Review of "Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About The Christian Faith" by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart
Gordon Stein, Ph.D.
[NOTE: The following review appeared in the July/August 1982 issue of The American Rationalist.]
I am puzzled by this book. Is it a sincere work, faulted by the fact that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, with McDowell showing only a little knowledge? The other possibility is that the work is a knowingly devious, lying production, of the "anything for the greater glory of God" variety. In either case, anyone with more than a rudimentary knowledge of logic, reasoning, history, science, and the Bible can make mincemeat of this book. It is full of half-truths, faulty and incomplete research, logical non-sequitors, faulty reasoning and outright misinterpretation of history and science.
I suppose that some examples are needed. The very first answer betrays the shallow thinking of the authors. The question is "What makes the Bible so special?" In other words, why treat it with any special respect? The answer is that 1) the Bible claims to be God’s word, 2) We have proof of this because, first the Bible says its God’s word, and, second, because there is a unity to the Bible which could not occur among its 40 authors and 1,000 year period of composition unless God were supervising it. In reply, we can point out, first, the fact that something claims to be something is absolutely nothing in the way of proof of that claim. Secondly, the Bible is not a unity. There are many places which contradict each other. Thirdly, any appearance of unity comes from the fact that men selected which books should be included in the canon of the Old Testament, and New Testament. They left out as uninspired all of those books which contradicted the majority of other books. In other words, the Bible was edited by men to make it appear to have a unity. Why doesn’t McDowell read some of the books which were left out of the Old and New Testament, to see if they also appear to give unity. Those left-out books appear in the Apocrypha and Pseudo-epigrapha of the Bible. They are available in any large library.
There are errors in almost every question’s answer. The date of Luke’s composition is erroneously stated to be before Acts, and it is placed at about 50-60 A.D. This is a good forty years too early, and it was not written before Acts. The statement is made in the same answer that "The life of Jesus was written by eyewitnesses or people who recorded firsthand testimony." The first of these statements is absolutely false. There is not one single part of the N.T. which was written about Jesus by an eyewitness. The earliest part of the N.T. is the Epistles of Paul, written about 60 A.D. Paul never saw Jesus while he was alive. We have no idea who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were, except that they were not disciples of Jesus’. No one can prove that there is any firsthand testimony either. Testimony which is told to one person by another becomes secondhand testimony by definition. The false statement is made that Matthew was an eyewitness (p 10), although not a scrap of evidence is offered to back up this statement.
This book is also a giant step backwards in biblical scholarship. Most of the knowledge gained during the past 100 years is dismissed as erroneous. The existence of the "Q" document, the idea that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, the dates of the N.T., the passage in Josephus (now almost unanimously agreed to be a forgery about Jesus), etc. are all dismissed as errors, or held to be genuine, whichever is the direct opposite of scholarly opinion.
The answer to the question about whether Jesus was an historical person or not is a masterpiece of lies, half-truths and outright errors. I don’t think I have ever seen so much deception packed into two pages. The Josephus forgery is accepted as genuine, with the nonsensical statement that even if it isn’t genuine, it still refers to Jesus as historical. Damn it, if the passage is a forgery, then anything it says about Jesus is worthless! I guess that fundamentalists have no brains at all. The skimpy (probably forged) references in three other non-biblical writings (which are usually used as evidence that Jesus was not historical) are presented as ample evidence that he was historical. What a travesty of scholarship! The only sources that McDowell quotes at the end of his chapters are mostly worthless fundamentalist works, including his own Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
I could go on and on, but the task is both boring and unprofitable. There is only one chapter in the book which is at all reasonable. That is the one on the Shroud of Turin. Although a weak case is presented against the authenticity of the Shroud (a much stronger one could be presented if McDowell were familiar with the literature on the subject), at least he seems to be on the same side as the evidence this time. When Christians have to stoop to lying, deception and outright ignorance of the sources to present their case, they are only fooling the fools. The more intelligent among the readers are only driven further away from this "pack of lies" that calls itself a religion.
Gordon Stein, Ph.D.