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Dr. Washington’s Third Rebuttal


[Member of audience: “God bless you Dr. Craig!”] Amen. [laughter, applause]

As I said, I am not going to have time to respond all of his points in the debate. I will given time in the question period. I’m not going to rush through them now. The fact that I haven’t responded doesn’t mean I don’t have a response. Many of the things he says that I apparently grant I really don’t. Some of them I grant for the sake of argument.

Let’s run through some of the claims that Dr. Craig made. I don’t admit his premise that God is necessary for objective moral truths. I don’t have the answer for what explains objective moral truths, and I sure didn’t understand what he said about God and objective moral truths, that just seems to me gobbledy-gook. [laughter]

Coming back to the issue from harm. I really want you to think about this. All of us have this moral intuition that it’s just wrong to harm an innocent person for a greater good. It’s just wrong. If it’s wrong for us to do it, why would it be good for God to do it? God’s supposed to be morally perfect, meaning He’s better than us. So why should He be able to get away with what we can’t get away with? If it’s wrong, it’s just plain wrong.[1]

And the claim that people will be repaid in the afterlife is question-begging. The whole issue is whether God exists or not. You can’t argue for God’s existence by assuming the afterlife is going to be there. Since there would be no afterlife without God, I want you to think a little bit about the kind of harm that goes on in the world: earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and things like that. Dr. Craig thinks maybe these things are necessary for us to develop moral character. I think that the argument here really is that bad things happen to us and we persevere, we pull through somehow. When earthquakes happen, the world community comes together. I think this is true to a large extent. In some ways, harm brings out the best in people.

But I think there is something you may not have known about these natural disasters. You know who gets hurt in these earthquakes? Mostly poor people. Mostly weak people, the old and the young. You remember that earthquake that happened in Armenia, back in the eighties? This earthquake was actually less powerful than the earthquake in San Francisco. Yet 25,000 people died in Armenia. Why did they die? Because they had bad housing. It was cheaply made. They were just crushed by the roofs. On the other hand only a few hundred people died in San Francisco, because we’re a wealthy country and we have very good housing.[2] Relatively speaking, people really didn’t suffer. So you have to think about what Dr. Craig is saying. God’s going to allow the innocent, the weak, and the poor to suffer, so the rich can show their colors, can be courageous, and develop themselves into moral beings. That sounds kind of sick to me actually. I think this is totally incompatible with Christianity as you read it. Remember the proverb was that, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” not that they shall be destroyed by it.

In response to my hypothetical example about President Gerberding, Dr. Craig said that the Resurrection is different because of the religious context surrounding the life of Jesus. In one sense I agree with this: people were incredibly credulous. People tended to believe that Jesus did what he did because people believed those kinds of things back then. It was a very superstitious time. [3]

Moreover, if we examine the historical evidence concerning Christian origins, we can actually learn a lot about the religious context back then. Messiahs were essentially a dime a dozen. [Laughter] There were a lot of other religions floating around in those times. Many of them had the same features as Christianity, even though they existed before it. There were several other savior gods besides Jesus who were allegedly virgin-born, crucified, and resurrected. Sound like a coincidence? I don’t have time to list all of the numerous examples, but just consider the following: Chrishna was virgin-born and resurrected; Quexalcote of Mexico, 587 B.C., was virgin-born, crucified, and resurrected; Sakia, 600 B.C., was virgin-born and crucified; and Iao of Nepal, 622 B.C., was virgin-born and crucified. I could go on with this list if I had more time, but you can clearly see where it’s going. The fact that there were a lot of gods back then with these properties, suggests that Christianity might have been borrowed. Many of the things we’re told about the historical Jesus might have been borrowed from other religions.[4]

I also want to make a point about the nature of the alleged Biblical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. You have to admit that the best possible testimony for the event would be eyewitness testimony. I think we can all grant that. You may be able to build a better case if there’s lots of evidence, but when the only kind of historical evidence we’re talking about is testimony, then eyewitness testimony is really the best kind.[5] Well there are 10 resurrections in the Bible. We’re told that nine of them had eyewitnesses; however, according to the New Testament itself, the resurrection of Jesus was not witnessed by anyone.[6] We’re therefore justified in not accepting this rather extraordinary historical claim.


[1] This is meant to fend off an objection to my previous point. One might claim that the counterexamples to Utilitarianism only argue against Utilitarianism for us, not for God. Hence, it might be said that it is acceptable for God to make an innocent person suffer for the greater good, even if it is not acceptable for us to do so. I think this line of reasoning is mistaken. When we claim that god is morally perfect, the word ‘moral’ we use is the same one we use in connection with our own actions. If it is the same word, then it has the same meaning. This meaning is given by the principles which determine what is and is not good for people to do. Hence, if God is morally perfect, he cannot be a utilitarian, since Utilitarianism is morally unacceptable. This means that one cannot say, as Dr. Craig does, that harm inflicted upon an innocent is justified because it compensates for other potential evil.

[2] Aside from the people killed in the overpass collapse, most of the damage in the San Francisco earthquake (actually called Loma Preita, I think) occurred in migrant worker communities in Watsonville and in old shabby rooming Hotels in San Fransisco).

[3] This is almost unintelligible. I am denying Dr. Craig’s suggestion that, by considering the context in which Jesus lived, one will be more inclined to accept stories about his divinity. I think the exact opposite is true. In the past people knew far less about how the world worked, so they were more inclined to postulate supernatural causes for events that today we would explain easily using basic science. Someone from Jesus’ time would be likely to fall on the ground and pray to something as run of the mill as a microwave oven.

[4] The term ‘borrow’ is an unfortunate one. Read literally it implies a conscious, explicit taking of an idea from one source and deliberately adding it to one’s own. “Look here, Saul, there’s this neat idea the Greeks have about their gods ascending to heaven.” “That’s a great idea, Immanuel. What do you think about having our savior do that, too?” Like some kind of Hollywood story conference.

No, the process is a slow subtle one. Anthropologists call it the process of ‘acculturation,’ the influence one culture has on another when the two make contact. Historical evidence would be documents available prior to the contact and documents available after the contact. Plus documents from the contacting culture. Any changes in the ‘receiving culture’ might have been caused by the contact with the other culture. Clearly the evidential trail is richer after the invention of the printing press.

There is a huge literature tracing the circulation of ideas and values across time from culture to culture. In fact one of the major fields of history is intellectual history. It even has its own reference book: Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas. 4 vols. (Charles Scribners, 1973)

I am hardly the person to present evidence that the early Christians were aware of these other religions, but here are two quotes:

‘For if there are so-called Gods, whether in Heavan or on the earth–indeed there are many such Gods and many Lords–but to us there is one God, the Father, . . .and one Lord, Jesus Christ.’ (Paul, 1 Cor. 8:5-6) Clearly Paul knew of some of these pagan gods. Whether what was said of them by their followers had any influence on Paul’s theology is the question. But since he was given to visions, maybe . . . .

Occasionally, Christian theologians actually commented on the similarity between their beliefs regarding Jesus Christ and rival religious beliefs regarding other Gods. For instance, the Christian philosopher Justin Martyr complained, in an open letter, written around the year A.D. 150 to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, that Christians were being unjustly persecuted ‘even though we say the same things [about Jesus Christ] that the greeks [say about their Gods]’. (emphasis mine)

I won’t reproduce it here but there follows a great long list of parallels which Martyr makes between Christianity and pagan religions. See Cartlidge, David R. and Dungan, David L., Documents for the Study of the Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980). See also C.K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents (New York, Macmillan, 1957). (I am grateful to Larry Taylor and Robert Lockard for this information.)

[5] Of course, this is not to say that eyewitness testimony is without its problems. Anyone familiar with ongoing, experimental research in psychology on the nature of eyewitness testimony knows that eyewitness testimony is often anything but reliable. Reflecting on a case in which a Catholic priest had been falsely convicted of armed robbery on the basis of eyewitness testimony, only later to be acquitted thanks to a confession by the actual criminal, renown psychologist Elizabeth Loftus writes, ‘Implicit in the acceptance of this testimony as solid evidence is the assumption that the human mind is a precise recorder and storer of events. Unfortunately it is not…. To be mistaken about details is not the result of a bad memory, but of the normal functioning of human memory. As we have seen, human remembering does not work like a videotape recorder or a movie camera’ (Elizabeth Loftus, Memory: Surprising New Insights Into How We Remember and Why We Forget, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1980, pp. 161-62). ‘[N]ew, misleading information is not only added to memory, it actually alters the content of what the subject is able to remember’ (D.F. Hall, et al, ‘Postevent information and changes in recollection,’ Eyewitness Testimony, ed. Wells and Loftus, pp. 126-127). The upshot is that even honest eyewitnesses who try to be objective may in fact remember misinformation.

The results of experimental research on the nature of eyewitness testimony are especially important when considering the more extravagant empirical claims of the New Testament, yet Craig makes things easy for himself by assuming that eyewitness testimony should be taken at face value. Factors like the retention interval (how much time was there between the incident and the witness’ recollection of that incident?), focus (what captured the attention of the witness?), and especially post-event information (what post-event information could have supplemented the witness’ memory?) and unconscious transference (confusing a person seen in one situation with a person actually seen in another situation) are, so far as I know, never addressed by Craig in any of his writings; yet these are precisely the issues which he needs to deal with if we are to accept as factual the ‘eyewitness reports’ given in the New Testament. Given the devastation the disciples surely experienced after Jesus’ death, it seems much more reasonable to believe that the New Testament accounts of his alleged resurrection represent misinformation caused by the malleability of memory, than it is to believe that they represent accurate accounts of an empirical event which really happened. See Loftus, p. 168.

[6] What I meant to say was that, in addition to the resurrection of Jesus, the Bible records 11 other instances of people coming back to life (I Kings 17:17,21-22; I Sam. 28:7,11,15; II Kings 4:32,34-35; II Kings 13:21; Luke 7:11-15; Luke 9:28-30; Matt. 9:18,23-25; Matt. 27:52-53; John 11:43-44; Acts 9:36-41; Acts 20:9-10). According to the Bible, the other 11 instances had eyewitnesses, but the resurrection of Jesus did not. And this does call for an explanation. If God had raised Jesus from the dead, then surely he would have used the event as an oppurtunity to convince as many people as possible (both then and now) about the truth of Christianity. He could have had the resurrection of Jesus witnessed by human beings; he also could have had the risen Jesus appear to such public figures as Pontius Pilate himself. But that’s not what the New Testament records.

Instead, we are asked to believe that Jesus raised the dead; fed 5,000; walked on water; preached for 3 years; there were earthquakes, eclipses and saints being raised when he died; that he was resurrected; and there were only 120 believers by the time of Acts 1:15; yet at the same time we’re asked to believe that Peter gave one speech and 3,000 came to be baptized (Acts 2:40). That’s quite a speech! Are we supposed to believe that people could ignore all those miraculous signs — including Jesus’ Resurrection — and yet be persuaded by a few words from Peter?

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