Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Are 75% Of Gary Habermas' Scholars "Conservative Christians" Who Believe That Jesus Was "Actually Raised"?

Jon Curry has written a response to my post from yesterday. He begins by saying:

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.

But he later writes:

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."...

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.

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? The comments he made at Debunking Christianity weren't clear, if they had the meaning he's now claiming for them.

Jon ignores most of what I said in response to him. He writes:

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.

What are those "quibbles" that "aren't worth it"? Jon's multiple misrepresentations of the work of Gary Habermas and resurrection scholarship in general. Here are some comments DagoodS made last year, which Jon endorsed:

In other words, 75% of the scholars are moderate conservatives—people who hold Jesus was actually raised from the dead.

Is there any surprise, that those who hold to Jesus actually being raised from the dead, believe an empty tomb is historical?

Within this particular topic, 75% of scholars writing on it believe Jesus was actually raised from the dead. The same 75% hold to an empty tomb. What is so remarkable about that percentage?

Notice that DagoodS is defining "moderate conservatives" as people who believe that Jesus was "actually" raised from the dead. He explains that there's not "any surprise" if such people believe in the historicity of the empty tomb. The implication is that DagoodS is claiming that 75% of the scholars Habermas studied believe in a physical resurrection of Christ. And Jon endorsed DagoodS's post. In the thread at Debunking Christianity last year, Jon wrote:

The vast majority of scholars are conservative Christians (see DagoodS's comments under my own blog entry here.)

In that thread he links to, he responds to DagoodS by saying:

Excellent information DagoodS....Apparently that majority precisely maps to the 75% who believe the tomb was empty. Fascinating.

DagoodS and Jon are wrong, for reasons I've explained. The two 75% figures DagoodS is citing are taken from significantly different groups of people. 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, yet Habermas doesn't say that these people all believe in a physical resurrection. And how would Jon know that these people are Christians? Non-Christians can believe that Jesus was raised in some manner. Some non-Christians even affirm a physical resurrection of Christ. And one of the issues under dispute is what sort of scholarship would affirm the data relevant to the resurrection. If an otherwise liberal scholar affirms such data, it's misleading to refer to that liberal as a "conservative Christian" just because his conclusions on those particular issues are in agreement with the conclusions of other scholars who are conservative Christians in general. The point of citing hostile corroboration is that the hostile party is generally hostile in a relevant way, not always hostile. It's misleading to refer to scholars as "conservative Christians" because they agree with a traditional Christian perspective on some issues relevant to the resurrection of Christ. Why does Jon cite Habermas for his conclusion about the "conservative Christian" nature of the scholarship when Habermas doesn't identify the scholars as such?

Even if we accept Jon's latest "clarifications" of what he allegedly meant, which I find dubious, his claims are still problematic. Instead of being a series of false and misleading assertions, Jon's claims would be a series of assertions that are still somewhat false and misleading, but not as much as I thought, because Jon was being unclear.

Jon concludes his latest post with the following:

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".

What I posted was more than "quibbles" and "nonsense". It's not insignificant to, for example, correct Jon's misrepresentations of resurrection scholarship or to point out that even most critical and unbelieving scholars Habermas studied affirmed some of the data relevant to the resurrection. I documented several examples of skeptics posting at Debunking Christianity who seem to be ignorant of the information I went on to provide in response to them. Much of what those skeptics said is highly inaccurate. It's not a "quibble" or "nonsense" to correct them. Does Jon think that these skeptics were raising objections that, if true, would only be "quibbles" and "nonsense"?

1 comment:

  1. DagoodS and Jon Curry have responded to me in the comment section of the thread linked above. DagoodS comments that "We all tend to be so nitpicky in these debates", and Jon continues to claim that I'm "quibbling". But both continue to revise and argue for their position.

    DagoodS writes:

    "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."

    That's not what you initially said. You're adding the qualifier "either physically or in some spiritual manner", which you didn't include earlier. Your initial comments don't make sense with that qualifier. Here's what you initially said:

    "In other words, 75% of the scholars are moderate conservatives—people who hold Jesus was actually raised from the dead. Is there any surprise, that those who hold to Jesus actually being raised from the dead, believe an empty tomb is historical?"

    If a person believes that Jesus was raised in some non-physical manner, why would there not be any surprise if the person believed that the tomb was empty as well? When you say that a person believes in an "actual" resurrection, without the qualifier you've added above, and you go on in the next sentence to say that there isn't any surprise when the same person affirms the historicity of the empty tomb, what sort of resurrection is implied? Both a resurrection that would leave an empty tomb and one that wouldn't? No. What's implied is that the person believes in a resurrection that leaves an empty tomb. If a scholar affirms that Jesus was raised in some non-physical manner, it doesn't make sense to say that the scholar's affirmation of the empty tomb isn't any surprise, as if the two go together. They don't. A non-physical resurrection doesn't imply an empty tomb.

    You write:

    "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?"

    Again, Habermas says that 75% of those who comment on the subject affirm some sort of resurrection. Not all scholars comment on the issue. I've already cited Habermas' acknowledgement of this point in note 34 of the article you've cited. Elsewhere, Habermas refers to those who are "agnostic" on the point (in Robert Stewart, ed., The Resurrection Of Jesus [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2006], p. 82). As N.T. Wright noted about fifteen years ago:

    "Fourth, why did the early church begin? This is, of course, another way of asking the question: what really happened at Easter? Here the 'Third Quest' [of historical research about Jesus] has had, so far, little to say; but serious historical research cannot remain silent here of all places." (Who Was Jesus? [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1993], pp. 17-18)

    Scholars tend to comment on something natural, like whether a tomb was empty, more than they comment on something supernatural or potentially supernatural, like whether Jesus rose from the dead or in what manner He rose. Some maintain that a historian shouldn't comment on the supernatural. You can't just assume that the 75% of scholars who affirmed belief in some sort of resurrection were the same as those who affirmed an empty tomb.

    And, as I explained above, even if the two classes of scholars were seen as the same group, a non-physical resurrection wouldn't imply an empty tomb. Thus, your suggestion that it isn't "any surprise" if somebody who believes in some type of resurrection would affirm the empty tomb is wrong.

    Jon Curry writes:

    "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."

    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? A New Ager who thinks that Jesus was raised in some spiritual manner, not physically, and he thinks that other people are raised that way as well, should be considered a Christian? A theist who doesn't consider himself a Christian, but believes that God spiritually resurrects good people, including Jesus, should be considered a Christian?

    Why should anybody accept your unsupported view of what a Christian is? Where are you getting your definition?

    You write:

    "This is a common understanding of the word 'Christian' in skeptical circles."

    I want to see some documentation.

    If we were to accept your definition of a Christian, your previous comments would be rendered nonsensical. If you classify anybody who believes in some type of resurrection of Jesus as a Christian, then what sense does it make to dismiss those who affirm a resurrection on the basis that they're Christians?

    And you aren't explaining your erroneous use of the "conservative" qualifier. How does the fact that somebody affirms some type of resurrection prove that the person is a conservative? Are you going to claim that somebody who is generally liberal becomes a conservative if he affirms some type of resurrection of Jesus? His position on that issue makes him a "conservative Christian", even if he's generally liberal? 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?

    And my response to DagoodS above applies to you as well on the issue of the alleged overlap of the two groups of 75% and whether it's "any surprise" for those who believe in a non-physical resurrection to affirm the empty tomb.

    You write:

    "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?"

    The title of my post is about my entire post, not just my comments written in response to you. 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. My post consisted of more than a response to you. When I correct the misconceptions of several skeptics at Debunking Christianity, and I cite some of the findings of Gary Habermas' research, I am addressing the question posed in the title of my post. I'm not addressing it exhaustively, but I don't have to be addressing the question exhaustively in order to be addressing it and to be doing so with more than "quibbling", "majoring in the minors", etc.

    You write:

    "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?"

    Yes, it's significant. And I addressed that subject in my responses to you and Touchstone last year. I haven't suggested that majorities are always correct. But when skeptics, such as you and the others at Debunking Christianity, misrepresent the state of modern scholarship, then that misrepresentation is significant in multiple contexts (your credibility, what people think of modern scholarship, etc.). There's a large gray area between no significance and maximum significance. Scholarly majorities don't have to settle every relevant issue in order to have some significance. In a time and place where secularism and liberalism are so influential in academia, a majority affirmation of something like the empty tomb or the early Christians' belief in resurrection appearances is significant. 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.). When a large number of liberals and moderates affirm something like the empty tomb, that's significant. It's not a debate ender, but it does help the debate progress. People often take a position more seriously when they think it has more scholarly support, especially if the support comes at least partially from scholars who wouldn't be expected to hold such a position.