Friday, June 09, 2006

Seeing thru a B(eth)rick wall

Dawson Bethrick has tried to cobble together a reply to something I wrote a few weeks ago.

As usual, I’ll comment on his major arguments, such as they are.

“Here Steve seems to have picked up the bad habit, gratuitously modeled in the writings of J.P. Holding, of slandering Christianity's critics by smearing them as sufferers of a mental disability.”

Actually, I almost never read Holding. I only read him for the first time because someone asked me to comment on what he said about the five points of Calvinism. That precipitated a long and acrimonious exchange. Beyond that limited exposure, I never read him.

Needless to say, Dawson is the one trying to smear the intelligence of Christians by alleging that we subscribe to a “cartoon” worldview.

Since he chooses to use a childish analogy, I simply pointed out that a childish analogy would come naturally to someone who thinks like a child.

It’s his comparison, not mine. If he resents the fact that I measure him by his own yardstick, then he would be well-advised to buy another yardstick.

Bethrick then pretends that he is simply offering an updated analogy which improves on St. Paul’s potter/clay analogy, as if no insult were intended.

This is a transparent exercise in rhetorical backpedaling. As if calling someone’s worldview “cartoonish” is intended to be complimentary rather than demeaning.

Dawson is welcome to his harlequinade, but I’m not going to pay the admission fee.

“And yet, the analogy remains impervious to such resentment and hostility.”

I don’t resent Bethrick. In order to resent him I’d have to take him seriously in the first place.

No, Dawson, like the Debunkers, is simply a convenient foil—like the straight man in a comedy routine.

“Perhaps this is an expression of Christian charity.”

The Bible is very uncharitable towards apostates. I follow inspired precedent.

“Correction: it’s not a dilemma for me because a) I’m not arguing to defend the hallucination theory (as I made clear already)…”

Except that he does, as we shall shortly see.

“There’s only a dilemma here if one chooses to take these documents as actual histories and hopes to defend them against the contention that hallucinations played a role in their development. Since I do neither, there’s no dilemma for me. As I have pointed out so many times in the past, these are not my problems. Ultimately, they’re the Christians problems, for he wants to take the New Testament documents as actual histories, and they have a really tough time conclusively ruling out the possibility that hallucination played a part in their development.”

i) Bethrick is rewriting history. This thread began when one or two of the seven dwarves over at Debunking Christianity tried to dust off the old hallucination theory.

It’s unbelievers, not believers, who offer the hallucination theory as an alternative to the Resurrection.

For those unbelievers who do espouse this alternative, that commitments them to treating the NT as at least partially reliable. And that, in turn, generates a dilemma for the unbeliever.

We are answering the unbeliever on his own chosen piece of turf. Different unbelievers offer different ad hoc theories to get around the Resurrection. We answer them as they come.

ii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that a Christian cannot “conclusively” rule out the hallucination theory, so what?

Can Bethrick “conclusively” rule out the Resurrection?

“Of course, Steve's assertion that ‘no supporting argument or corroborating evidence is brought forward to substantiate this claim’ overlooks the fact that the quote I cited was taken from an entire book which critically examines claims in defense of the literalist Christian view of the New Testament. The source I quoted is packed with arguments and rebuttals to Christian 'scholars'. But Steve's concern here is not to take those seriously, but rather to defuse any criticism without actually engaging it or showing it to be wrong.”

Bethrick has yet to offer any reasoned argument. The book may be packed with arguments, but unless and until he unpacks his luggage, there is no actual argument on the table for me to “actually engage or show to be wrong.”

Why doesn’t Bethrick summarize the best arguments?

And while we’re on the subject, here’s a review of the book which gives you a flavor of its intellectual caliber:


This is an insipid, poorly executed book that's built on a silly premise: let's "cross-examine" highly regarded scholars without even giving them even a single opportunity to respond! It's made even worse by the author's self-promotional attempt to hype it as "riveting" reading. It gets tedious very quickly to read the author's "challenges" without knowing how the scholars would answer him. It's like putting a witness on a witness stand, gagging his mouth, then grilling him with misleading questions and saying, "Aha! See! I'm obviously right because he has no answer." Give me a break! These scholars would roast him. Check out the author's bio; his credentials pale in comparison to the doctorates earned by those he cynically seeks to discredit.

As far as I can tell, this is essentially a self-published reprint of material from the author's web site, although thankfully he did clean up the most obvious error in the original, where he repeatedly misattributed the quotations of a physician. The author's credibility is already suspect because of his previous book in which he claimed Jesus never even existed -- a position so extreme that few atheists even endorse it.

It's possible to have an intelligent discussion or debate on issues involving Jesus. Reputable scholars have been doing so for centuries. But this book is an embarrassment because it sets up a blatantly unfair format and then taunts notable scholars without giving them a chance to set the record straight.


Pretty impressive, eh? And this is just one of many other scathing reviews.

Moving along:

“The reasoning Steve offers here does nothing to overcome the subjective implications I pointed out, for nothing he says undoes what Acts itself says. The reasoning he offers here is that the ‘vision’ Paul is made to talk about in Acts 26:19 is ‘heavenly’ because Jesus had already gone up (“ascended”) to heaven, and had to “leave heaven” in order “to appear to Paul on earth.” Of course, if Jesus were physical, this is the kind of interpretation one might apply here. But heaven is typically characterized as non-physical in the first place (otherwise we could ask Christians to explain where it is located physically), and whether the Jesus that Paul saw was physical or something else is precisely what is in question, so it is unhelpful.”

“Typically characterized as nonphysical by whom?” The question at issue is the usage of Acts 26:19. That’s an exegetical question, not a metaphysical question.

“Besides, Paul is said, accroding to Acts, to have seen 'a light from heaven,' not a person.”

The light from heaven is physical illumination. To say that “light” is to subjectivity as “person” is to objectivity is a false antithesis.

“The Greek word translated as ‘vision’ in Acts 26:19 is ‘optasia’, for which Thayer’s, according to the Blue Letter Bible offers two definitions…”

Thayer’s? Thayer’s is an antiquated, 19C lexicon. For one thing, it was written before the discovery of the non-literary papyri.

No serious scholar uses Thayer’s any more. Only a bantamweight like Bethrick would appeal to Thayer’s.

“Acts gives two accounts of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, in chapters 9 and 22.”

Two accounts? Try three accounts—Acts 9, 22, & 26! As usual, Dawson doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“In neither account is Paul said to have seen a person. This is significant because a ‘sighting’ which carried the connotation of “an ‘objective’ sighting” would presumably be one in which an actual person were seen, whereas in Acts’ two accounts of Paul encountering Jesus, no appearance of a person is indicated.”

An illogical inference. I can see the headlights of an oncoming car without seeing the driver. Indeed, the headlights might blind me from being able to see the driver.

“Both Acts 9:3 and 22:6 speak of a “light from heaven” (apparently heaven has flood lamps that can reach the earth), and Acts 9:7 specifically says that Paul's companions saw "no man,” which suggests that the fullness of Paul's experience was private, not public, thereby lending more weight to a subjective experience on the part of Paul rather than an objective event which anyone present would have perceived the same thing.”

Another illogical inference:

i) Dawson contradicts himself. He just told us that “in neither account is Paul said to have seen a person.”

He now adds that “Acts 9:7 specifically says that Paul's companions saw ‘no man,’ which suggests that the fullness of Paul's experience was private, not public, thereby lending more weight to a subjective experience on the part of Paul rather than an objective event which anyone present would have perceived the same thing.”

But if neither Paul nor his companions saw Jesus, then there is no discrepancy in what they perceive.

ii) In addition, Dawson’s self-contradictory objection is naïve, for it fails to distinguish between sensation and perception. It is quite possible for two observers to see or hear the same thing, yet differ in how they perceive the phenomenon. This happens all the time.

Perception is more than sensation. Perceptive is interpreted sensation.

“(I wonder if Marshall Applewhite saw a light and heard a voice in his near-death experience.)”

Actually, the cult of ufology illustrates the distinction very well. Two observers may see the same lights in the sky, but one perceives the phenomenon as a flying saucer because he is predisposed to believe in ETs.

At the same time, you can only project what is already in the mind. Paul was not expecting to encounter Christ, just as the disciples were not expecting to see the Risen Lord. Indeed, Paul was taken completely by surprise. This is always been a chink in the hallucination theory.

“Apologists want to give weight to the view that Jesus’ appearance to Paul was ‘a public event,’ but even this is not unambiguously indicated in Acts’ two accounts.”

i) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the interpretation of the Damascus Road Christophany is ambiguous with respect to its subjective or objective character, ambiguity is a double-edged sword.

Bethrick can only disarm the Christian by disarming unbelievers who espouse the hallucination theory, for if the account is ambiguous, then a hallucination theorist will be unable to appeal to the account(s) to use as an interpretive framework for 1 Cor 15 or the canonical gospels.

ii) Notice, moreover, that while Bethrick disclaims the hallucination theory, this is, in fact, the way he interprets the Damascus Road encounter.

For if this is not an objective vision, then it’s a subjective vision. And since Bethrick doesn’t believe in visionary revelation, the only thing a subjective vision could be is a hallucination. By process of elimination, he continues to promote the hallucination theory—his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

“For although Acts has Paul accompanied by an unspecified number of unnamed fellow-travelers, neither account suggests that any of them were converted by the experience.”

That’s irrelevant to the objectivity of the event. Evidence alone is insufficient to persuade or dissuade anyone. There must be a mind which is receptive to the evidence.



The two accounts give conflicting information about what they would have witnessed. Consider:

Acts 9:7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

Acts 22:9 And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.


i) To begin with, if we have three real speeches, on the same subject, but delivered at differing times and places to a different audience each time, then we wouldn’t expect them to be identical.

To have three verbatim speeches, with no audience adaptation, would be a mark of artificiality. It would be a clear indication that Luke merely fabricated a Pauline speech, and then inserted the very same speech at three different junctures within his narrative.

Some stylistic variety is a mark of authenticity, not inauthenticity.

ii)We also need to distinguish between direct and indirect discourse, and make allowance for the difference between Lucan and Pauline usage depending on which voice is in play.

iii) Since Dawson doesn’t know his way around the Greek language, he is insensitive to the semantic and syntactical nuances of the two accounts.

As one recent Greek grammarian explains:


An interesting item of dispute is the object of the verb akouo with the genitive or accusative case. This is important for discussion of Acts 9:7 & 22:9…The traditional understanding is that with the genitive akouo means to hear but not understand; or that the genitive is concerned with the form of speech but the accusative with the content.

S. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament (Sheffield 1995), 97.


This interpretation is supported by another noted Greek grammarian. Cf. N. Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (T&T Clark 1977), 86-90.

Beyond the semantics is the syntax of the text. As one scholar explains: “the distinction is made by means of the added qualifying participial phrase, not on the basis of the mere case of the object of the verb ‘to hear,’” (B. Witherington, The Acts of the Apostles (Eerdmans 1998), 313, n.34.


“Others will say that Paul's men seeing a light indicates what Steve has called "an 'objective' vision", but this in itself is not sufficient to suppose that Paul's companions shared in Paul's own experience, which is what we would expect to be the case if in fact Paul's vision had an objective (in this case, publicly verifiable) basis.”

Dawson is now falling into equivocations. “Objective” is not synonymous with “publicly verifiable.”

The public/private, objective/subjective distinction is a distinction between extramental and intramental.

You don’t have to have witnesses to a public event for it to be objective. Bethrick has had many personal experiences which were objective, even though no one was around to witness them.

If I take a shower in my bathroom, that’s an objective event, not a hallucination. It doesn’t need to be a group shower to be objective.

Of course, I realize that as a resident of the Bay area, with its bathhouse culture, such a distinction might be lost on Bethrick.

“But since the accounts we have in the New Testament are so barren of detail, it seems at best that the question will only remain open, even though the accounts themselves, in my view, lean far more heavily to a private experience which resulted in only Paul's conversion, not the conversion of Paul's companions (for surely this would have been mentioned if the author of Luke thought Paul's companions were converted as well). In fact, it seems that Acts gives Paul traveling companions specifically to ward off the charge that he was hallucinating. As such, it turns out to be rather clumsy since even Paul's companions are not converted by the experience.”

What is clumsy is Dawson’s attempt to play both sides of the fence.

i) On the one hand, he wants to leave the interpretation open. He does this a polemical gimmick.

By leaving himself noncommittal, he can never be pinned down; hence, he can never be disproven. But there is, as we soon shall see, a price to pay for this evasion.

ii) On the other hand, he wants to promote the hallucination theory as a live option. Indeed, as the preferred option (“lean far more heavily to a private experience”).

iii) He also says that Paul’s traveling companions were a literary device to preempt the hallucination theory.

But if, for the sake of argument, we grant that assertion, then Luke has planted an interpretive clue, contrary to the hallucination theory.

So, by Dawson’s own admission, by postulating this literary device, it was never meant to be a subjective vision, but an objective vision. Thus, Dawson can only interpret the account otherwise by violating original intent.

iv) Finally, there’s nothing literary about having traveling companions.

a) For one thing, it was dangerous to travel alone in the ancient world. There were bandits abroad. You naturally traveled in a group for your own protection. Strength in numbers.

b) In addition, since Paul has gone to Damascus to extradite some fugitives, it’s only logical that he would assemble a posse. It’s not coincidental that bounty hunters work in teams.

v) There’s no reason to assume that Paul’s traveling companions would be converted. For one thing, they didn’t perceive the event in quite the same way. And it would also depend on their predisposition to believe or resist the evidence.

For another thing, even if they were converted, there is no reason to suppose that Luke would name them. There are several mass conversions in the Book of Acts. Luke is not in the habit of naming every convert.

His focus is on key players in early church history. And this is how historians generally operate.

“Then we should find some other witnesses to corroborate the claim. But the source which gives details about what allegedly happened comes to us at best as a secondhand story, conflicts with itself, and is not corroborated by other sources.”

i) An event need not be corroborated to be a public event. Bethrick continues to trade in equivocations.

Does Bethrick invite eyewitnesses into the bathroom every time he relieves himself? Is he hallucinating unless he has corroborative testimony? He was subjectively relieving himself, but not objectively relieving himself?

ii) For folks like Bethrick, corroboration is irrelevant.

If there were witnesses to corroborate the claim, then Bethrick would either treat the witnesses as a literary device or appeal to mass hallucination. Or else he would treat the witnesses as “confessionally” invested in the outcome.

An unbeliever has many ad hoc evasive maneuvers to deflect inconvenient evidence.

iii) A “secondhand” story in the sense the Luke learned about Paul’s conversion experience from Paul.

There’s nothing wrong with secondhand information as long as your source is reliable. Most of what we know or believe is based on secondhand information—at best.

When Dawson quotes a member of a mainline denomination (see below), that’s secondhand information at best. When Dawson quotes Wells quoting Kümmel (see below), that’s thirdhand information.

Luke’s secondhand information is far superior to Dawson’s secondary and tertiary sources. And some of Acts is also based on firsthand information (the “We”-sections).

“Meanwhile, the possibility of invention and fabrication is not ruled out in any convincing way.”

The possibility that “Incinerating Presuppositionalism” is a hoax blog by a geeky four-year old is not rule out in any convincing way.

“Unless Dagoods is a Christian, it’s unlikely that he’s confessionally invested in one outcome as opposed to another on this issue.”

In other words, Dagood didn’t believe his own argument. I guess that’s one of the fringe benefits of being a confessionally invested atheist: moral relativism.

“On the contrary, the post-resurrection scenes in the gospels seem to have been written, in spite of their conflicting accounts, for the express purpose of giving ‘proof’ of a physical resurrection.”

Dawson has disbarred himself from attributing inconsistency to Scripture. For if the meaning of Scripture is as ambiguous and open-textured as Dawson would have us believe, then he is not entitled to assert a contradiction. To make good on such a claim, he would have to identify a contradiction, and to identify a contradiction, the sense of Scripture would need to be far more perspicuous than he permits it to be.

This is the problem with Dawson’s duplicity. On the one hand, he wants plausible deniability. He wants the freedom to back out of any argument which blows up in his face without losing face. So his ploy is to be noncommittal, and to justify his detachment by invoking the ambiguity of Scripture.

But this appeal cuts both ways, for if his own position cannot be falsified, then the Bible cannot be falsified. This is both the strength and the weakness of the fence-straddler. “You can prove me wrong, but I can’t prove you wrong!”

But, of course, Dawson is a selective fence-straddler.

“If it were the case that Paul was reciting a creed “which had already been formulated and was being used by the early church,” then this seriously calls into question whether Paul knew any of the 500 brothers he mentions in vs. 6 personally. This effectually serves to remove Paul’s testimony even further from firsthand witness, and thus diminishes any reliability that can be claimed for it all the more.”

This misses the point. The Corinthians don’t have to take Paul’s word for it.

Dawson then brings up the alleged conflict between Gal 1:11-12 and 1 Cor 15. I already addressed that issue in my reply to Dagood. Been there, done that.

“Besides, what data can be gleaned from Paul’s letters to indicate the date of his conversion? What data can be gleaned from his letters to indicate when he thinks Jesus was crucified? What data can be gleaned from his letters to indicate when Jesus appeared to Peter, James and the 500 brothers? I think these are legitimate questions for Christians to consider, but I’m supposing they’ll fetch me more attitude than answers.”

i) These are legitimate questions from an illegitimate questioner. For Dawson likes to ask questions, but he isn’t looking for answers.

And we shall see, he makes it a point of pride ignore the standard exegetical literature.

ii) Notice the question-begging assumption that in constructing a Pauline chronology, we are limited to Pauline sources.

As a matter of fact, there are NT scholars who have done just that.

But one standard feature of a historical reconstruction and relative chronology is the synchronizing of independent historical sources.

If Luke is a traveling companion of Paul, then Luke is a supplemental source of information concerning the life of Paul.

iii) Observe Dawson’s customary duplicity. He demands corroboration, then insists that a Pauline chronology be limited to Pauline sources of information.

Whenever it suits his purpose, Dawson demands multiple-attestation; when multiple-attestation does not serve his purpose, he retracts his criterion.

“A final point about the passage in I Cor. 15 is that some scholars suspect that it is a later insertion. See for instance R. M. Price’s Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 As a Post-Pauline Interpolation.”

This is yet another example of Dawson’s studied duplicity. He tosses this into the ring with the self-insulating statement that “some” scholars “suspect” that it’s interpolated.

On the one hand, Dawson doesn’t wish to stake out a personal and public position on this article, for by committing himself one way or the other, that would expose his flank to a counterattack.

That’s why he cites the source and distances himself from the source at the very same time.

On the other hand, unless he found the article convincing, why should any one else find it convincing?

I’d just note in passing that Price doesn’t bother to engage scholars like Gamble (Books & Readers in the Early Church) and Trobisch (Paul’s Letter Collection) on the canonical antiquity and textual continuity of the Pauline corpus in general, or 1 Corinthians in particular.

His is an argument from silence, as well as an argument in defiance of a uniform textual tradition to the contrary.

There’s a lot more I could say about Price’s extended exercise in special pleading, and, indeed, there’s a lot more I plan to say in the near future, so I’ll reserve further comment until then.

Price is a capable man, but by that same token he’s an object lesson in what happens when a man defects from the faith. Price has become a quack. He has a half-dozen arguments which he recycles with zippy one-liners. He tries to breathe new life into the rotting corpse of James Frazer. In his effort to consistently deny the faith he becomes consistently eccentric, staking out fact-free, oddball positions like the aforesaid article.

“Disputes such as the one we have been engaging could have been averted had the New Testament been more carefully written. We come to the New Testament as it is – vaguely and ambiguously written throughout much of it, open to wide interpretation and ripe for a broad range of speculation.”

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is true, then Dawson has just forfeited the right to impute self-contradiction to Scripture.

“At any rate, if it is admitted that the New Testament assumes a burden of proof, as Steve does here, a burden which would not be have surfaced in the first place had the New Testament already met it, then what more can be said on its behalf?”

Except that this is not what I said. Both the polemic theologian and the polemical atheology assume a burden of proof—not the NT.

This, however, is another one of Dawson’s little ploys. He will rephrase what his opponent has said and then turn that into a damaging admission.

But the problem with Dawson’s verbal sleight-of-hand is that he’s a pickpocket with mittens or boxing gloves. You can always feel his fumbling efforts to extract your wallet.

“Neither my statement nor anything that Steve has uncovered establishes that I am restricted only to English translations. As one possessing a degree in a foreign language, there in fact are non-English translations to which I have comprehending access.
Steve speaks too soon on the basis of unexamined assumptions. Perhaps Steve has a translation in some language which actually uses the word ‘physical’ (or its English equivalent) to refer to what appeared to the 500? I just checked one of my non-English translations of the New Testament, and it did not use a word which translates to the English word ‘physical’.”

Back to the boxing gloves. At issue is not the wording of a translation, but the wording of the original.

Moving along:


One commentator had written (12 May 06):

“As a Christian from a mainline Protestant denomination, I hadn't been aware that there are churches that teach that Jesus appeared physically to Paul. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone could read 1 Corinthians 15:8 as referring to anything other than a vision, given -- as you have shown -- the context of the rest of the New Testament.”

This person identifies himself as “a Christian from a mainline Protestant denomination,” and yet is surprised to learn that some churches “teach that Jesus appeared physically to Paul.” How can “a Christian of a mainline Protestant church” be surprised by this, unless of course the assumption that Jesus paid a physical visit to Paul is read into the NT text by only a portion of today’s Christians?


It would be hard to come up with a better example of Dawson’s forkéd-tongued technique.

i) If Jesus didn’t appear to Paul physically, then is this instance of the hallucination theory?

ii) Dawson resorts to a secondhand source.

iii) And unnamed secondhand source.

iv) From an unnamed denomination.

Being a “mainline” denomination, this is likely a liberal denomination.

So Dawson violates his own rules of evidence. Indeed, he has much lower standards for what he believes than the quality of the first and secondhand information we find in Paul and the Gospels.

“Steve’s statement here, however, in fact underscores my point: if it requires piles of exegesis to massage the meaning of the passage to confirm the gospels, then it is performatively conceded that the passage in question does not do this on its own, and thus may actually not be what its author intended after all. Hence the need for it to be “extensively exegeted.” Recall that, according to Acts 9:3.”

Bethrick now abandons all pretense of scholarship and strikes the posture of a storefront preacher: he needs nothing more than mother wit and a King James Bible to interpret Scripture.

At one level, Dawson has left me with nothing to find objectionable. By his own admission, he’s an unbeliever because he’s an ignoramus.

He frees free to attack the Bible with no knowledge of the primary or standard secondary sources of exegetical theology.

If that’s the way he chooses to defend himself, it’s fine with me. It reminds me of Haitians who think that Voodoo curses will render them bullet-proof.

Imagine if a student were to use such a dismissive argument with reference to Dante studies:

“I don’t need to know Medieval Italian or Medieval church history or Medieval Florentine politics or Thomism or Classical mythology or Ptolemaic astronomy or Aristotelian physics or Dante’s Convivio to know all I need to know about the Commedia. All I need is a English translation, bereft of annotations.”

As is so often the case, infidelity is a pose. An attitude. The pretensions to intellectual superiority are just that: an affectation for public consumption.

There’s much in Scripture that one can understand without any background information—although that’s deceptive in itself, since a lot of scholarship is feeding into our versions and editions of Scripture.

But the NT was written at a different time and place, in a different language. It stands in a literary, hermeutical, and theological tradition: from the OT through Intertestamental Judaism to Second Temple Judaism, Palestinian Judaism, and Diaspora Judaism.

It involves a cultural understanding, as well as a variety of literary idioms, conventions, and genres which were common knowledge at the time and place of writing, but are not common knowledge to 21C American.

For Dawson to defend himself by retreating into obscurantism only goes to show the obscurantist character of his unbelief. Dawson’s a card-carrying member of the illiterati.

“Not to mention the fact that this position needs to be reconciled with what we read in I Peter 3:18.”

What this means is that Jesus was put to death in the flesh and reanimated by the Spirit of God. Consult the standard commentaries (e.g. Charles, Davids, Grudem, Marshall, Schreiner).



If this is what the author of I Peter meant by this statement, why would we need to go to “the standard commentaries” to find this out? Though it may be entertaining, I’m not interested per se in what confessionally invested commentators opine; I am more interested in looking at what the bible actually says than in counting all the ways that apologists can twist a verse to make it seem harmonious with other passages. With a measure of ingenuity, some translations could be interpreted according to what Steve contends here, namely that the resurrection body is also physical. But other translations resist this. For instance, the New Living Translation renders 3:18 “He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” which indicates a contrast between the physicality of Jesus’ death and the spirituality of his resurrection. Similarly other translations of this verse clearly indicate a specific contrast between “the flesh” on the one hand (associated with Jesus’ death), and “the spirit” on the other (associated with Jesus’ resurrection). There is nothing in the passage which stipulates that the resurrection was physical. In fact, the passage by its very intention seems to indicate otherwise. This explains why the piles of exegesis to which Steve alludes are needed to tilt the passage in the direction of the gospels, with which the author seems entirely unfamiliar (see my blog Did the Author of I Peter See the Risen Jesus of the Gospels?).


i) Ah, yes, the New Living Translation.

Well, with such a magisterial authority as that arrayed against me, I might as well withdraw in sackcloth and ashes. Kenneth Taylor ad mundum!

Actually, even in this version, the contrast is not between the composition of the mortal body and glorified body, but between physical death and a resurrection effected by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

ii) Commentators come from a variety of theological persuasions. And an atheist has his own confessional investment to protect—the humanist manifesto.

iii) In any event, Dawson is indulging in a bait-and-switch tactic. Peter doesn’t need to teach the body resurrection of Christ. For as long as Peter says nothing against the bodily resurrection of Christ, then other NT writers will suffice.

“It is often not long until apologists who are impressed with themselves pull out the 'does this fellow know Greek?' card, as if all the 'secrets of scripture' could be opened with the turn of such a key.”

No, it’s not a universal key to unlock every door into the meaning of Scripture. But it does give the reader a knowledge of the semantic and syntactical options.

An unbeliever who doesn’t know Greek and Hebrew is not automatically disqualified from raising certain objections to Scripture.

But when he raises linguistic objections, or indulges in word-studies, he speaks as a preening and overweening dunce.

Bethrick also wants to go another round with me on 1 Cor 15:39-50. For a couple of reasons, I’ll take a rain check:

i) I have quite a lot to say on the Gnostic reinterpretation of 1 Cor 15, and I plan to say it in the near future, so I’ll reserve further comment until then.

ii) A serious disputant matches himself against the best of the opposition. If Bethrick were a serious disputant, and not a charlatan, he would read Wright (The Resurrection of the Son of God) and Thiselton (The First Epistle to the Corinthians) on 1 Cor 15. That’s the A-team. That’s the team to beat.

Instead, he chooses to get his information on the opposing arguments laundered by hack writers like Doherty and Wells.

“I suppose what Steve is saying here is that, if I learn to read the New Testament in Greek (quotations from the Septuagint which distort the OT originals notwithstanding), I’ll magically ‘see the light’ and be similarly persuaded.”

i) No, this is not about persuasion, but understanding. What does it mean?

ii) Moreover, if he doesn’t know Greek and Hebrew, then he’s in no position to say the LXX distorts the Hebrew.

Where did he get that from? Secondhand sources?

iii) Furthermore, the differences between the MT and the LXX are not all due to how the LXX has rendered the MT. For the LXX is sometimes rendering a different textual tradition.

This is one of the problems with being an ignoramus. Because Dawson relies on one-sided popularizations, he commits elementary blunders.

iv) What is more, he needs to acquaint himself with Jewish citational customs.

“How is noting that the NT record is full of internal problems an ‘admission of defeat’? If a set of records contains incompatible variances and unyielding ambiguities (none of which either Steve or any of his cronies on Triablogue have been able to wipe away), then what reasonable answers are possible? And if it’s established that the set of records in question are full of such problems, why would anyone have to ‘bother’ to ‘argue them down’?”

Back to the mittens. “Noting” it and “showing” it are two different things. Dawson has done nothing to establish that the records in question are full of such problems.

BTW, which is it—“incompatible variances” or “unyielding ambiguities”? It can very well be both. They cancel each other out. For a variance to be incompatible, it must be unambiguous.

What he attempted to do instead was to discount all answers in advance. This is a transparent evasion on the part of an intellectually beleaguered atheologian.

“What evidence would Steve provide to secure, for instance, the assumption that the Jesus that Paul’s 500 brothers allegedly saw, was a physical Jesus rather than a spiritual Jesus (e.g., "a light from heaven" a la Acts 9:3 or a “heavenly vision” a la Acts. 26:19)?”

i) This builds on Dawson’s now oft-refuted misinterpretation of Acts.

ii) Observe, his disclaimers notwithstanding, that he’s using the exact same reasoning as a hallucination theorist: In Acts, Paul saw a spiritual Jesus, i.e. subjective vision (=hallucination). Then deploy this (mis-)interpretation as a hermeutical lens to filter 1 Cor 15.

iii) Waiving (i), (ii) assumes that Luke’s record of Pauline speeches are accurate transcriptions or summaries of what Paul actually said.

So the hallucination theorist must treat Luke as a careful historian in order to correlate Pauline usage in Acts with Pauline usage in 1 Cor 15.

In that event, what about Lk 24—with its emphatically corporeal Resurrection?

iv) Why does Dawson care what 1 Cor 15 teaches?

Suppose it were as vivid as Lk 24 or Jn 20-21?

Although he might then believe that it did, indeed, teach a physical resurrection, he would still not believe in what it taught.

Bethrick also wants to go several more rounds on Marian apparitions. On this subject I’ll just say a few more things:

i) The Marian counterexample was originally raised by Loftus. It was then copied by Dagood. After that, Bethrick picked up the thread. Since each opponent refines the objection, I refine my answer.

ii) This is less of an exegetical question than a philosophical question.

a) Facial recognition and/or voice recognition are the ordinary means by which we identify those we know.

b) Another way is if a stranger introduces himself.

c) These are not necessarily different modes of recognition. A stranger may introduce himself. I thereby associate a name with a face—or a voice.

d) But suppose someone is not who he says he is?

How did Paul know that it was really Jesus speaking to him?

And what about Marian apparitions?

e) The question is ambiguous.

For example, if Jesus is really speaking to Paul, and Paul believes that Jesus is speaking to him, then Paul’s belief is a true belief. But does Paul know that Jesus is speaking to him?

Perhaps, on the first encounter, Paul is unable to verify his belief, even though his belief is correct.

But there are confirmatory lines of evidence:

1.After his encounter with Christ, Paul was able to revisit Messianic prophecy without the prejudicial impediment which had hindered his reading before the Damascus Road Christophany.

2.Not only did Christ commission Paul, but he empowered Paul. Paul was able to work miracles. God’s providence was a conspicuous force in his life.

3.If it wasn’t a Christophany, what’s the alternative? A diabolical delusion? But that’s hardly consistent with (1)-(2).

f) What about Marian apparitions. These lack the confirmatory lines of evidence (1)-(2). And, as I’ve said before, they violate certain Scriptural criteria.

Of course, Bethrick doesn’t believe in (1)-(3). But Loftus, Dagood, and Bethrick raise this objection as a problem internal to Evangelicalism.

So my answer is an answer consistent with the systemic assumptions of Evangelical theology.

“As I have pointed out, even I Peter, purporting to have been written by one of Jesus’ closest disciples (thus making him a prime eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, miracles and post-resurrection appearances), makes no mention of any of the events recorded in the gospels.”

Wrong genre.

“Such conspicuous silence characterizes the entire early epistolary strata of the New Testament, making the gospels read like later legends which arose as various Christian communities sought to fill in the blanks left wide open by the early letter-writers.”

i) How does he define the “early” letters?

ii) In what respect do the gospels represent a legendary embellishment in relation to the “early” letters?

Paul’s Christology in Romans and 1-2 Corinthians is already as high as anything in the synoptic gospels.

For that matter, what is legendary about a bodily resurrection? As far as legendary embellishment goes, the argument is quite the reverse.

We would expect primitive tradition to be very concrete and earthy, whereas it’s in the Gnostic apocrypha of the mid-2C and beyond that the spiritualizing tendency comes to the fore.

“Suppose you were a member of the early Corinthian church, for instance, and had only some oral teaching and a letter or two from the traveling missionary named Paul. Wouldn't you be curious about the details of Jesus' life on earth? How would you discover them? Just ask around?”

The NT church was well-connected. Members traveled widely from church to church. It was a peripatetic society. Cf. M. Thompson, "The Holy Internet: Communication Between Churches in the First Christian Generation," R. Bauckham, ed., The Gospels for All Christians (Eerdmans, 1998), chapter 2.

“In the church setting, where believers come eager to learn and be nourished on 'the Word', uncritical acceptance of what is taught is encouraged. This is evident in today's churches if nothing else.”

i) This is a liberal stereotype of churchgoers. There’s no argument here.

ii) For that matter, I don’t see that Christians in general are any more gullible that liberals who lap up conspiracy theories about the Bush administration or a theocratic takeover of the U.S—not to mention the authoritarian character of the liberal academic establishment.

“Even many believers think that the later apocryphal writings, including several gospels, all sprang up in this manner, by invention and fabrication. What would make us suppose that the canonical gospels are any different? Christians can point to little more than ‘tradition’ to link the authorship of the canonical gospels to individuals purported to have been eyewitnesses of Jesus.”

There is both internal and external evidence for the traditional authorship of the gospels, including a uniform textual witness, as well as the Patristic witness. There is also their historic fit with what we know of 1C Greco-Roman culture and Second Temple Judaism.

“We should remember that tradition is not history.”

A glib overstatement. The church fathers, for one, are a primary source of church history.

“We have from the days of Paul a traceable course of increasing legend.”

No, we don’t.

a) There’s no Christological development from Paul to John. Paul’s Christology is just as high as John’s.

b) The Gospel of John is far less miraculous than the Gospel of Mark.

c) And, as I said before, there’s nothing legendary about the idea of a bodily resurrection. Indeed, the trajectory is just the opposite. The canonical gospels are very down-to-earth whereas the Gnostic gospels are Docetic.

Bethrick is, himself, a perfect illustration of blind faith. He devours liberal potboilers and dutifully regurgitates whatever they spoon-feed him even though what they dish out is obviously at odds with the actual record.

He is unable to see the evidence through the jaundiced hue of his liberally tinted spectacles.

“And at an arbitrary point the later church decided where to draw the line.”

Nothing arbitrary about a dividing line between the 1C and the 2C. The former lies within the reach of living memory, the latter does not—especially as we head into the mid-2C and beyond. Peter, Mary, and Thomas didn’t live to be two or three hundred years of age.

“And the result includes the gospels attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John,”

And why would the church falsely attribute the canonical gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

Mark and Luke aren’t even apostles, while Matthew is a minor league apostle.

Moreover, it’s highly ironic that the most Jewish of the four gospels would be written by tax-collector. Such men were despised by their fellow Jews as traitors to the race due to their collaboration with pagan conqueror and occupying force.

Of the canonical gospels, John is the only one named after a major-league apostle. And this happens to be the gospel with the most internal evidence in favor of its traditional authorship, as well as the most circumstantial detail.

“But excludes those attributed to Thomas, Peter, Mary, Judas, the Ebionites, the Nazoreans, etc.”

i) If you were fabricating a gospel, wouldn’t you name it after one of the big wigs like Peter or Mary?

ii) Why shouldn’t the early church exercise it is historical judgment in this field? It’s people contemporaneous with a forgery who are in the best position to detect a forgery. They were living in the same place and time as the apocrypha. They know that this is innovative literature. That it made a sudden appearance, unlike the NT writings—which were handed down from generation to generation.

They can recognize how the apocrypha mirror the intellectual currents of their own day and age, not the bygone era of the NT. They know what movements are producing this literature.

iii) This is not just a liberal/conservative issue. A liberal like Joseph Fitzmyer doesn’t regard the Gospel of Thomas as authentic. A liberal like J. M. Robinson doesn’t regard the Gospel of Judas as authentic.

iv) Does Bethrick think that the Gospel of Thomas was actually written by the Apostle Thomas? Does Bethrick think that the Gospel of Judas was actually written by Judas?

This is an example of Dawson’s intellectual frivolity and indolence. Having decided that Christianity is bunk, he turns his brain off. He will float any lame-brained suggestion, even if it makes no sense on secular grounds.



Professor of the New Testament W.G. Kümmel disputes the tradition that names the Jerusalemite John Mark of Acts chapters 12 and 15 as the author of the gospel bearing his name:

The author [of the gospel narrative] obviously has no personal knowledge of Palestinian geography, as the numerous geographical errors show. He writes for Gentile Christians, with sharp polemic against the unbelieving Jews. He does not know that the account of the death of the Baptist (6:17ff.) contradicts “Palestinian customs. Could a Jewish Christian from Jerusalem miss the fact that 6:35ff. and 8:1ff. are two variants of the same feeding story? ... What we can learn from the material that lies behind Mark and his composing of it in no way leads ups back to eyewitnesses as the chief bearers of the tradition... Mark is probably based on no extensive written sources. ...More likely the evangelist has woven together small collections of individual traditions and detaild bits of tradition into a more or less coherent presentation. (Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 97, 94, 85; quoted in Wells, op cit. p. 59.)”


i) Notice his appeal to a tertiary source. Bethrick quoting Wells quoting Kümmel. So it’s good form for Bethrick to rely on a thirdhand source, but bad form for Luke to rely on a secondhand source.

ii) Who is Wells? Wells is a retired German teacher.

Suppose a retired German teacher were to write a book “disproving” evolution. Wouldn’t the secular blogosphere have a field day with that?

Once again, unbelievers like Bethrick use a lot of rationalistic rhetoric, but when you look at their sources, they’re quoting the liberal equivalent of Tim LaHaye and George McCready Price.

Bethrick is a card-carrying member of the unintelligentsia.

iii) Who is Kümmel? Kümmel is a student of Bultmann. Kümmel has his own confessional investment.

iv) And what do we get from this snippet of Kummel’s? Do we get an argument? No. Just a string of unsupported claims.

Bethrick has yet to favor us with any supporting evidence for his sweeping assertions. He talks a lot about the need for corroborative evidence, but when does he ever corroborate his own claims?

“Throughout all of this, has Steve conclusively shown that Paul knew what Jesus looked like while the latter was allegedly walking around the earth? No. All he’s done is point to certain woulda-coulda factors that might be supposed to tilt “the odds” in his favor.”

Is conclusive evidence where Dawson has set the bar? If so, has he offered any conclusive evidence for his own position? Does Dawson even have a clear-cut position—much less clear-cut evidence?

Dawson’s whole case is based on woulda-coulda factors.

By contrast, to take the example in hand, the idea that Jesus and Paul crossed paths is a straightforward deduction from independent lines of evidence. Such synchronies are a fundamental feature of the historical method.

“If the believer has deceived himself, he might not be allowing himself to be honest on this point.”

Here Bethrick seems to have picked up the bad habit, gratuitously modeled in the writings of Dawkins and Dennett, of slandering Christianity's supporters by smearing them as sufferers of a mental disability. Perhaps this is an expression of secular charity.

“Paul did intimate that every man is a liar.”

No, this is a bit of hyperbole, from Ps 116:11, which Paul redeploys to set up a hypothetical contrast (Rom 3:3-4). The statement is rhetorical.

Indeed, as Paul goes on to argue in the course of his letter, everyone is not unfaithful to God, for God is faithful to his covenant promises, pursuant to which he keeps his chosen people faithful to himself.



So may the desire to find in the fantasy of make-believe and imagination a fictitious surrogate for earned self-esteem, which is either stifled or snuffed out by the proclivity which mysticism induces in its adherents to assume that another’s consciousness is somehow superior to his own, just as we find in the cult of Jesus-worship. If the believer has deceived himself, he might not be allowing himself to be honest on this point. Paul did intimate that every man is a liar, and self-deception seems to be an inherent element of the human condition according to at least some versions of Christianity. At this point, Steve and other apologists have so much invested in the god-belief they’ve been defending so vigorously that they don’t want to be wrong. Steve should know that I understand firsthand what this compulsion to “defend the faith” is like. After all, I did the same in my younger days (though this was well before the internet – back when evangelism was done the old fashioned way: out on the street, face to face). I've grown up since then.


Rather, he’s grown down since then.

i) One of the problems with this Freudian approach is that it cuts both ways. It’s equally easy to offer a Freudian diagnosis of the unbeliever’s subliminal motives.

ii) For the record, I have no “compulsion” to defend the faith. I find apologetics both a bore and a chore.

I happen to have a very imperturbable faith, and were it not for an onerous sense of duty, I’d spend my time otherwise.

“One might very well not start out with an explicit desire for it to be true, for in the beginning the new convert has not yet invested himself very deeply in Christianity's devotional program. At that time, belief is often motivated by the fear that its teachings are true, or the hope that what it offers (resolution to life's problems, answers to prayers, eternal life, etc.) is real. Christianity dangles many carrots before impressionable converts. Frequently it is a combination of these two factors which compels the new believer to come into the faith (of course, prior conditioning in some form of mysticism always helps). However, after a believer has invested himself in the silliness that Christianity is true, he will come to want it to be true no matter what (for he's got so much riding on it now), which is why believers (especially apologists) try so hard to find ways of making it seem true to themselves. This silliness is taken to new heights when apologists actually think that their apologetic attempts are somehow persuasive to those who simply know better.”

One might very well not start out with an explicit desire for it to be true, for in the beginning the new apostate has not yet invested himself very deeply in infidelity's impious program. At that time, unbelief is often motivated by the fear that its teachings are too bad to be true, or the hope that what it offers (resolution to a guilt-complex, promiscuous sex, the chance to play god, etc.) is real. Atheism dangles many carrots before impressionable apostates. Frequently it is a combination of these two factors which compels the new believer to come into the faith (of course, prior conditioning in some form of secularization always helps). However, after an unbeliever has invested himself in the silliness that infidelity is true, he will come to want it to be true no matter what (for he's got so much riding on it now), which is why unbelievers (especially atheologians) try so hard to find ways of making it seem true to themselves. This silliness is taken to new heights when atheologians actually think that their polemical attempts are somehow persuasive to those who simply know better.

“This is simplistic as these examples are certainly not analogous to religious belief, since religious belief deals with invisible spirits as well as confessional investment – the investment of faith. It’s pretty hard to do this with actual things for very long. But in the fake environment of religious imagination, it is very possible; in fact, for many people who grant a religion’s basic premises, this is most seductive.”

Dawson’s reply is simplistic because is simply assumes, without benefit of argument, that invisible spirits are unreal.

So, for Dawson, seeing is believing. Numbers are unreal because numbers are invisible. Minds are unreal because minds are invisible. Moral norms are unreal because moral norms are invisible.


That Jesus was born in a barn is not important to Christian belief; but that he was born of a virgin is. Is being born from a virgin mother “realistic”? That Jesus walked around and preached is not unique and thus not in and of itself important; but that Jesus performed miracles is important. But it is "realistic"? Is turning water into wine as recorded in the second chapter of the gospel according to John “realistic”? Is Jesus walking on water or calming a storm by commanding it “realistic”? Are the feeding stories (of 4,000 and 5,000) “realistic”? Is the part about the graves opening and an untold number of dead people reanimating and showing themselves to many (Mt. 27:52-53) “realistic”?


i) As was pointed out to Bethrick once before, he is confusing psychological realism with metaphysical realism.

Whether miracles are realistic or not is a very value-laden judgment—indexed to one’s worldview.

ii) And an open-system, porous to divine “intervention,” does not affect the question of psychological probabilities.

“How should I size up someone who claims that an invisible magic being created reality? How should I size up someone who essentially likens the universe to a cartoon? I live in a universe whose objects do not conform to my conscious intentions; I can wish that my mobile phone has better service, but no matter how hard I wish my service will not improve because of my wishing. And yet, I am told to accept a worldview according to which the universe of objects does conform to someone's wishing, even though this is nowhere demonstrated. Instead of empirical demonstration, I am told to believe it on someone’s say so (or else I'll get dogpiled).”

i) Bethrick has a real hang-up when it comes to invisibility. I guess he believes that TV characters are midgets living inside his TV console. It must be full of little people. After all, the only alternative is a superstitious belief in invisible sound waves and unseen electrical currents.

ii) I’m also oh-so sorry if poor little Bethrick feels that we’re ganging up on him. Next time we’ll send him to bed with a warm glass of milk and a Teddy bear.

iii) Notice how he makes his personal experience the yardstick of reality. He must believe in a very small world indeed!

iv) Empirical demonstration is not the only way in which we know about possibilities or probabilities. How many trials does it take for me to surmise that if I flip a coin, heads will occur with a limiting relative frequency of 1/2?

Do we have to organize rotating teams, flipping coins 24/7, week after week, month after month, and year after year, with cameras recording every trial, before we average the odds?

Or is the probability of a coin toss an a priori judgment?

“The NT writers were clearly more concerned with theology than with history. This is evident in the early epistolary strata: Paul, for instance, makes no attempt to fix a date to his Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection; his concern is for its soteriological implications.”

He continues to commit a genre confusion, the poor boy.

“It is also evident in the later narratives. Matthew takes Mark's model and elaborates a highly embellished tale on top of it, giving Jesus a virgin birth and adding new effects to the passion (such as an untold number of 'saints' rising from the dead, going into the city and appeared to many in 27:52-53).”

This assumes that Matthew’s only source of information is Mark, so that any difference between Matthew and Mark is due to Matthew’s embellishment of Mark.

Not only is that contrary to a conservative view of Scripture, but equally opposed to the Four Source Hypothesis, according to which Matthew makes use of “M” material and “Q” material as well as Markan material.


“The book of Acts, in its attempt to paint a 'golden age' picture of post-passion Christian beginnings, bears the indelible markings of theological composition, with numerous cookie-cutter speeches quoting the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) flooring Jerusalem Jews where it distorts the Hebrew text.”

Since Bethrick can’t read the LXX or the MT, how is he in any position to comment on the accuracy of either Luke or the LXX?

Surely he’s not relying on a second or thirdhand source of information, is he? Naughty! Naughty!

“Yes, adding a virgin birth, visitation by traveling noblemen guided by a star, a slaughter of the innocents story complete with an escape to Egypt (as with Moses), an earthquake, a darkness over the land, and an unspecified number of zombies rising out of their graves and appearing to many, are examples of ‘exceedingly concervative’ additions to Mark's prototype.”

Once again, Bethrick is too clueless even to know the rudiments of Bible criticism. In the material which Matthew and/or Luke share in common with Mark, they reproduce Mark with a high degree of verbal repetition, excepting for certain stylistic variations or elements of audience adaptation.

This is not a liberal/conservative issue. It’s open to statistical analysis and demonstration.

“How does the claim that there were 500 witnesses of the risen Jesus ‘dovetail with our other sources of information about that time and place’ – when the mentioning of the 500 witnesses doesn’t even provide any ‘information about that time and place’"?

A non-sequitur, since inevidence does nothing to obviate evidence. Some things in Scripture are uncorroborated, as with historical writing generally. That does not subtract from the corroborated reports.

“When Steve says that he ‘made no attempt to correlate the 500 witnesses in 1 Cor 15 with the Gospels,’ is he suggesting that questions about the 500 alleged witnesses are off limits? Obviously, the only answer to my question regarding what kind of ‘biographical material’ we have in the case of the 500 whom Paul mentions, is ‘we don't have any.’"

i) The Gospels don’t mention the 500 witnesses, so any attempt to coordinate Paul with the Gospel writers on this point is necessarily conjectural.

And that’s the case with historical reconstructions generally, whether Biblical or extrabiblical.

There’s an overlap between Egyptian and Mesopotamian historical sources. But there are also many points at which they don’t explicitly intersect. That is not a contradiction or a mark of inauthenticity. We wouldn’t expect them to cover the same ground across the board.

Tacitus, Josephus, and Suetonius intersect at various points, and a classical historian will try to harmonize their accounts to produce a continuous history. But, of course, there are inherent limitations to that approach.

It is not special pleading to make the same allowance for Bible history that we make for extra-Biblical history—especially when we have more reason to believe the Bible than uninspired writers.

Between Easter and Pentecost, there’s plenty of room, in time and space, for a dominical appearance to 500 witnesses.

ii) Why does Bethrick act as if this is even important? If he doesn’t think we should use the book of Acts to supplement our Pauline chronology, then why does he think we should correlate 1 Cor 15:6 with one or more of the canonical gospels?

This is clearly a disingenuous objection.

“But notice the shifting criteria in operation here. When there's some information available about the alleged eyewitness, we are told that hints of ‘blinding bias or mendacity’ would be detectable if they were there, suggesting of course that they are not there (which is probably why the evangelists felt the need to make their Jesus a name-caller). But when there's no information about alleged eyewitnesses, we're supposed to take it on the basis of the writer's say so that they in fact were good witnesses through and through. Here faith is at the wheel; critical thinking need not apply.”

i) No shifting criteria here, but a uniform standard throughout. It goes, as I said before, to the intrinsic asymmetry between evidence and inevidence.

Bethrick acts as if the absence of evidence were a form of contrary evidence that negates any corroboration evidence. But lack of evidence does not subtract from positive evidence.

ii) Likewise, if something or someone is reliable whenever he (or it) can be tested, then it’s only rational to rely on him (or it) when it cannot be tested.

Does Bethrick test a bridge every time before he crosses the bridge? Or does he figure that if so many cars have successfully crossed the bridge before him, then it’s safe for him to do so as well?

“Since Christianity puts so much emphasis on belief, it is more likely that congregants would be more given to gleeful credulity than to questioning and interrogating.”

This is nothing more than a hostile caricature of Biblical piety.

“At the very least, they’d have to go back to Paul for more details.”

Yes, and Paul left himself wide open to that challenge.

“There’s no record that anyone did or did not. There’s certainly no record of anyone researching Paul’s claims and disconfirming them; apologists can satisfy themselves with this. But there’s also no record of anyone researching Paul’s claims and confirming them, too (for if there were, Christians wouldn't stop trumpeting this). What we have here is an unattested claim, simple as that.”

No, what we have is a vicious regress.

Some Biblical claims lack multiple-attestation. When that’s the case, the Dawsons of the world say they disbelieve the claim because it lacks multiple-attestation.

Other Biblical claims enjoy multiple-attestation. When that’s the case, the Dawsons of the world merely reposition the goal-post.

In that case we now need further corroboration: corroboration of the corroboration of the corroboration.

If we have corroboration, then that’s discounted on the grounds that the corroborating witness is a believer.

The only acceptable witness is a witness who doesn’t believe in the report he vouches for. “Yes, I saw it happen! I’ll testify to the fact. But, of course, I don’t believe it!”

Moving along:

“Was Marshall Applewhite a ‘credible character’?”

This is the second time that Bethrick as brought up the case of Marshall Applewhite. It’s become a popular tactic in recent atheology.

And I can understand why. For it’s a preemptive maneuver. Atheologians are attempting, under cover of darkness, to transfer inmates from their funny farm into our custody.

Nice try, but ufology is not a problem for Christian theism; it’s a problem for secular humanism.

These are your lunatics, not ours. These are the love children of Carl Sagan. Let the estate of Carl Sagan subsidize a loonybin for his own wayward offspring.


  1. "The only acceptable witness is a witness who doesn’t believe in the report he vouches for. “Yes, I saw it happen! I’ll testify to the fact. But, of course, I don’t believe it!”"

    We have those too!

    Matt 28: 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

    Some *saw* him, but they doubted he was resurrected. So, they can say, "I saw him, but I doubt it."


  2. 36 page blog post...answering a critic who is not serious.

    Take this opportunity to see that your approach to the faith is intellectual, which is good, but you've probably got the intellectual part down. So now focus on what you are missing. The heart. The will. Brain is developed, at least as far as it can currently be developed. Now focus on the heart and the will.

  3. Anonymous,

    Steve was responding to a lengthy article that addresses a lot of issues. It's reasonable for his response to be lengthy.

    You're right in saying that Dawson Bethrick isn't "serious", as you put it. But, as Steve explained, a response to Bethrick is an opportunity to help other people who would learn from the exchange.

    The rest of your criticisms are too vague to have much significance. How much do you know about Steve's "heart and will"? He posts a lot of apologetic material, but he also posts other types of material, and he's involved in other things offline. This blog is largely apologetic, but apologetic sources of the quality of Steve's material are few and far between. It seems to me that for every Christian web site like this one, there are far more that are about personal experiences, marriage, prayer, music, or some other non-apologetic subject. Do you post messages in those forums, telling them that they need to do more to develop their mind? If somebody is going to do the sort of research and writing Steve has done, it ought to be encouraged, not discouraged.

  4. Steve,
    I see that anonymous is able to look into your heart and see your deficiencies from a far. (lol)
    Seriously, why is the use of the intellect seen as diminishing the will and heart?

  5. >Seriously, why is the use of the intellect seen as diminishing the will and heart?

    No, as I made clear: you need a balanced development. I specifically said he had the intellectual part down, "which is good." And to Jason: Steve is very much on record regarding his opinion of developing emotionally or the heart, and just about anything other than intellect, vis-a-vis the faith. He disparages parts of Calvin's Institutes that discuss such things and calls it left-over mysticism from the middle ages, or Roman Catholicism from Calvin's past, in so many words. Not to mention the general mocking and disparaging of the Puritans themselves and their practical, experiential approach to the faith that is very common today in the general Reformed blogosphere, which Steve has indulged in himself here and there (and actually the same thing is found in more doctrinally liberal parts of the Christian blogosphere, i.e. Steve shares this with people like the iMonk).

    Just some friendly advice. I very much expect the defensive responses. Always...

  6. I'd add that apologetic sources of the caliber of Jason's material are also few and far between.