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Earl Doherty

Age of Reason Publications

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CHALLENGING THE VERDICT - Court in Session

Go to: Court Proceedings (below)

When Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Christ, first came to my attention, its agenda was evident. Prove that the Gospels are reliable in virtually all their details, without inconsistencies or contradictions, and that the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, in bodily form, was historically factual. In other words, it was a "case for faith" of the most conservative variety. The New Testament scholars whom Lee Strobel chose to interview were all from the far right of the critical and scientific spectrum. Some were evangelicals. No liberal or progressive voices were allowed to be heard, and the conclusions were quite obviously foregone. As if to make that clear, Mr. Strobel had almost all of his interviewees declare their personal faith and its alleged support in the evidence. The interpretation of that evidence was in the service of such faith.

This was a "case" that cried out for cross-examination. Few people in today's society are familiar with the problems and anomalies that exist within the New Testament record, and many are willing to accept Lee Strobel's presentation of that record at more or less face value. But unless we are to surrender our rational faculties and risk governing our lives by fantasy and wishful thinking, the basis of our beliefs and practices must be subjected to examination based on reason and scientific principles. My critique of Lee Strobel's book was designed to supply that missing examination. It is not surprising that it has been met in some quarters with condemnation and scorn, something that was fully expected.

The most common 'complaint' leveled against Challenging the Verdict is little more than a smokescreen. If I had stayed out of the courtroom and simply said, here is Strobel's position on the evidence, and here is mine (as well as that of much of critical scholarship), no fault would have been found with such an approach per se. To cast the process of rebuttal in a courtroom setting does not render the basic process any less legitimate. It simply makes a lengthy critique more interesting and readable. And no one would expect that it was either possible or required that such a critique, especially when published in book form, would give the other side space for rebuttal. It would be Strobel's responsibility, or that of his scholarly witnesses, to find or create a forum, as I did, to respond to me.

However, I am willing to provide that forum for such a response. If any of those interviewed in Strobel's book wish to pick up on any statement I have made in my book, any challenge to their arguments and conclusions, and make a reply—an insertion into the text of my cross-examination (I'll give a couple of examples below, to illustrate)—I will post such an exchange here, with, of course, right of reply, which I will extend to them again in turn. Judge, jury and spectators would no doubt benefit from the extended discussion. The only limits on replies would be reasonable length and a reasonable level of civility. (The existing tone of the book would be a good measure.) Witnesses would not be limited to a single point of rebuttal at a given time. And they could reproduce that exchange on any forum, such as a web site, of their own.

If this offer is ignored, then complaints about lack of rebuttal opportunity become empty, and should cease—though I doubt that will happen. 'Marquis of Queensbury' rules are rarely allowed to apply in this area. The site for Challenging the Verdict on Amazon has attracted many (some routed, no doubt, from Strobel's own book via Amazon's cross-referencing) who have excluded any critical voice from the study of Christian origins, and their hostile reviews of the book are starting to accumulate. (One of them—who has chosen to remain anonymous—has a suspiciously familiar ring.) I have been told by other readers that more positive reviews are on the way.

The recording of this "court in session" will be adapted according to the response received. I have no objection to receiving observers' comments on the proceedings, or this proposal, from either viewpoint, but posting them here will be at my discretion. Both responses and comments can be directed to my regular e-mail address: <oblio@magi.com>.

Copies of Challenging the Verdict are, of course, available from Amazon. But if any of Mr. Strobel's witnesses, or Mr. Strobel himself, have an interest in responding, I would be more than happy to supply them with a complimentary copy if they will send me a mailing address. (The website version may not be suitable for quoting, as the book entails revisions and shows the page numbers of a different edition of The Case for Christ.)


Court Proceedings

Here are a few examples of how a response to cross-examination might be inserted by a witness. The lead-in quotation should not be too lengthy, and could include lacunae and clarifications in brackets, but be sufficient to provide the context for a rebuttal.

Example 1

Chapter One: Dr. Craig Blomberg and "The Eyewitness Evidence" [page 22]:
   "Here [1 Corinthians 15:3-7] you have the key facts about Jesus' death for our sins, plus a detailed list of those to whom he appeared in resurrected form—all dating back to within two to five years of the events themselves! That's not later mythology from forty or more years down the road. A good case can be made for saying that Christian belief in the Resurrection, though not yet written down, can be dated to within two years of that very event." [35]
   But can it? You're also overlooking something else. You left out verse 8, describing the appearance of Christ to Paul. It follows on the description of all the other 'seeings' of Christ by men like Peter and James and the 500 brothers. And yet I'm sure you would be willing to acknowledge, Dr. Blomberg, that Paul's 'seeing'—the verb is literally "was seen (by)"—was of Christ in a spiritual state only. Whether the scene on the Damascus road was historical, or a later legend inserted into Acts (since Paul never mentions such a scene), Paul's experience was entirely visionary. And yet he uses exactly the same language to describe those other 'seeings' of the Christ. Once you set aside preconceptions based on the Gospels, this passage implies that all these appearances were of the same nature—namely visionary....
   [Here Dr. Blomberg could insert his counter-opinion on the nature of Paul's vision, or the implied meaning of the verb in question, or any of the deductions I have made from the evidence. Whatever would be his response to my challenge in cross-examination.]

Example 2

Chapter Six: Dr. Gregory Boyd and "The Rebuttal Evidence" [page 81]:
   "I would grant that you shouldn't appeal to the supernatural until you have to. Yes, first look for a natural explanation. A tree falls—OK, maybe there were termites. Now, could an angel have pushed it over? Well, I wouldn't go to that conclusion until there was definite evidence for it." [116]
   But I daresay, Dr. Boyd, that you have never had reason to believe a tree was pushed over by an angel. I would suggest that in your life you have never had "definite evidence" for a supernatural happening, that no phenomenon has ever lacked a possible or clearly naturalistic explanation, and that is probably true of all of us. Why would you presume the existence of rationality of something which has never had sound backing in our own personal experiences, let alone in scientific observation?
   [Here Dr. Boyd might enlarge on his basis for believing in the possibility and reliability of the miraculous, including as 'recorded' in the New Testament.]

Example 3

Chapter Twelve: Dr. William Lane Craig and "The Evidence of the Missing Body" [page 171]:
   Probably no other unique element in the various passion accounts is more significant than the guarding of the tomb, and Mr. Strobel asked if there is any good evidence that this incident in Matthew is historical.
   "Yes, there is. Think about the claims and counterclaims about the Resurrection that went back and forth between the Jews and Christians in the first century. The initial Christian proclamation was, 'Jesus is risen.' The Jews responded, 'The disciples stole his body.' To this Christians said, 'Ah, but the guards at the tomb would have prevented such a theft.' The Jews responded, 'Oh, but the guards at the tomb fell asleep.' to that the Christians replied, 'No, the Jews bribed the guards to say they fell asleep.'
   "Now, if there had not been any guards, the exchange would have gone like this: In response to the claim Jesus is risen, the Jews would say, 'No, the disciples stole his body.' Christians would reply, 'But the guards would have prevented the theft.' Then the Jewish response would have been, 'What guards? You're crazy! There were no guards!" Yet history tells us that's not what the Jews said.
   "This suggests the guards really were historical and that the Jews knew it, which is why they had to invent the absurd story about the guards having been asleep while the disciples took the body." [212]
   You will forgive me, Dr. Craig, for shaking my head in disbelief at what you have just described. History tells us, you say? Claims and counterclaims that went back and forth between the Jews and Christians in the first century? What history is that? What record paints such a picture? Your 'exchange' is based entirely on the Gospel of Matthew. You have simply paraphrased the dialogue which Matthew has written into his two-part scene of the guard at the tomb. The very issue under debate is whether this scene is historical. You can hardly extract that scene, turn it into "history" and use that supposed history as support for the authenticity of the scene it is taken from. That kind of circular argument would make anyone dizzy....
   [Here Dr. Craig could insert any rejoinder he wishes.]


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