XFiles Friday: Padding the listDecember 19, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 11.)
We’re approaching the end of Geisler and Turek’s “Top Ten” list of reasons why we ought to buy whatever the NT writers try to sell us. I’ve suggested before that they seem to be padding their list somewhat, and items #8 and #9 really bring that home. Here’s number 8:
8. The New Testament Writers Challenge Their Readers to Check Out Verifiable Facts, Even Facts About Miracles.
We’ve already seen some of the claims of accuracy the New Testament writers made to the recipients of their documents…
In addition, Paul makes another claim to the Corinthians that he wouldn’t have made unless he was telling the truth. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares that he previously performed miracles for them. Speaking of his own qualifications as an apostle—someone who speaks for God—Paul reminds the Corinthians, “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Cor. 12:12).
Now why would Paul write this to the Corinthians unless he really had done miracles for them? He would have destroyed his credibility completely by asking them to remember miracles that he never did for them! The only plausible conclusion is that 1) Paul really was an apostle of God, 2) he therefore really had the ability to confirm his apostleship by performing miracles, and 3) he had displayed this ability openly to the Corinthians.
I’ll take “You Can’t Be Serious” for $10, Alex…
Let’s take a quick look at just some of the people who qualify as genuine apostles according to item #8, shall we?
- Benny Hinn
- Kenneth Copeland
- Creflo Dollar
- Oral Roberts
- Ernest Angely
- Jimmy Swaggart
- Marjoe Gortner
- Joseph Smith
- Brigham Young
- Uri Geller
- Sylvia Browne
Notice, Geisler and Turek’s argument here does not prove that the NT writers performed actual miracles, it only shows that Paul and other NT personalities had followers who believed they were seeing miracles, just as many people do today. Point #8 is arguably the most common “proof” cited by virtually anyone who wants to claim some kind of divine anointing by God, and is one of the easiest, if not the easiest, of all possible “proofs.”
There’s no shortage of people who want to be fooled because they want to believe in some sort of magic. The evidence is all around us. Look at charismatic churches, where “miracles” are a dime a dozen (though notoriously hard to verify, go figure). Look at New Age woo artists and their followers. Look at crystal “healings” and “energized” water. Look at “chi.” Look at astrology. Look at stories of kids “remembering” things that happened in their “previous life.” It’s almost trivial to find some crowd willing to agree that they’ve seen some supernatural sign or other, regardless of what’s being preached.
And look who Paul is writing to: the Corinthians! When Pentecostal churches want to be Pentecostal, they imitate the church at Corinth. Paul couldn’t play to a more receptive crowd than when he did his magic tricks for the first century’s original Holy Rollers. Speaking in tongues, prophesying, casting out demons—the Corinthians had it all (except possibly snake handling).
Point number 8 only proves that people in the first century were just as suggestible and uncritical as believers today. Let’s go on to point number nine.
9. New Testament Writers Describe Miracles Like Other Historical Events: with Simple, Unembellished Accounts.
Embellished and extravagant details are strong signs that a historical account has legendary elements. For example, there’s a legendary account of Christ’s resurrection that was written more than 100 years after the actual event. It’s from the apocryphal forgery known as the Gospel of Peter, and it goes like this:
Early in the morning, as the Sabbath dawned, there came a large crowd from Jerusalem and the surrounding area to see the sealed tomb. But during the night before the Lord’s day dawned, as the soldiers were keeping guard two by two in every watch, there came a great sound in the sky, and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend shining with a great light, and they drew near to the tomb. The stone which had been set on the door rolled away by itself and moved to one side, and the tomb was opened, and both of the young men went in.
Now when these soldiers saw that, they woke up the centurion and the elders (for they also were there keeping watch) While they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw three men coming out of the tomb, two of them sustaining the other one, and a cross following after them. The heads of the two they saw had heads that reached up to heaven, but the head of him that was led by them went beyond heaven. And they heard a voice out of the heavens saying, “Have you preached unto them that sleep?” The answer that was heard from the cross was, “Yes!”
Wow! Now that’s how I would have written it if I were making up or embellishing the Resurrection story!
Simply jaw-dropping. I’m not sure whether the comment above was penned by Geisler or Turek, but whoever it was seriously expects Christians to swallow the idea that whenever liars and storytellers try to fool us with tales that are not true, they have this irresistable compulsion to insert talking wood and giant heads into the story. Believe it or not, the writer wants us to conclude that you can tell the difference between a true story and a false one by whether or not it sounds straightforward!
One plus to this approach is that it gives us a solid reason for rejecting major chunks of Ezekiel, Daniel, and pretty much the whole book of Revelation. “Simple and unembellished” they’re not. But what about the guards’ version of the “resurrection” story? According to Matthew 28:12, what the guards were telling people was “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” Plain and simple, no talking wood or giant heads, and therefore absolutely trustworthy. Right?
It goes without saying that this particular “proof” is hopelessly naive and subjective. Different storytellers have different styles, and some truthful people tell extravagant stories because they’re talking about extravagant things. If you say God appeared as a giant finger writing MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN on a wall, are you embellishing or just telling it like it is? Meanwhile, other people tell plain and simple tales that sound straightforward because that’s the best way to con you into buying whatever they’re selling. The style in which a story is told has nothing to do with whether or not that story is factually accurate.
Besides, Geisler and Turek are overlooking some rather extravagant details in the stories they do accept. Jesus coming back from the dead? Angels coming down from heaven? Inexplicable earthquakes, impeccably timed to occur just when the women show up to see the angel(s) descend, the guards faint, and the stone roll away? These aren’t your plain, ordinary everyday events, any more than giant heads and talking wood are. Yet Geisler and Turek don’t mention these departures from the simple and unembellished. They’re used to it. It’s subjectively familiar, so they don’t realize how tall these tales really are. It’s just a personal, subjective opinion whether the stories sound “embellished” or not. (Most of them sound quite a bit more embellished to me now than they did when I was preaching the Gospel myself.)
Geisler and Turek also try to argue that we ought to accept the Gospels as plain, honest history on the grounds that the writers don’t belabor theological arguments in the course of presenting their stories. No one disputes, however, that the writers were attempting to present their Gospels as being authentic history. The question is, how accurate are these historical claims? If we assess their reliability by verifying the details they report as though this were a valid means of assessing historical accuracy, why would we sacrifice that approach the minute the writers begin making extravagant and unverifiable claims?
As we’ve mentioned before, Geisler and Turek have no choice but to try and incite us to put all our trust in the words of men. God does not show up in real life, so the words of men are all they have to offer. And these words give us so little reason to believe them that two famous Bible scholars and apologists can’t even give us a list of ten solid reasons for believing, but instead must resort to arguments like “We should believe because they had followers who thought they were seeing miracles” and “We should believe because it doesn’t mention giant heads and talking wood.”
And remember, none of these Gospel stories can actually have happened, because if God were to do things like that in real life, it would violate our free will. That’s the whole argument by which Geisler and Turek arrive at the conclusion that a book (such as, ahem, the Bible) must be the only way God could communicate with men. But if a book is the only way God can communicate with men, then the only thing the book can report is that some men read some other book about God. Since that’s not the story the Gospels tell, the Gospels can’t be telling the truth about God, otherwise Geisler and Turek’s whole argument falls apart.
But if God can behave the way the NT writers portray Him as behaving, then let’s drop this nonsense about God being limited to interacting with us only through books, and let’s see some real evidence that does not depend exclusively on putting our faith in the extravagant, unrealistic, and self-contradictory claims of men.