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Is ETDAV an Apologetic?

Jeffery Jay Lowder

 

James Patrick Holding maintains that, despite my introduction to The Jury Is In,[1] "Jury's ultimate thrust is misguided."[2] Holding argues that the Jury authors have misunderstood McDowell's stated purpose for his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict (hereafter ETDAV).[3] Jury authors treat ETDAV as if it were a strong apologetic, yet McDowell states in the "User's Guide" to ETDAV that he is simply providing evidence for consideration without attempting to support any particular conclusion.

These introductory comments by Holding suggest that the issue before us concerns the level of indirection for application of apologetic resources. Holding thinks there is some (fictitious) difference between:

(1) a book with a direct apologetic goal, aimed at the non-believing reader,

and

(2) a reference manual that outlines and lists apologetic resources for Christians to use in soul-winning nonbelievers

(1) is fair game for a skeptical rebuttal, but any rebuttals to (2) are "beating empty air." Holding charges that it is wrong to treat ETDAV as (1), when in reality it is (2).

Functionally, this makes no difference at all to the soundness of the arguments in the book. It is totally irrelevant whether the same "defenses of Christianity" get presented to the non-Christian in book format, or if they get told to the non-Christian by word of mouth. In both cases, it's the same information. Adding a level of indirection in scenario (2) doesn't excuse shortcomings in the data presented.

Bill Bright's Foreword

This is what Bill Bright means when he says:

"A careful and prayerful study of the material contained in this book will help the reader always to be prepared to make an intelligent and convincing presentation of the good news." (italics added)

But Holding has an answer for this, too. He writes:

Once again, regrettably, Lowder is simply reading intentions into Bright's words that simply are not there. The "careful and prayerful" paragraph does NOT [sic] say that the "overwhelmingly conclusive" evidence is found in ETDAV; it says that it will HELP THE READER MAKE [sic] a convincing presentation!

Actually, if there is anything regrettable, it is Holding's suppression of what can be clearly seen. In his own words, Bright wrote that "the material contained in this book" (and not some other book) is "overwhelmingly conclusive." I agree that someone is "reading intentions into Bright's words that are simply not there," but that someone isn't me.

The Title

In my introduction to Jury, I argued that the very title of McDowell's book entails that ETDAV is an apologetic. McDowell is claiming that historical evidence demands a verdict for the Christian faith. Holding, however, claims that "this title only says that a verdict is demanded - NOT [sic] that a particular verdict is demanded." But McDowell himself helps us out here. The cover of the ETDAV volume also says "Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith". Hence, by positioning both texts on the cover, it is clear that McDowell believes that this amazing "Evidence Which Demands a Verdict" is precisely the same as the "Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith."

Holding wanted to say here that McDowell is not attempting to bias the verdict one way or another ("a verdict is demanded - NOT [sic] that a particular verdict is demanded.") Yet how can McDowell escape the charge of attempting to deliberately bias the verdict in his favor? Any honest examination of "the evidence" would include both the affirmative and the negative evidence, and then the reader could decide for themselves. But McDowell presents only the affirmative evidence in his book, and then tells the reader that a verdict is demanded. A verdict, based upon "Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith".

Holding has said earlier that McDowell is under no obligation to present the facts for both sides in his book. But by failing to present the negative evidence, McDowell loses any claim to be honestly examining the subject. This in turn means that Holding's position--that McDowell isn't attempting to promote a particular verdict--is false. Deliberately withholding relevant evidence is a clear indicator that a particular verdict is desired.

The Trilemma

McDowell's chapter on the Trilemma refutes Holding's position that ETDAV is not an apologetic. Remember that the Trilemma is the argument that proceeds as follows:

(3) Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
(4) Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic.
(5) Therefore, Jesus is Lord.

Holding would have us believe that McDowell is presenting the "liar" and "lunatic" options for consideration, so that someone who wanted to give a "lecture" on why Jesus was a "liar" or "lunatic" could simply refer to ETDAV and find the relevant evidence for these positions! But McDowell does not present evidence for these positions; he refutes them in the process of stating the Trilemma. McDowell states premise (3) of the Trilemma when he writes that

Jesus claimed to be God. He did not leave any other options. His claim to be God must be either true or false and is something that should be given serious consideration....

First, consider that His claim to be God was false. If it was false then we have two and only two alternatives. He either know it was false or He did not know it was false.[4]

Thus Jesus' claim to be God was either true ("Jesus is Lord"), or it was false, in which case he was either a liar ("He knew it was false") or a lunatic ("He did not know it was false"). What does McDowell have to say about the possibility that Jesus did not know that his alleged claim to be God was false? He writes:

Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died could not have been a liar. What other alternatives are there?[5]

But what about the possibility that Jesus did not know that his alleged claim to be God was false? McDowell quotes Philip Schaff, who argued that

Is such an intellect ... liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning His own character and mission? Preposterous imagination![6]

Thus, McDowell has stated (4), that "Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic." This leaves only (5):

The evidence is clearly in favor of Jesus as Lord.[7]

Thus, we have an argument in ETDAV--however poor[8]--to the conclusion that Jesus is God. If Holding thinks that this argument should be immune from criticism because it was published in a set of "lecture notes," then he's got to demonstrate some sort of functional difference between skeptics who read the trilemma in ETDAV and skeptics who hear the trilemma in a conversation with a McDowell fan. Holding cannot demonstrate such a difference because no such difference exists. The Trilemma is the Trilemma, regardless of how one encounters the argument.

Conclusion

But let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that ETDAV is not an apologetic but merely a resource for Christians who wish to defend their faith. Is being merely "lecture notes" some lower quality standard of evidence? Does being "lecture notes" excuse the poor arguments and bad data inside it? Does being "lecture notes" entail that one ought not to expose the poor arguments and bad data inside it?[9] Does being "lecture notes" somehow prevent readers from encountering the other side of the argument when witnessing?[10] Whether Holding realizes it or not, he's accusing McDowell of publishing a set of "lecture notes" that is chock-full of second-rate data and errors. And that is precisely what the other Jury authors and I have maintained all along.

Acknowledgment

Once again I am grateful to Bob Sarver and Mark Vuletic for some insightful suggestions concerning this essay.

Notes

[1] Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Introduction" The Jury Is In: The Ruling on McDowell's "Evidence" http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/intro.html

[2] James Patrick Holding, "Introduction, Take Two"http://www.integrityonline15.com/jpholding/tekton/ajinod_intro.html

[3] Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Benardino, CA: Here's Life, 1979).

[4] Ibid., p. 104.

[5] Ibid., p. 106.

[6] Ibid., p. 107.

[7] Ibid.

[8] For a refutation of the trilemma, see Holding's idol William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), pp. 38-39, or Jim Perry's contribution to Jury.

[9] In fact, such a task could legitimately be construed by Mr. Holding as a supplement to McDowell's "User's Guide" - a supplement which clearly demonstrates why one should exercise the caution McDowell allegedly advises.

[10] If ETDAV is not an apologetic, then McDowell has done his students and anyone else who relies on ETDAV a grave disservice. Perhaps he thinks he is doing such people a favor by not discussing it; however, he has merely postponed the reckoning day. Those believers who rely on ETDAV as an apologetic resource will still have to deal with the negative evidence. But in place of having it presented to them by McDowell in relative comfort of ETDAV, they will instead be blind-sided by this negative evidence when they hear it for the first time coming from the skeptics they will be trying to convert. Imagine the surprise of such Christians when they realize that they have only been told half the story, and that half containing serious flaws.....

What excuse can McDowell have for leaving out the negative evidence in ETDAV, and leaving users of ETDAV caught off guard and unprepared to answer skeptics? The answer, i.e., that McDowell never had any desire whatsoever to examine all the evidence, immediately suggests itself.


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