proves to be.

It’s good to know that Dutch accepts Jesus crucifixion. He asks, “how Jesus’ crucifixion [and burial] related to the resurrection?” I think Dutch brings up a good point that I did not make as clear as I should have in my opening. The resurrection is directly related to minimal facts 3 and 4. Minimal fact 4 (the resurrection appearances), technically speaking, could be divided into further sub-facts such as [1] Jesus’ post-mortem resurrection appearances to [2] Paul, [3] James, [4] crowds of people, and the [5] disciples themselves. On the other hand facts 1 and 2 are only historical facts such as Jesus’ death by crucifixion and his burial. However, I would respond through contending that minimal facts 1 and 2 do provide plausibility to the resurrection narrative itself. In other words, that Jesus was crucified, a common 1st century Roman punishment, is consistent with extra-biblical history which gives credibility to the gospel, and New Testament, documents. Moreover, the account of the burial, specifically in John’s gospel, is strikingly consistent with what we know about burial tombs and Jewish customs of the time. For example, that myrrh and aloes (19:38-39) and spices (19:40) were brought to the tomb, and that the tomb was in a garden (tombs in gardens were usually reserved for wealthier Jews as was the Sanhedrist Joseph who took it upon himself to bury Jesus) all point in the direction of the gospel author exercising fidelity with history. Now, what’s to say that they didn’t intend to do so when it came to the resurrection itself? Why would the authors be so careful to record history in these details and then all of a sudden include a fictional resurrection story (and all happen to agree on it in its core details). Thus, I believe we can generally trust the gospel authors in what they allege took place, and minimal facts 1 and 2 show us why.

Now, when it comes to the burial Dutch claims that “Jesus probably didn’t even get a proper burial for it was common practise for the Romans in those days to leave somebody hanging on the cross for a couple of days and throw the body in some kind of pit afterwards.” This is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, this proposal goes against our evidence. The burial is independently attested to by unique materials M & L, Acts and John. It is also attested to in very early sources such as Mark’s Pre-Passion Narrative and Paul’s early creed (1 Cor. 1-11). In total we have six independent sources with several that are very early attesting to Jesus’ burial. This is persuasive evidence which is strong enough to establish Jesus’ burial in a tomb. It is also unlikely that the gospel authors would merely make up a story with Joseph of Arimathaea, a member of the Jewish court that condemned Jesus, at its center through having him being the one who buried Jesus in a tomb. According to atheist writer Jeff Lowder, the past president of Internet Infidels and who writes for the Secular Web, “the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea has a high final probability” (b2.). I don’t think we should disagree.

What this demonstrates is that Dutch has to come up with a speculative explanation in order to explain the burial away. There exists not a shred of evidence pertaining to Jesus in support of this claim. It is not, technically speaking, impossible that Jesus didn’t meet the fate of being thrown into “some kind of pit afterwards” but such a proposal, given our best evidence, is certainly not probable. What we want to do is let the historical evidence speak for itself, and when we do this it is hard to deny that Jesus was buried in a tomb.

Regarding the empty tomb Dutch says “That the tomb became empty (if there ever was a tomb) can have a lot more probable and plausible reasons than God raising Jesus from the dead,” and rather strikingly leaves it at that. So not only is his argument against the empty tomb contrary to the evidence but he proposes that it “can have a lot more probable and plausible reasons.” I encourage Dutch to present the reasons he claims exist. What reasons? And what evidence do we have for these alleged reasons? He doesn’t propose any and I therefore think we’re justified in accepting the empty tomb. However, Dutch does make one argument in his denial of the burial being implied in Paul’s early creed, “Why would he leave out such an important fact?…James says Paul implies there was an empty tomb, but as you can read for yourself, Paul implies it nowhere.”

Firstly, note that I presented two early sources that affirm Jesus’ empty tomb. One was the creed in contention that Dutch alleges doesn’t imply the burial and the other being the pre-Markan passion narrative. It is very probable that pre-Mark actually gets us earlier than the Pauline creed since pre-Mark is likely based on eyewitness testimony. The creed, very early and primitive in of itself, was received by Paul less than five years subsequent to the crucifixion. So, Dutch apparently doesn’t say anything about pre-Mark which implies that he doesn’t dispute our having early evidence for the empty tomb. However, what about the creed? Paul writes (I add numbers in the square brackets to identify facts):

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ [1] died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [2] that he was buried, that he was [3] raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that [4] he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve…

So, Paul is saying that Jesus [1] died, [2] was buried, [3] was raised from the dead, and that he [4] appeared to different groups of people in his resurrection body. Although it is true that Paul doesn’t directly mention the empty tomb (which provides some wiggle room for skeptics like Dutch), it remains difficult not to observe his implying of it between facts [2] and [3]. Jesus’ being “buried” followed by his “being raised” certainly implies a vacated tomb. The most plausible explanation as to why Paul doesn’t directly mention it is because it was already obvious to both him and his readers. They knew that if Jesus was physically resurrected it meant his body was no longer in the tomb. This is also consistent with the rest of our evidence that we’ve already reviewed.

That brings us to the post-mortem resurrection appearances of Jesus. It’s promising that Dutch considers the post-mortem resurrection appearances to be “a fact that is related to Jesus’ resurrection.” He then, however, asks, “When Jesus appeared to Paul, how did Paul knew it was Jesus? Paul wasn’t one of Jesus’ his earliest disciples so he didn’t know what Jesus’ looked like.”

Firstly, because Paul wasn’t ignorant. Paul and Luke both affirmed his involvement in the persecuting of the early church mere weeks after Jesus’ crucifixion. Paul, being a pharisee himself, knew what he was persecuting which to him, prior to his radical conversion, was a blasphemous anti-Jewish movement. He also clearly knew who was leading (when Jesus was alive), and had led (when Jesus was dead), this movement. Paul almost certainly would have heard about Jesus and known what he stood for. According to scholar David Wenham, a specialist in on Paul, says “He [Paul] knew loads about Jesus” (b3).

Secondly, because Jesus tells Paul that it was him. According to Luke’s account in Acts “As he [Paul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:3–9, emphasis added). Thirdly, consider the coincidence. Basically this voyage takes place within Paul’s prosecuting of the church. In fact, that is why he was going to Damascus. Then on this voyage, in the presence of the group travelling with him, Paul has this dramatic encounter. Who else, might one ask, could explain such an encounter? Was it Allah? No, it was Jesus. Fourthly, Paul meets up with Jesus’ brother James and his disciple Peter (Acts 21:18; Galatians 1:18-20). No doubt they spoke about the dramatic resurrection appearances that they all received from the risen Jesus. If Paul’s experience wasn’t from Jesus it is likely that it would have been noted by James and Peter. And lastly, Paul was himself convinced that it was Jesus he saw, “have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not you my work in the Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1).

So, I don’t buy Dutch’s criteria of not waning “a supernatural explanation, I don’t want to hear that God told him it was Jesus as this would be a theological explanation. I want a historical explanation.” Simply put the supernatural explanation is the historical explanation! It is what best explains the data, the dramatic conversion of Paul himself, and Paul’s own belief that it was Jesus who had appeared to him. Then Dutch asks, “Appearance to the twelve? Did Jesus show himself to Judas Iscariot? If not then who were the twelve? Does James really believe Jesus appeared to the twelve?

Firstly, that Paul’s creed says that Jesus appeared to “the Twelve” is actually an important piece of information. There are several reasons, from the creedal formula itself, that convinces scholars of its early, primitive nature. One is that Paul informs us that he received this information in typical rabbinic terms. Two, is that Paul refers to Peter by the name Cephas, the Aramaic name that Jesus used for Peter in the gospels. And three because of his reference to the Twelve which was, in Paul’s time of writing, a label for identifying Jesus’ original disciples. The early disciples came to be widely known as the Twelve and this identification stuck even after Judas had died after his betrayal of Jesus. That Paul makes use of it in the creed demonstrates that the Christians to whom he was writing would understand that “the Twelve” simply referred to Jesus’ disciples.

Thirdly,” asks Dutch “Does an appearance to somebody mean someone has been raised from the dead physically?” No, it doesn’t. “If so, what do you do with the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration? Moses and Elijah seem to appear. Where did they come from? Were they both raised from the dead or would you say this was some kind of visionary experience?

The transfiguration narrative of Jesus on the mountain has little to do with the argument that I presented, namely, the evidence for the resurrection. So, it doesn’t really matter what occurred on the mountain and, on a side note, it would also be a stretch to assert that what did occur was no more than some kind of subjective “visionary experience” on the part of those present. Present at the time of the transfiguration were several individuals including Jesus, Peter, James and John, all of whom allegedly witnessed Moses and Elijah as well as Jesus’ becoming radiant. Since hallucinations are subjective projections from within one’s own mind of objects/people/phenomena that don’t exist in the real world it is incredibly unlikely that these can be written off as mere hallucinations. So, Dutch’s contrast between this and the post-mortem resurrection appearances of Jesus isn’t an argument against my position.

Further, Dutch seems to be quite underwhelming in his treatment of the argument from Jesus’ resurrection. His only argument is to propose the hallucination hypothesis, “Why not visions of Jesus?” Quite remarkably he leaves it at that. Nothing more than a question. He provides no reason as to why we should accept the resurrection appearances as mere “visions,” and thus he hasn’t actually made his case at all against my strongest argument. However, we should still respond in brief. Why can’t we merely explain away the resurrection appearances as hallucinations?

Firstly, because of the diverse nature of the resurrection appearances. Jesus allegedly appeared to individuals as well as groups of people at least a dozen times. Paul, in his early creed, even says that Jesus appeared to a group of 500 (1 Cor. 15). He appears to Mary Magdalene (John 20), Mary the mother of James, Salome, and Joanna (Matthew 28), Peter (Luke 24), two disciples on the road Emmaus road (Luke 24), the disciples as a group without Thomas (John 20; 24), all of the disciples (John 20), seven disciples at the Sea of Galilee (John 20), to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28), to James (1 Cor. 15), Saul (Acts 9), and to some others over a period of 40 days (Acts 1). What this makes clear is that we aren’t dealing with a single account of Jesus appearing to someone in his resurrected body. Rather, we are dealing with a diverse number of people, both individuals and groups, who first handedly witnessed the risen Jesus. This undercuts the hallucination hypothesis since hallucinations are subjective experiences. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Collins, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people…Since a hallucination exists only in the subjective, personal sense; it is obvious that others cannot witness it” (b4). In agreement clinical psychologist, Gary Sibcy, informs us that he has “surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent” (b5). Historian Michael Licona explains that “The reports we have of not one, not two, but to all of Jesus’ disciples experienced a visual appearance of Jesus. This is unthinkable in terms of what we know about hallucinations” (b6).

Secondly, the empty tomb. Note that the majority of historians hold to the historicity of the empty tomb (b7). Also note that we provided several reasons as to why the empty tomb is more probable than not. The empty tomb thus poses a problem for Dutch’s hypothesis for the very reason that if the disciples did hallucinate a risen Jesus then Jesus’ body still would have been in the tomb. Hallucinating Jesus wouldn’t have made Jesus’ body somehow vanish from the tomb. Given this it is quite inexplicable as to why Jesus’ earliest enemies did not go to the tomb to expose Jesus’ body; in fact, the earliest enemies accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb which obviously presupposed an empty tomb (See Matthew 28:11-15, Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, 108, and Tertullian’s On Spectacles, 30). If they had discovered the body’s presence still in the tomb then the early Christian movement would have hit a brick wall since the early Christians were proclaiming a resurrected Jesus. The easiest way to debunk that claim would simply be to go to the tomb and have a look. Theologian Chris Price explains that “the disciples started preaching about the death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus was publicly killed and crucified a few weeks earlier. So, at the very least, this required an empty tomb otherwise the opponents of Christianity, which were many, could have just found the tomb and produced the body. ‘Here is your risen Christ!’ Even a skeleton in the tomb would have done the job!” (b8).

Third, and finally, all our evidence says that Jesus’ resurrection body was physical. The risen post-mortem Jesus ate fish (Luke 24:42), he offered the 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 allowed the disciple Thomas to put his finger and hand into the place where the nails had been in Jesus’ body (John 20:27). Jesus also allegedly invited others to touch him, “touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). The gospels, with the exception of Mark since Mark does not mention it, are in agreement that Jesus’ post-mortem body was physical, as exegete William Craig explains, “none of the appearances was originally a physical, bodily appearance, then it is very strange that we have a completely unanimous testimony in the Gospels that all of them were physical, with no trace of the supposed original, non-physical appearances” (b9). The hallucination hypothesis fails to explain this and the other presented data. It is explanatorily deficient.

Dutch the asks, “James argues that Jesus being resurrected by God is the most probable explanation of the so called facts. But even if it were probable, is it plausible? Plausibility is the big issue because unless you posit the existence of God, you can not claim that Jesus was raised from the dead.”

The only reason, I’d argue, that one would allege the resurrection to be implausible is because of his holding to an anti-supernatural bias. However, I contend the most plausible explanation is that of which makes best sense of the data. And if it is indeed a supernatural explanation that does do that then I see no reason as to why we shouldn’t go with it. Moreover, the late historian Christopher McCullagh lists six criteria which historians use in testing historical descriptions such as explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, ad hocness, accord with accepted beliefs, and superiority to rival hypotheses (b10). What we want to focus on is ad hocness. Dutch essentially argues that the resurrection hypothesis is ad hoc because it uses God as an explanation. An explanation is ad hoc when a number of additional assumptions are required for us to adopt that explanation. However, Dutch’s hallucination hypothesis is far more ad hoc and contrived than is the argument that God raised Jesus from the dead. For example, Dutch has to hold that [1] Jesus’ skeptical brother James had an hallucination of Jesus, [2] that Jesus’ enemy Paul had an hallucination of Jesus, [3] that the disciples had hallucinations of Jesus, [4] that a group of 500 had hallucinations of Jesus, [5] that groups of people over 40 days had hallucinations of Jesus, [6] that these hallucinations were the basis of early Christianity, [7] that these 1st Jews would simply be convinced based on mere hallucinations that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, [8] that theses Jews believed in an antithetical Jewish concept of a resurrected messiah in the middle of history, [8] that somehow these hallucinations were not physical even though our evidence agrees that they were, [9] and that all these groups of people witnessed the same hallucinations even though a hallucination is a subjective experience. Contrast this with the resurrection hypothesis that simply affirms that God raised Jesus from the dead and that that naturally explains the data we have. The resurrection by far the better fit to the historical data as well as proves to be far simpler and therefore more plausible.

Dutch continues, “If you talk about what God has done, [in history] you are talking about theology, not history… If you think [that God acted in history]… it’s because you are a theologian, not a historian. If you talk about what God has done, you are talking about theology, not history.

Firstly, this is not a denial of the resurrection itself. My contention is, however, that history itself establishes the likelihood of a conclusion that has theological significance. This is what we have with the resurrection that is supported by the data and outstrips its rival hypotheses. It is also not true that all theologians accept the resurrection as historical. Rudolf Baultmann, for example, was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century of whom did not accept the resurrection as a historical event. Nor does the contemporary theologian John Shelby Spong. And when it comes to history a number of historians accept the resurrection hypothesis such as Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, Michael Bird, Richard Bauckham, Craig Keener, Craig Evans and so on. It’s not as easy as Dutch seems to believe it is. One can’t simply draw a dividing line between historians and theologians. Seldom is it so easy to box things.

3. Answering Dutch on the Kalam cosmological argument.

Dutch makes his first blunder in saying that the “kalam argument is that it is solely based on our scientific ignorance.” This is false. The Kalam cosmological argument (KCA) is based upon what we do know about the universe from science itself. Either the universe began to exist or it didn’t, and as I briefly remarked in my opening statement all our scientific evidence points to the fact that the universe had a finite beginning.

Dutch then says that “James then tries to specify what this ‘thing’ (for lack of a better word) must be like and in doing so essentially makes in god into a nothingness.” Dutch is referring to the characteristics of the creator such as it being timeless, spaceless, immaterial, transcendent and so on. How this equates to this entity being “nothingness” is beyond me. It simply means that God is incomparable to the physical world of space, time and matter. To say that “nothing” existed prior to the universe is to say so in relation to space, time and matter. However, it remains the case that something (the creator itself) existed necessarily prior to the universe. If by something we mean only by space, time and matter then nothing existed prior to the big bang although God still did exist prior to the big bang in the non-spatiotemporal sense. The entity behind the creation of the universe argues philosopher William Lane Craig is an unembodied mind, “Well, as I think about it, only two candidates come to mind: either an abstract object or an unembodied mind” (c1). As I presented in my 1st rebuttal we can disqualify abstract objects simply because they cannot cause anything, and thus the existence of the universe can only be found in the existence of God who is an unembodied mind.

But how, asks Dutch, does “such a god to mingle then in the world? How is his supernatural, tran[s]cendent, spaceless, timeless [God able] to intervene in our world that is defined by all these properties?

Simply because God created it. If God created the whole thing ex nihlio (from nothing) then why would he have a problem interacting with it? A metaphor of how God interacts with the universe might be like the author of a novel. The author creates the characters, the world, the timeline, the overarching story, but is not bound by the pages of the book. He transcends them, and yet, at any point in the various books, he can affect the world, the circumstances, and the characters. This shows that God’s interaction with the universe is feasible even though he is not of the same stuff of the universe.

Further, it is odd that Dutch concedes that “What frustrates me most about this argument is that it plays with our instinctive need for answers.” Why wouldn’t we want an answer? The only reason for not wanting an answer is because one is unhappy with the answer; I suspect that is what we have with Dutch and atheists in general when it comes to explaining the beginning of the universe on their atheism. Lastly, since an unembodied mind is not nothing it gives us warrant to reject Dutch’s proposal that “there is this vague notion of an intelligent being that is apparently absolutely nothing, but this nothing is super potent.

Dutch says “You can’t prove god with empirical data because he’s transcendent… So what are we debating then?” Again Dutch has the incorrect idea of proof when it comes to this debate. It would be to commit a category error to expect empirical proof of God’s existence since God, a transcendent and metaphysically necessary being, is not even part of the physical universe. Instead, God is the mind behind the universe and the reason why it even exists in the first place. However, this does not mean that there is no empirical evidence supporting premises in arguments that have conclusions with theological significance. So, if the conclusion to the Kalam cosmological argument is successful then we have good reason to put our faith in a creator of the universe that possesses the characteristic presented above. Moreover, this claim is somewhat naive on the part of Dutch simply because empirical data cannot be said to prove his atheistic naturalism. What “empirical” data can he present in favour of God’s non-existence, or that the physical universe is all that there is, or that the soul doesn’t exist, or that the afterlife doesn’t exist, or that objective moral values and duties don’t exist, or that freewill doesn’t exist, or that human beings can be reduced to mere physical parts and no more than that, and that life doesn’t have meaning and purpose. None of these beliefs, tenets central to atheistic naturalism, can be empirically proven. So, when Dutch discusses/defends/asserts his beliefs with theists or agnostics why then can’t they also ask, “You can’t prove you atheistic naturalism with empirical data… so what are we debating then?” This is not the first time in this debate that Dutch has asserted something that is obviously self-defeating and of which holds to a double standard.

I look forward to wrapping the debate up in my concluding statements.

References.

a1. Cave, P. 2009. Humanism. p. 146.

a2. Craig, W. Can We Be Good Without God? Available.

a3. William Lane Craig in debate with Louise Antony, “Is God Necessary for Morality?

b1. YouTube. 2013. The Law of Causality and Miracles – John Lennox, PhD. Available.

b2. Lowder, J. 2005. Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story: A Reply to William Lane Craig.

b3. Bishop, J. 2015. Interview with David Wenham: “Was Paul or Jesus the Founder of Christianity?Available.

b4. Scholar Gary Habermas in communication with clinical psychologist Gary Collins, 21 February, 1977.

b5. Scholar Gary Habermas in communication with clinical psychologist Gary Collins, 21 February, 1977.

b6. Licona, Mike. Top 10 Myths About Jesus’ Resurrection (video #4).

b7. Habermas, G. 2012. The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity.

b8. Price, C. 2015. Resurrection: Making Sense of Historical Data. Available.

b9. Craig, W. 2008. Reasonable Faith. p. 383.

b10. McCullagh, C. 1984. Justifying Historical Descriptions. p. 19.

c1. Craig, W. 2013. The Mind Behind the Universe. Available.

7 responses to “James Bishop vs. The Dutch Atheist, “Is there evidence for a god?” [2nd Rebuttal]

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

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

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

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