XFiles Friday: No stinkin’ evidence.April 10, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)
Last week, Geisler and Turek began their defense against the principle that “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.” They took a scattershot approach, first arguing that this was an unreasonable demand, then adopting a most peculiar definition of “extraordinary” in order to build a straw man they could easily cast down, then attempting to argue (unsuccessfully) that they did have extraordinary evidence after all.
This week, they try and turn the tables, arguing that skeptics themselves believe in extraordinary claims without having any extraordinary evidence.
We don’t need “extraordinary” evidence to believe something. Atheists affirm that from their own worldview. They believe in the Big Bang not because they have “extraordinary” evidence for it but because there is good evidence that the universe exploded into being out of nothing. Good evidence is all you need to believe something. However, atheists don’t have even good evidence for some of their own precious beliefs. For example, atheists believe in spontaneous generation and macroevolution on faith alone. We say faith alone because, as we saw in chapters 5 and 6, there’s not only little or no evidence for spontaneous generation and macroevolution, but there’s strong evidence against those possibilities.
Let’s count how many things Geisler and Turek manage to distort, misrepresent, or otherwise get wrong in these brief seven sentences.
- Nobody is saying “We need extraordinary evidence to believe something.” The point G&T purport to address is that extraordinary evidence is needed to believe extraordinary claims, not just any old claims.
- There is no such thing as an “atheistic worldview,” any more than there is a “people-who-do-not-believe-in-Santa worldview,” or a “people-who-do-not-like-Bruce-Lee-movies worldview.” Atheists are a diverse group with diverse views, having in common only their lack of belief in the deities promoted by men.
- Not only is there not “good evidence that the universe exploded into being out of nothing,” there is no evidence for this at all. Geisler and Turek simply have a very naive and very wrong image of what the Big Bang is, and what evidence ought to accompany it.
- The Big Bang theory, despite its picturesque name, is not a literal explosion, as in a sudden release of energy forcefully propelling matter out in all directions. The Big Bang is a sudden, rapid expansion of space itself, which is why there is no center to the universe.
- The Big Bang theory says that time, space, and matter/energy all originate in the same singularity, not that they all originate in “nothing.”
- Because time and the material universe had the same origin, it can truthfully be said that the universe has no “beginning,” since there was never a time when it did not exist.
- Saying that “good” evidence is all we need begs the question of what it takes for the evidence to be “good”. In the case of extraordinary claims, mere hearsay is not good evidence.
- Atheists are not the only people who believe in abiogenesis and evolution.
- Not all atheists believe in abiogenesis and evolution.
- Abiogenesis is not spontaneous generation, just as sexual reproduction is not cloning. They may produce similar results, but the two processes are significantly different, and occur under different circumstances. Spontaneous generation refers to maggots, rodents, and other complex creatures magically poofing into existence out of decaying meat, wheat fields, etc.
- Macroevolution is not a distinct process from evolution (or microevolution). The term macroevolution refers to the cumulative effects of microevolution over longer periods of time.
- Atheists do not take evolution on faith alone, as shown by the number of theistic evolutionists.
- Scientists, whether atheistic or theistic, do not regard abiogenesis as a proven conclusion, since there is currently no working model for how it would operate. Abiogenesis is simply the alternative whose possibilities are the most consistent with the evidence we have so far.
- Chapters 5 and 6 proved only that Geisler and Turek are willing and even eager to prostitute their limited understanding of science in order to promote a biased conclusion.
Ok, so they have about twice as many goofs, distortions and outright falsehoods as there are sentences in their paragraph. So much for turning the tables on the skeptics! But wait, there’s more:
Furthermore, skeptics don’t demand “extraordinary” evidence for other “extraordinary” events from history. For example, few events from ancient history are more “extraordinary” than the accomplishments of Alexander the Great (356-323 B. C.). Despite living only 33 years, Alexander achieved unparalleled success. He conquered much of the civilized world at the time… Yet how do we know this about Alexander? We have no sources from his lifetime or soon after his death. And we have only fragments of two works from about 100 years after his death. The truth is, we base virtually everything we know about the “extraordinary” life of Alexander the Great from historians who wrote 300 to 500 years after his death! In light of the robust evidence for the life of Christ, anyone who doubts Christ’s historicity should also doubt the historicity of Alexander the Great. In fact, to be consistent, such a skeptic would have to doubt all of ancient history.
Speaking of consistency, it’s hard to see how Alexander’s life is “extraordinary” if, as Geisler and Turek argued last week, the term “extraordinary” means “repeatable in a laboratory.” But I digress.
Geisler and Turek’s approach in the above paragraph is a simple equivocation on the meaning of “extraordinary.” Alexander’s life is “extraordinary” in the sense that few people are both emperors and generals, and fewer still achieve the same kind of success as Alexander did. This is “extraordinary” in the simple sense of being “rare.” We’re not talking about an Alexander the Great who achieved his military success by magically growing into an 80-foot-tall giant who literally stomped the opposition, or an Alexander who could make his men invulnerable just by pinching his nose. We’re not talking, in other words, about “extraordinary” in the sense of “contrary to and in violation of the apparent limits imposed by natural law.”
Notice, too, the defective view of “evidence” proposed by Geisler and Turek. In their view, only written accounts are evidence. This is the apologist’s emphasis, once again, on the mandate that we must put our faith in the words of men. There is no place, in their verbally-based standard of evidence, for considering things like the sudden establishment of the Greek language as a multinational common tongue, or widely distant cities named (*ahem*) “Alexandria,” or the difference between early documents not existing today and early documents not existing period, or the deductive approach we can take by comparing records across disparate traditions.
More importantly, Geisler and Turek fail to ask the important question of why some witnesses might be more questionable than others, even despite an apparent chronological advantage. The documents Geisler and Turek cite as being “robust evidence” for the life of Christ consists entirely of the claims of men, some some allegedly first-hand, some hearsay, all written by evangelists, by zealous proponents for a particular dogma, men who by G&T’s own testimony were so committed to their version of things that they were willing to die for it. Neutral, unbiased historians? Come on!
The history of Alexander the Great is documented by a huge amount of corollary anthropological information on the spread of Greek culture and civilization that followed after him, and there is currently no good reason to doubt that his story, though rarely repeated, is entirely within the realm of ordinary mortals exercising purely natural leadership skills and exploiting military, political, and economic opportunities to their own advantage. No one would use the life of Alexander as proof that the Greek pantheon were all real gods. His life wasn’t that kind of “extraordinary.”
The story of the life of Christ, however, involves quite a bit more. It’s not just that people only occasionally rise from the dead as immortal deities, nor is it a question of this alleged resurrection being witnessed and testified to outside the immediate circle of die-hard believers, no matter when their testimonies were written. There is, I believe, sufficient evidence to document that a man named Jesus did exist, and did form the core of what eventually became Christianity. The key claims of the Gospel, however—up to and including the so-called resurrection—are “extraordinary” in the extreme sense of not being at all consistent with what you and I can see in the real world. The story is much more consistent, in fact, with the conclusion that spiritually-minded Christians fooled themselves first, before turning to fool others with their oral and written words.
Ultimately, the “robust evidence” Geisler and Turek refer to consists exclusively of men making claims that are unsupported by the evidence. The early date at which they made these claims does not change the fact that the nature of this “evidence” is that it consists of unsupported claims.
Alexander’s career, by contrast, had a huge impact on ancient civilization, and is the reason that, for example, the New Testament was written in Greek instead of in the native language of the people that wrote it. Granted, there is similar evidence for the accomplishments of Christians in the years following Jesus, but this is all evidence of what the men said and did, not evidence that the “miracles” of the first century were anything more than the “miracles” we see today (which consist of men talking themselves into believing they’ve experienced something other observers cannot detect).
Geisler and Turek close this section by repeating the tired canard that “atheists just don’t want to believe,” which they “rebut” by repeating their earlier (somewhat backwards) claims that we know miracles are possible because God exists.
Why do skeptics demand “extraordinary” evidence for the life of Christ but not the life of Alexander the Great? Because they’re hung up on miracles again. Despite the fact that miracles are possible because God exists—and despite the fact that miracles were predicted and then witnessed—skeptics can’t bear to admit that miracles have actually occurred. So they set the bar for believability to high. It’s as if some skeptics are saying, “I won’t believe in miracles because I haven’t seen one. If the resurrected Jesus were to appear to me, then I would believe in him.” Now that would be extraordinary evidence.
Finally, after all that flailing around, Geisler and Turek stumble onto the truth. The extraordinary claim is that Jesus rose from the dead. The extraordinary evidence that would be consistent with that claim would be for a risen Jesus to show up for someone besides fanatical believers to see. Geisler and Turek could have saved themselves a lot of fumbling around by simply admitting the truth up front.
Alas, they’re only playing at devil’s advocate here, and having raised the subject of the genuine “extraordinary” evidence that would fit their extraordinary claim, they can’t wait to jump away from it.
It certainly would be extraordinary, but is it really necessary? Does Jesus have to appear to every person in the world to make his claims credible? Why would he? We don’t have to witness every event firsthand in order to believe the event actually occurred. In fact, it would be physically impossible to do so. We believe the testimony of others if they are trustworthy individuals, and especially if their testimony is corroborated by other data. This is exactly the case with the testimony of the New Testament writers.
Once again, they take a reasonable standard of evidence, and try to twist it into some kind of unreasonable demand by taking it to unreasonable extremes. Instead of Jesus just showing up in real life after his resurrection, Geisler and Turek take us straight to the extreme of Jesus has to personally appear to every person in the world, which would be physically impossible, right? I mean, Jesus would have to be God or something.
But it’s not either/or. We don’t have to choose between “Jesus appears to every person” and “Jesus doesn’t appear at all.” President Obama does not personally visit each and every person in the world individually, yet (unlike Jesus) he shows up in real life enough to establish as factual the conclusion that he exists. Jesus, unfortunately, can’t quite live up to a standard set so high.
They close by repeating their earlier claim that God can’t show up in real life without committing a sin against our free will.
Furthermore, as we pointed out in chapter 8, if God were too overt because of frequent miraculous displays, then he might, in some cases, infringe on our free will. If the purpose of this life is to allow us to freely make choices that will prepare us for eternity, then God will give us convincing evidence but not compelling evidence of his existence and purposes.
As they declared before, this means God can only give us a Book, and can’t actually do any of the miracles that are claimed by the Book. To go beyond a mere tale would be to infringe on our free will by allowing us to make informed and truth-based choices, instead of having to rely solely on gullibility and faith in the words of men. Sigh.
Thus, Geisler and Turek come to their feeble, hand-waving conclusion. Having done everything to distract us from the real evidence which would actually support the claims of the Gospel, when they finally do confront it, they have to implicitly concede that they do not have this evidence, and then pretend we don’t really need it anyway. In a book whose entire premise is that the evidence is on the Christian’s side, Geisler and Turek end up pleading, “We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence, we can just put our faith in whatever unsubstantiated claims men try to sell us.”
Like I said before, they could have saved themselves a lot of fumbling if they’d just admitted up front that they have no answer for the problem of extraordinary claims demanding extraordinary evidence. When it comes right down to it, they evidence they really need is precisely the evidence they don’t have, because neither the Father nor the Son actually shows up in real life. And that’s been the apologist’s problem for the past 2,000 years.