The Case for (and against) Christ

Question from Michael:
Hi again. So, although I’m an atheist, I try to keep an open mind and would consider the evidence anyone might provide for the existence of God or gods. To that end, I’ve started examining evidence for the other side. I’ve begun reading a book entitled “The Case for Christ”. I’m sure you’re familiar with it and I would like to know your opinions on this book in general.

There’s a lot of information in the book, but I’ve gotten the impression early on that the basic premise is that the Bible itself serves as proof of God and Jesus Christ as the son of God. This really doesn’t sway me at all because I don’t believe in the Bible either. That is to say I don’t believe that its ancient text is true or divinely inspired. If I did, I would obviously believe anything it said.

Is there any validity to the Bible as proof of God, divinity, or a creator? Why do Christians present it as such? Do you consider any part of the Bible to be factual? Or do you think of it merely as a work of fiction? I appreciate any insight you can offer. I’ve grown really tired of the “Because the Bible says so!” argument.

Answer by SmartLX:
The really annoying thing about a lot of Christian apologetic is that it sounds to Christians like it would be really convincing if they didn’t already believe, despite the fact that it’s not at all convincing to those who actually don’t believe. Arguing from the authority of the Bible is a prime example of this.

On a superficial level, Strobel takes the right approach with The Case for Christ: he spends the first half trying to establish the authority of the Gospels, and then argues that they’re saying Jesus actually did what Christians claim. The issue is that he does not establish the Gospels’ authority to anything like the extent that it can be trusted when it claims supernatural events. Any broad, well-accepted criteria for historical data which Strobel applies to the Bible were not created with claims of gods or miracles in mind for serious consideration.

The book’s style is that of a journalist interviewing various experts to get at the truth, but Strobel follows a hard and fast rule (feel free to correct me on this, folks): he never interviews anyone who does not already agree with him on the subject at hand. He does find some people who had previously disagreed and then changed their position, and he does ask a lot of textbook skeptical questions, but he is only ever setting up proponents of his own position with material they can use to make their case. That’s why he asks the skeptical-sounding questions himself instead of seeking responses from actual non-believers.

The Case for Christ is old enough and famous enough that it’s got plenty of fully researched responses, both in print (e.g. Challenging the Verdict by Earl Doherty, excerpts here) and online-only (example here), so I won’t reinvent the wheel by going point-by-point here. That said, if you or anyone reading has a particular argument from the book which you don’t think has been adequately rebutted anywhere, bring it up in a comment and we’ll take a look.

As for my own opinion of the Bible, while it doesn’t convince me of the truth of Christianity that doesn’t mean nothing in it is true at all. The parts concerning Jesus were most likely written long enough after the fact, and by people far enough removed from the living person(s) who inspired the story, that it’s quite possible that the authors thought they were largely writing the truth. There’s just too much material to dismiss out of hand, and I’m sure there’s a lot of real history to be gleaned from it, directly or indirectly. The hard part is separating the truth from the fiction, although some claims are easier to place in one category or the other.

It All Comes Back To Jesus

Question from Tim:
Thanks a lot for the website! If you guys are too busy to respond I understand.
Last year I finally managed to leave Christianity, but still have a few nagging doubts that I have been trying to resolve for some time now. My uncle told me that if I look at the evidence, I will see that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact. While I do doubt this, it is something that I feel like I need to learn about and take seriously. Do you know where I can find some resources addressing the resurrection from either an atheistic or neutral viewpoint? All I have managed to find so far are Christian ones.

Answer by SmartLX:
Don’t worry, we’d have to be a LOT busier not to be able to respond to every question we get.

This area of Christian apologetics is huge, as you’ll have seen by the sheer number of books specifically pushing it. It’s also a real sore point for believers when anyone questions even the divinity of Jesus, let alone his existence. That’s understandable since the whole of Christian doctrine hangs on the story of one man, and in the absence of physical evidence for that man the only traces of him are ancient documents.

There are a couple of starting points for you right here. My two long discussions in the comments of posts #271 and #574 with Rob (alias RP) cover a lot of ground and may suggest avenues of research. Post #271 itself contains links to earlier pieces of mine on specific documents and arguments.

As for things not on this site, the best-known critic of the New Testament and related documents is probably Bart Ehrman, so try one of his books. (He’s struck a nerve, because there are sites dedicated to answering everything he’s said.) A separate, highly-recommended book which challenges everything about Jesus is The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty. Online, Jeffrey Jay Lowder has published a set of comprehensive responses to a wide selection from the apologetic arsenal, including William Lane Craig’s “empty tomb” argument and the entirety of Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict.

YouTube is of course a treasure trove of individuals arguing both ways (Ehrman and Craig have many recorded debates on the subject, separately and together), but there you can also find one piece of work which prompted plenty of discussion when it came out: the independently produced documentary The God Who Wasn’t There. (It’s by the same group who debated Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron on Nightline).

I hope the above gets you started, but don’t take anything you find as gospel, so to speak. Any significant point that’s been made in opposition to the divinity or resurrection of Jesus has been answered (how well it’s been answered is always debatable) by apologists as a matter of principle. This means that if you read a major point, you can find major discussions to go with it.

Go get stuck in, and let us know how you do.