Tuesday, March 3, 2009

For the Record

This is perhaps not all that important, but I want to clarify on an objection Jason Engwer recently re-posted regarding a statement I made.

Many Christian apologists point out the scholarly consensus on certain issues. They often rely on studies done by Gary Habermas, who writes here (HT DagoodS) that 75% of all scholars believe that the tomb of Jesus was found empty on the Sunday following his crucifixion. He also notes that of the scholars he's surveyed, 75% are what you would call "moderate conservatives." He defines a moderate conservative this way.

“For the purposes of this essay, I will define moderate conservative approaches to the resurrection as those holding that Jesus was actually raised from the dead in some manner, either bodily (and thus extended in space and time), or as some sort of spiritual body (though often undefined).”

I pointed this out at Debunking Christianity, but instead of using the phrase "moderate conservative" I used "conservative Christian." For Jason, this is "misleading".

But the reason I did this is because to me, and also to the people I'm writing to at Debunking Christianity, "conservative Christian" is a better phrase for the definition Habermas has offered. As far as I'm concerned "moderate conservative" would best describe someone like Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has very conservative views regarding the dating and reliability of the gospels as well as the authenticity of many of the sayings of Jesus. Someone like Craig Bloomberg or William Lane Craig would be called "moderate conservative" in the eyes of Habermas, but from my perspective these people are not moderate at all.

They would be for Gary Habermas, and that's perfectly fine with me. I'm not objecting to the way Habermas is writing. He can define words any way he wants as long as he's being clear, and he is. I'm likewise being clear about what I mean when I say "conservative Christian" so there's no reason to object. I just think referring to people like William Lane Craig as "moderates" at DC would cause more confusion. The goal here is clarity.

For Kent Hovind, Hugh Ross would be a liberal evolutionist. Jason would be as well as an old earther. Jason needs to understand that different people have different perspectives, and this is why terminology sometimes changes. This is not an effort to be misleading.

This is all perhaps a quibble. I could deal with Jason's other objections, which are also quibbles, but for now I guess I feel they are just too irrelevant and not worth it.

The title of the post for Jason was "How Significant Is It When Modern Scholars Affirm the Historicity of a Biblical Account?" That doesn't sound like a quibble. It's a good question, and Jason's thoughts on that could be worthwhile. Unfortunately Jason doesn't answer that question but instead talks about my "misleading" terminology and other such nonsense. We call that "majoring in the minors".


DagoodS said...

For this reason I tend to check and re-check my sources. My memory is too faulty, and I have caught myself doing the same thing, remembering incorrectly what was written. We all tend to be so nitpicky in these debates:

“You misspelled ‘Euthyphro’ and if you made a simple mistake like that, I can’t trust you on anything you have written.”

“You were wrong on point 42 of 116, and if you were wrong on that one, I consider the entire argument flawed.”

“Your weakest argument was very weak; I will pounce on that, point out how weak it was, and then claim the rest must be equally weak, since I so easily demolished that one.”

I wish we could get beyond that. Understand the point being made, without being so caught up in correct grammar, or spelling or terminology.

Here, the point was extremely simple. Habermas indicated 75% of scholars favor the arguments for the historicity of an empty tomb. (Noting, “Generally, the listings are what might be expected, dividing along theological ‘party lines.’”) He ALSO indicated 75% of the scholars held to a “conservative moderate” position (both globally and in America)—a position he defined as those holding to Jesus actually being raised from the dead, either physically or in some spiritual manner.

I find the similarity…exact similarity, actually, to be quite striking. True, it may not be an exact correlation, but it is indicative of a trend. (As Habermas himself would say.)

Look, imagine we had a conference where 75% of the attendees were vegetarians. And I note that for lunch the Salad plate was ordered 3:1 over the roast beef dinner. Would that be such a surprise?

True, some vegetarians may have ordered the roast beef and not eaten it. Some of the meat-eaters may have ordered the salad ‘cause they are on a diet.

But where we have 75% vegetarians—what is the surprise vegetarian meals are ordered 3:1 over non-vegetarian meals?

Perhaps that, too, would be just a happy coincidence.

Habermas’ statistic becomes less impressive when we note that 75% of the people writing on the topic believe in a resurrection (either physically or spiritually) and an equal number of 75% of people writing on the topic favor the arguments for an empty tomb.

Jon said...

Jason is still fighting the semantic battle, while ignoring the more important question that was raised. Once again, this is all quite trivial. Not important enough to reply with a separate post, but I’ll say something here. Jason writes:

He says that he's being clear and that the goal is clarity. Does he acknowledge, then, that his comments at Debunking Christianity were unclear, which leads him to want to make his comments clear now?

This is further example of Jason being intentionally obtuse. I don't think Jason reads me with the goal of understanding me, but rather he attempts to misunderstand in an effort to find something to criticize.

I am not saying I need to clarify my comments. I’m saying that the way I wrote at DC was an effort to avoid confusion there. When they think “moderate conservative” they don’t think of William Lane Craig and Craig Bloomberg. Neither do I. I think of people like Bart Ehrman. To prevent confusion I used “conservative Christian” so that my readers would not misunderstand. I made it clear what I meant by that so that there would be no confusion. Didn’t I already say this?

The phrase “moderate Christian” would mean one thing to me and a different thing to Gary Habermas (once again, didn’t I already explain this?). Jason, when you use words, I know to interpret them as I expect you understand them. If it’s not clear I’d sooner ask you to clarify before accusing you of dishonest tactics. For instance, you’re talking about “Christians” as you write:

Non-Christians can believe that Jesus was raised in some manner.

I can understand the meaning of this statement, because for you being a Christian means more than believing in some sort of resurrection. But for me it really doesn’t. For me JW’s are Christians, Mormons are Christians, and Baptists are Christians. If you believe Jesus was raised from the dead, whether spiritual or some other way, to me that makes you a Christian. This is a common understanding of the word “Christian” in skeptical circles. You should be able to recognize this, but instead you would pretend that you are lost.

The phrase "actually raised from the dead", followed by a reference to these people's belief in an empty tomb, implies belief in a physical resurrection,

No it doesn’t. If I thought that 75% of scholars believed Jesus was physically raised from the dead I would have said that. Instead I say that 75% of scholars believed Jesus was actually raised from the dead. That’s a perfectly true statement, with no requirement that the “raised from the dead” means physical. Jason is simply claiming I’m saying what I didn’t say and criticizing me for that.

Does Jon think that these skeptics were raising objections that, if true, would only be "quibbles" and "nonsense"?

No. I’m saying that your other responses to what I said were quibbles. I stand by that. Why don’t you answer the question posed in the heading of your post instead of fighting these irrelevant semantic battles?

It seems it’s the same thing over and over with you Jason. You basically misread me, get fired up based on a misunderstanding, spend way too much time justifying your misunderstanding, and all the while the real issues get ignored. Read DagoodS above. The point here is pretty simple. 75% of these scholars believe Jesus was raised from the dead, either physically or spiritually or in some other way. Likewise 75% believe the tomb was empty on the Sunday following the crucifixion. Is that not relevant? Also, is it really significant that the majority of scholars believe this way and if so why would you reject the scientific consensus on evolution? If it was shown that the scholarly consensus rejected the inerrancy of Scripture or the authenticity of a text like II Peter, would that be significant?

Jon said...

The quibbling continues.

So, then, Pinchas Lapide was a Christian, even though he considered himself a Jew instead? John Wallace has said that one of his academic colleagues, Alexander Magest, believes that the evidence supports the resurrection, but doesn't think there's any way to determine whether God or Satan did it. Magest should be considered a Christian? An ancient pagan who thought that Jesus was raised in some manner by an evil spirit should be considered a Christian?

I'm shocked, shocked that Jason is missing the actual point and quibbling about irrelevancies.

First of all, let's start with my actual point. Different words mean different things to different people. For Jason a Christian is one thing, for me it is another. For me a Mormon is a Christian, for him a Mormon is not a Christian. My point is, I can charitably recognize that he will use words as he understands them or I can go off on a terror staying up at all hours of the night fighting a battle because Jason means one thing with a word and I mean another. But then, that would be a waste of time.

You're right Jason that I wouldn't call Pinchas Lapide a Christian. You do the best you can with definitions. We could be lawyers and write books to make proper distinctions between first degree Christians, second degree, third degree, etc, but then I think we'd really get ourselves distracted from the far more interesting questions.

I want to see some documentation.

I suppose I could, but don't you think this is just so boring and so irrelevant? Isn't my actual point (that words mean different things to different people) actually true, and relevant to the discussion we're having? Does that really change if I have a non-standard definition of Christian? Does it really change if I'm wrong about people defining Christian the way I do? This is why discussions with you get so long and unreadable. You follow too many rabbit trails.

Again, if belief in some type of resurrection makes one a conservative Christian, then what sense does it make to dismiss the resurrection beliefs of such people because they're conservative Christians?

Makes a lot of sense. To me and to people at DC generally, if you believe Jesus rose from the dead you have a far too credulous mindset. At least on this issue. Why should I be surprised that credulous people believe in such things as the empty tomb? I'm interested in arguments, not nose counts of the credulous.

If I addressed significant issues in response to other people, you can't say that I was only "quibbling" and ignoring the question posed in the title of my post just because you think I did those things when I responded to you.

Well, I guess I would be repeating myself, but I didn't say that your responses to others were quibbles. I said your other responses to me were quibbles and it would be far more interesting if you actually answered the question posed in the title of your post than it would be to nit pick as you are doing with your arguments against me.

To use your examples above, if a scholar is an evolutionist, a Biblical errantist, and somebody who rejects Petrine authorship of 2 Peter (if that's what you meant by "the authenticity of a text like II Peter"), then he can't be characterized in the manner in which some of the skeptics at Debunking Christianity have characterized Habermas' scholars ("people who study with the intent of proving the Bible true", etc.).

This section of your reply was far more interesting and relevant than this semantic thing you're focused on, so way to go.

Personally, I think these liberals may want to believe the Bible is true more than you know. For many Jesus is this feminist liberal crusader. Do you think maybe these liberals want him to be that? They don't want Jesus to be a mythical character, because then they can't invoke his example as if it is something we should emulate. Being raised singing hymns and chanting creeds can have an effect on people, even if they aren't raised as fundamentalists.

I could be wrong about that. It's purely speculative, but it illustrates the larger point. The arguments are the key.