Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Evidence For The Birth Narratives

Lydia McGrew has a good article on the subject at a site affiliated with the Unbelievable? radio program she recently appeared on. I also recommend participating in the comments section below the article. Too few Christians do that sort of work. Skeptics shouldn't be allowed to be so disproportionately represented in those contexts. If Christians have false priorities, are apathetic, are cowardly, or are lazy, among other problems, skeptics can easily outperform them. They often do.


  1. Let me ask a question to you and anyone who comes out here ...

    ~ How do you deal with people who simply do not engage with your response. There are people out there who post XYZ against Christianity. Then you respond to them and then they never respond back.

    I don't know if its because I perhaps only know the science of apologetics and not the art. I wonder if I come on too strong in my response. If someone fires a spitball, perhaps I should not respond with a bazooka. Or maybe I do not submit my reply to God in prayer first. Maybe I don't do that enough... I don't know. Or perhaps I am casting pearls to pigs. Etc.

    Regardless, I am at least glad to object so that at least readers will get something out of it. Yesterday I replied to someone on evil/suffering. I would not be surprised if he does not get back as he has been that way before.

    I sort of call these popcorn objections. They just pop and disappear.

    1. At least your responses can be fore the benefit of others who might not have known what response to make to their original remark.

    2. rgbrao,

      I'm going to expand my response to address more than what you asked about. I'll address what we should think of how people respond to us in general, both non-Christians and Christians.

      Because of the nature of the circumstances, people typically won't tell you when you're accomplishing something significant. The most unreasonable skeptics won't want to admit that you've made a good point. Others who are more open to what you're saying may be in a state of thinking about the issues further, and there's a good chance they won't be commenting publicly (or privately, often) while they're going through that process. They're too undecided to want to comment any further. Because of the nature of something like communicating through writing (or speaking on the radio, doing a podcast, etc.), part of your audience won't see what you've written until something like a month, a year, or a decade later, and by then they may have no way of responding or may decide not to respond because so much time has passed.

      Most Christians are so unconcerned about these intellectual matters that they don't even read the exchanges (or participate in oral conversations, listen to the relevant podcasts, etc.). The Christians who are more concerned about these subjects typically don't say much about them. They don't even like Facebook posts, like YouTube videos, vote up good comments Christians have made in forums like the one I linked above, etc. They think even expecting them to do that much is asking too much from them. The large majority of Christians are too apathetic, cowardly, lazy, or whatever to be involved the way they should be. That doesn't mean you aren't helping them. They just won't give you any indication that you're helping them, that they have any appreciation for what you're doing, that they agree with you, or anything like that. They prefer to just watch other people do the work. They'll show interest in jokes, family photographs people post, discussions about movies, and so on, but they don't want to be involved much in discussions about the most important issues in life. The results are predictable. And these same people then keep complaining about the state of the culture, as if they're unaware of how much their own behavior is making the situation worse.

      Read Luke 17:17-18. Jesus often got that sort of response, and you should expect to get it. (Often, you won't even get 10% of people to react to things the way they should. Look at YouTube videos, for example, that are only liked by some single-digit percentage of the people who watch the video. Even if it's a great video, the large majority of people don't want to take the time or effort to do something as easy as clicking the like button.) Do the work anyway. God is your primary audience, and you are having a good influence on other people, even when the large majority of them don't respond accordingly. You'll also benefit from the work yourself. You'll mature as a Christian, you'll get better at communicating, you'll become more efficient at sorting through the issues, etc.

    3. But since you asked about the reactions of other people, in that context you need to keep in mind that you're doing more good than people's responses suggest. We live in a culture that's contemptuous toward intellectual work in religious contexts. Faith isn't supposed to concern itself much with reason and evidence, but instead is supposed to be highly subjective, private, and so on. Trying to persuade people on religious issues is often characterized negatively as "proselytizing", "trying to force your views on other people", and so on. Christians often make things worse with comments like "you can't argue anybody into the kingdom", saying that they're going to just wait for the Holy Spirit to convert people, etc. By the time you have a discussion with a non-Christian, he may have had hundreds of discussions with other Christians who have been highly immature intellectually. And that poisons his interactions with you. When you add up factors like these, the cumulative effect is that people have a lot of apathy and contempt for intellectual work in religious contexts. They think highly of helping people physically (giving people food, giving them medicine, etc.) and helping people intellectually in non-religious contexts (educating people to prepare them for a career, helping them with their finances, etc.), but religious intellectual work isn't valued much. People often have a herd mentality, and we live in a culture that has a lot of apathy and contempt for work like apologetics. People don't see other individuals around them showing much appreciation for apologetics, so they follow that example and don't show much appreciation for it either. But the work needs done, and it influences people more than they suggest.

      If you haven't seen it, I have a post here that discusses a lot of issues related to the importance of apologetics and the nature of where we are as a culture in that context. You may also want to read my overview of the state of our culture here. It will give you some idea of why people are responding to you the way they are (or not responding).

    4. Another factor to keep in mind is that you don't know how you'll influence a person in the future. When you give a person some information, his initial reaction isn't all that matters. Greg Koukl refers to putting a stone in somebody's shoe. Even if the initial reaction is negative (in the form of apathy, anger, or whatever else), it doesn't follow that there won't be a better reaction later.

      Critics of apologetics often frame things in terms of whether you brought about an immediate conversion. Supposedly, the failure to bring about an immediate conversion proves that apologetics didn't accomplish anything in that context or even that it never accomplishes anything. But my article on apologetics that I referred to above gives some examples of how productive apologetics is even when people don't immediately convert in response to it. The purpose of apologetics is multifaceted, it isn't equivalent to evangelism, and even in evangelism, the failure to produce an immediate conversion doesn't prove that the evangelist failed. We recognize this sort of thing in other areas of life, such as in parenting or teaching, when children often have to be taught something many times before they respond appropriately to it. But people often apply a different standard to apologetics, because they haven't thought about the issues enough, because they're looking for some way to dismiss apologetics, or whatever.

  2. I've tried a few times to post a response to Matthew Taylor in the thread linked above, but those responses keep getting labeled as spam. I don't know if anybody's been able to view the posts. (I can see them initially, but they disappear later.) Disqus has a history of wrongly marking comments as spam. It's let me respond to other posters in that thread, but my responses keep getting labeled as spam when I try to reply to Matthew Taylor. Here's the latest version of what I wrote in response to him:

    Matthew Taylor,

    You've complained about Lydia McGrew's use of the argument that a source was unlikely to have made something up. That's one of her arguments among others. She addresses multiple lines of evidence in her article, she makes reference to others not discussed there, and her videos and her debate with Jonathan Pearce linked above go into further detail. You can't isolate one of her arguments, ignore all of the others, complain that the one argument is insufficient by itself, and not even make any effort to interact with that one argument you've singled out. The argument that a source is unlikely to have made something up is a valid argument, one we use in our everyday lives, in courtrooms, etc. It doesn't have to address every potential objection by itself in order to be one valid argument among others.

    You go on to object that she didn't discuss some subjects, and you claim that the census in Luke 2 couldn't have happened. Lydia discusses the census in one of the videos linked above. Her article isn't meant to be exhaustive, and it doesn't claim to be exhaustive. And if the census couldn't have happened, why is it so undisputed among the ancient opponents of Christianity, even though they disputed other aspects of Christianity and the infancy narratives in particular?

    You refer to how the journey Jesus' parents made in response to the census wouldn't have been required. If you're referring to the alleged ancestral nature of the census, you're wrong. It wasn't an ancestral census. Luke 2:3 only mentions that people had to be in their own city. Ancestry doesn't come up until verse 4, which is about Joseph in particular, not every census participant. Most likely, Luke is referring to one of the reasons why Bethlehem was Joseph's place of residence. It doesn't follow that every census participant had to go to an ancestral location. This issue is discussed further in the comments section of the debate between Lydia McGrew and Jonathan Pearce linked above.

    Regarding the star of Bethlehem, Matthew doesn't portray the star as an astronomical entity. Rather, only one group saw the star, Herod is dependent on them for information on it (even after he thinks they've betrayed him), and it's described as something close to the earth's surface (as can be further verified by comparing Matthew's language in chapter 2 with how he uses such language elsewhere in his gospel). The earliest interpreters of Matthew 2 also refer to it as if it's a non-astronomical object.

    1. I suppose my main reason (excuse) would be that I simply don't know enough to fend someone off. But to be honest, after watching the debate on Sunday, wow, sometimes all it takes is keeping track of what a person says. Pearce contradicted himself, asserted, and when it came to his lousy use of Psalm 87, begged the question (unless someone has a better read, I understood him to be saying that if there's a prophecy, and if it appears to be fulfilled, the only explanation is the fulfillment was made up...though it's moot since Psalm 87 has nothing going for it).

      And the nerves. But I suppose that just takes practice.

    2. > I suppose my main reason (excuse) would be that I simply don't know enough to fend someone off.

      Yeah... but there are places where you won't be on your own. So if you don't know something, then others do.

      For example, I follow Tim Keller on Twitter and Nancy Pearcey on Facebook.

      For whatever reason, sometimes Tim Keller tweets out stuff that seems to me to be the most harmless tweets and yet people on twitter just go ballistic and jump the guy. "You... you Marxist! You evil, gnostic @)&@#=%+!!! etc. How dare you!?!"

      However when I respond there, I know that I am not alone. Where there is a deficiency in my understanding, someone else will help out.

      Like so with Nancy Pearcey. She posted something about progressive Christianity a couple of weeks ago. Someone made a snide remark about the nature of the Bible. I wasn't going to let him get away with it, so I hit back with a comment utilizing the idea of types and tokens. However I had not looked at types and tokens for a long time and needed to refresh myself. So after commenting, I immediately started googling the topic to study it. Yet, I knew that if I had erred in what I said, someone else there would have picked up for my slack.

      Oks... take care...

  3. Jason - Well said... I am passing this post on.

  4. Jason: you often lament about how the vast majority of Christians underprioritize apologetics. I’m just wondering-how much is enough? If the answer is: “I can’t quantify it, but it should certainly be more than it is.”, how do we know when enough is enough in a particular endeavour. Abortion, social justice, pornography, family life, basic sustenance via working for a paycheque, bettering your devotional life, adequate sleep/physical fitness (ie care for the temple)...where does it end? The cliche in modern life is “finding that balance”. When is it appropriate to just be/experience vs do/achieve? The answer to this seems nebulous if “more” is the only criteria we can have as to how much intellectual energy we expend on apologetics vs all other noble admonitions that Scripture gives. Is every Christian, or even the vast majority of Christianity, cut out for the majority of their life devoted to intellectual apologetics or are some just plainly more suited to acts of deacon-like service?

    1. Eyezayah,

      Some of the issues you're raising are ones I've addressed in other threads, like the one on apologetics linked above and the threads here and here. I can't know how every detail of every principle applies to every individual (with all of the variations in their mental faculties, how much time they have, their health, etc.), and it would likely be a poor use of my time to get into such details even if I could. All of us apply broader principles without getting into the narrower details involved. The Biblical authors did it, and you did it in your post above. But I have gone into a lot of detail, like in the threads linked above, far more than anybody who's been disagreeing with me in these discussions.