I was pleasantly surprised to see that Habermas and Licona did in fact address some of the skeptical rebuttals to common Christian arguments. Christians point out that the disciples were really willing to die for the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. One of the major problems with this argument is that it is not clear that the disciples understood Jesus to be raised in a physical sense. This is a key problem. Another problem is that we have no idea whether or not they tried to recant after they encountered threats. The former problem was not addressed, but surprisingly for me the later one was addressed.
Habermas and Licona reply on page 59 of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus that even though it is possible they could have recanted, they would had to have known in the first place that getting involved in this sort of thing was dangerous. How would they know this? Well, if you take a look at the book of Acts it mentions the martyrdoms of Stephen and James. Hence the disciples would have known that proclaiming Jesus was dangerous.
This is a very disappointing response for me, and I have to wonder if even Habermas and Licona can't spot the transparently question begging nature of their rebuttal. Where is the argument that Acts records reliable history? With all of the talk about the "minimal facts" which are supported by the majority of scholarship, what is the scholarly position on the reliability of a book like Acts?
I'm inclined to assume that the scholarly consensus doesn't look good on this point, so it isn't mentioned. Further, the evidence we do have in fact indicates that there was nothing dangerous about being a Christian. Suppose the disciples knew very well that this was a fraud. As I mentioned in a previous post the reaction of the government is revealed in Pliny's letter to the emperor Trajan. He indicates that he asks people if they are Christians. If they are he threatens them and demands they offer incense to the state gods. If they do so, they are released. Trajan replies to Pliny and lets him know that this is an approach he approves of. If the disciples don't truly believe in what they are claiming, then where is the risk?
But had this happened, say Habermas and Licona, critics like Celsus would have made hay of this, using it to bludgeon his Christian opponents. Really? If someone as well connected as Pliny the Younger has no knowledge of even what it is that Christians believe while writing in the year 100 can we really expect Celsus to know the ins and outs of exactly who of the disciples recanted and who didn't while writing 80 years after Pliny? The gospels themselves can't even agree on who the disciples were. This just doesn't cut it as a response to the skeptical question, and hence I see no reason to think that we know that nobody recanted in the face of threats.