Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gunning for God (John Lennox) - Did Jesus Rise From The Dead? Bad Arguments

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"The New Atheists never tire of citing Bertrand Russell’s reply when he was asked what he would say if God were to ask him after his death why he had not believed: “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.” But then a curious thing happens. When evidence is offered to them, they refuse to examine it. I have already mentioned Richard Dawkins’ contemptuous dismissal of the resurrection in our God Delusion debate; so his attitude is clear. Furthermore, I know of no serious attempt by any of the New Atheists to engage with the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (Emphasis mine.)
I commend Lennox for the extraordinary efforts he has surely expended to avoid atheist writing on what he calls evidence for the resurrection. Perhaps he merely read the copyright information of "Not The Impossible Faith" by Dr Richard Carrier, missing the lengthy discussion therein that spawned debates with William Lane Craig and others. He must have hidden from Dan Barker, former preacher and now co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation who speaks of little else. Robert M Price has doctorates in both Theology and NT studies and discusses the subject at inordinate length. I could go on, and those interested in further examples are invited to consult the search feature of Amazon, a step Lennox has obviously not bothered to take.

One can disagree with atheist writings on the subject - even I don't accept it all uncritically - but to deny its existence smacks of laziness, deceit or a rather odd definition of new atheist, twisted in whatever manner supports Lennox's current point.

In a previous instalment I expressed concern for Lennox's back as he went to great efforts to perform reverse baptisms on all those Christians who he judged as falling short of the mark and unworthy of the title. My worries have extended further - Lennox must have performed acrobatic backflips to avoid well-known rebuttals of the arguments he advances. The tired old "wouldn't die for a lie" argument is shuffled to centre stage in hopes of ovation, but the crowd has seen it too often before, and it still lacks evidence.

The early growth rate of the Christian Church is a popular point among some apologists, suffering only from its core premise being entirely wrong. Despite this Lennox considers it indicative of the miraculous:
From a frightened group of men and women — utterly depressed and disillusioned at what was to them the calamity that had befallen their movement when their leader was crucified — there suddenly exploded a powerful international movement which rapidly established itself all over the Roman empire, and ultimately all over the world. (emphasis mine.)
Plunging archives of 1960's writing on the subject, Lennox finds a quote that supports his sheltered point:
"the birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church… remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself." -The Phenomenon of the New Testament, C. F. D. Moule, 1967.
 I mention the date of writing because in the 90's Rodney Stark, now a Christian, decided to research the numbers involved and found the growth rate to be about 40% per decade, or a little under 3% per annum, lower than that of, say, Mormonism. No-one with passing familiarity of the subject could honestly use words such as 'suddenly', 'exploded' and 'rapid rise' in its description, and no sane or honest scholar would support this as evidence for the miraculous.

Moving on he conflates belief in the resurrection and the resurrection itself:
If we reject the early Christians’ own explanation for their existence, on the basis that it involves too big a miracle, what are we going to put in its place that will not involve an even greater strain on our capacity for belief? To deny the resurrection simply leaves the church without a raison d’être, which is historically and psychologically absurd.
Precisely the same logic proves irrefutably that an angel dictated the Qur'an to Mohammed, that Joe Smith could translate divine tablets and that Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah. Belief in the core elements of religions are required for their spread, but that belief does not render the subjects true.


VinnyJH57 said...

Perhaps Lennox's justification is that Carrier, Barker, and Price are old atheists.

The evidence that the apostles died for their beliefs is awful, but I think we have pretty solid evidence that Joseph Smith did. He knew the risk that he would be lynched, but he voluntarily turned himself into the sheriff in Carthage Illinois even though he easily could have gotten away. Surely he wouldn't have done that unless the Angel Moroni had really given him the Golden Plates.

Shane said...

I've blogged a bit on the Resurrection before, eg here:
and here:

Lennox's treatment of the resurrection is nothing short of woeful for a supposed "scholar".

failedatheist said...

Geoff I still think the comparison with Mormonism fails, when you take into account birth-rates, size of families, and child deaths.

Mormonism is situated in a specific area I.E. Utah (Although they do send missionaries all over the world now) whereas Christianity spread throughout the world in the face of both limited persecution and the sociological implications of worshipping 'one' crucified saviour in a generally polytheistic societies.

As you probably know it was Christians that were often accused of being Atheists for their refusal to worship the Roman pantheon.

As usual though your spot on in terms of Lennox's engagement with any of the Atheists arguments on the resurrection :)

Geoff said...

Daniel, that's a decent point. I don't have a decent counter. (Though you'll be the first to hear of it if that changes!)

Shane said...

Well you could choose Islam - spread like wildfire (with and without the sword). Each case has its own circumstances; Christianity was very much a minor cult until Constantine and Theodosius...

VinnyJH57 said...


I think that the claim that Mormon analogy “fails” itself fails. It is easy to point out differences, but I don’t think we can establish that the spread of Christianity was any more unique or impressive than the spread of Mormonism mostly due to the scarcity of data for the former.

It is true that Mormonism came to be localized in Utah but that’s because one of its fundamental teachings was the need to establish a new Zion. The route to Utah included stops in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois at a time when travel was still extremely burdensome, and converts were drawn from as far away as England. Is the fact that Christianity spread over great distances really any more impressive than the distances early Mormons willingly traveled for the sake of their beliefs?

The rate at which the earliest Christians were persecuted is difficult to establish with any degree of certainty. Moreover, Christianity is thought to have spread originally amongst the poor and disenfranchised of the Roman Empire for whom the threat of random violence and death were probably never all that far away. Can we really say that the threat of persecution faced by early Christians would have been a bigger deterrent to overcome than the hardships faced by the early Mormon converts?

I think our best guess would be that the sociological implications of 1st century pagans worshiping one crucified savior in a genuinely polytheistic society which already knew various mystery cults wouldn’t have been all that great. Do we have any principled basis to assess them as any more severe than the sociological implications of 19th century Protestants following an uneducated bumpkin who claimed to find new books of the Bible buried in the ground? Was being branded an atheist that much worse than being branded a heretic?

It is the Christian apologist who maintains that the spread of Christianity was so unique and impressive as to warrant inferring something about the truth of its claims. I think that claim fails in part because the apologist cannot establish that the spread of Mormonism was any less unique or impressive in its own way. For me, both phenomena simply demonstrate that gullibility, superstition, and wishful thinking can produce impressive religious movements.

Unknown said...

Hi, Geoff.

Good review of Lennox's book. Good blog in general.

I posted these comments on Amazon re: your review of "Gunning for God". I seem to have come to a similar conclusion.

"Good review of this book.

I have a copy of Lennox's book. Try as I might, I just can't get into it. I consider myself an agnostic, not a dogmatic atheist. I think Lennox does make a convincing case that belief in God as the unmoved mover, the creator of the universe, is at least reasonable.

However, where I get hung up in this is the fact that ALL of the world's great religions have their creation myths. Christianity is not unique in this regard. Also, Jesus never wrote anything down. All we have are copies of manuscripts, none of which are the originals written by Paul. Additionally, even if we were to come across manuscripts that could be proven to come directly from Paul's hand, that would prove only that what we have are Paul's impressions of who Jesus was. Paul never met Jesus personally--except on the road to Damascus in a "vision."

So how is that any different from Muhammad being suddenly commanded by the angel Gabriel to recite the first verses of the Koran? Both are miraculous accounts that are to be taken on faith. In that regard, they are both equally ridiculous from a scientific standpoint.

It's one thing to take a religion on faith. However, one should recognize that all religions are based on accounts of the miraculous. As a result, some humility toward others of different faiths is in order."

I'd appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.