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Introduction (1997, Draft)

Jeffery Jay Lowder

 

Related documents:

Introduction to "A Jury in Need of Dismissal" (AJINOD) (Off Site) by James Patrick Holding
Holding's rebuttal to this essay. (Strangely, Holding does not link to my essay from his site.)

Is ETDAV an Apologetic?" by Jeffery Jay Lowder
My reply.

Straight from the Horse's Mouthby James Patrick Holding (Off Site)
Holding's reply. (Once again, Holding doesn't link to my essay.)

Redefining 'Apologetics' by Jeffery Jay Lowder
You guessed it: my reply to Holding's reply.

Straight From the Lead Horse's Mouth by James Patrick Holding (1999) (Off Site)
Holding's latest reply. (Once again, Holding doesn't link to my essay.)

In terms of audience sizes and books sold, Josh McDowell is arguably the most influential apologist today. According to the back cover of the revised edition to his best-selling book Evidence That Demands a Verdict (ETDAV)[1] --which was published in 1979--"during the last 20 years he has spoken in over 60 countries to more than seven million young people and adults in over 800 universities and high schools." And there are over one million copies of ETDAV in print."

ETDAV is also arguably the most influential Christian apologetics book on the Internet, which is what led the Internet Infidels to write The Jury Is In: The Ruling on McDowell's "Evidence" (hereafter Jury). We remember the old alt.atheism days when every other refutation to a post was "read McDowell;" Christians posting feedback messages to the Internet Infidels recommended ETDAV more than all other Christian apologetics books combined.

In writing Jury, the authors do not mean to suggest that ETDAV is the best that Christian scholarship has to offer. On the contrary, we are well aware that there are many books defending the Christian faith which are more contemporary and more scholarly than ETDAV.[2] Still, the fact remains that ETDAV is much more influential than any of these other books; a systematic rebuttal to ETDAV has never before been available; and many lay Christians have interpreted the lack of such a rebuttal as an admission that ETDAV is irrefutable. For these reasons, the contributors felt it was important to write a systematic rebuttal to ETDAV.

ETDAV As a Strong Apologetic

The modern word apologetics has its roots in the Greek word, apologia, which means defense. The word apologist, used to describe a person who practices or specializes in apologetics, is normally preceded by an adjective to identify which beliefs the apologist defends (e.g., Christian apologist, Muslim apologist, etc.). In theory, an apologist could be a person who defends a set of beliefs about anything, but in practice an apologist is someone who defends a set of religious beliefs or world view.

There are two options available to the apologists in defending their beliefs: positive apologetics and negative apologetics. A positive apologetic attempts to justify a world view somehow in terms of arguments, evidence, etc. A negative apologetic attempts to answer objections to that worldview, which may appear in the form of a competing world view.

An apologetic may also be defined in terms of its aggressiveness. A soft apologetic is merely an attempt to defend the rationality of accepting a world view; a hard apologetic is a much more ambitious attempt to demonstrate the irrationality of rejecting that world view. Josh McDowell's ETDAV is a perfect example of this latter approach. Bill Bright, the President and Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International, wrote the following in the Foreword to ETDAV:

I personally have never heard a single individual--who has honestly considered the evidence--deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of men. The evidence confirming the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is overwhelmingly conclusive to any honest, objective seeker after truth. However, not all--not even the majority--of those to whom I have spoken have accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. This is not because they were unable to believe--they were simply unwilling to believe![3]

Where, we may ask, does Bright think this "overwhelmingly conclusive" evidence may be found? In ETDAV. He writes:

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. However, there is one final word of caution and counsel: one should not assume that the average person has intellectual doubts about the deity of Jesus Christ...[4]

Bright is stating that the material contained in ETDAV is so "convincing" that most people will not question it; those who express their "doubts" about McDowell's evidence are "unwilling to believe." But that entails that Bright thinks ETDAV is a hard apologetic, even if he doesn't use those exact words.

Much more telling than Bright's comments about ETDAV, however, is what McDowell himself has to say. Just consider the title of his book, Evidence That Demands A Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith. What is McDowell claiming with this title? That historical evidences demand a verdict for the Christian Faith. Where are those evidences to be found? In ETDAV, of course. Opening McDowell's book, we read that

For me, Christianity was not a "leap into the dark," but rather "a step into the light." I took the evidence that I could gather and put it on the scales. The scales tipped the way of Christ being the Son of God and resurrected from the dead. It was overwhelmingly leaning to Christ that when I became a Christian, it was a "step into the light" rather than a "leap into the darkness."

If I had exercised "blind faith," I would have rejected Jesus Christ and turned my back on all the evidence."[5]

Thus, McDowell's claim concerning the rationality of the Christian faith is two-fold. First, McDowell argues that Christianity is true (and not just that Christian belief is rational). According to McDowell, Christ is the son of God and resurrected from the dead. But McDowell does not stop there; he goes on the offensive and makes the additional claim that the lack of Christian belief is irrational. According to McDowell, non-Christians do not deny that Christianity is true; instead they have "intellectual excuses," "exercise blind faith," are in "darkness," and are "unwilling to believe." So not only does McDowell attempt to provide a hard apologetic for Christianity, but he launches a preemptive strike against a soft apologetic for non-Christian belief as well and therefore is attempting to argue a hard apologetic for Christian faith.

To call this pair of claims bold would be a major understatement. As a Christian, it is perfectly understandable that McDowell would want to defend the truth of Christianity and therefore make the first claim. And it is obvious that the first claim is probabilistic in nature; McDowell makes it clear that his goal is to show that "the scales tip the way" of Christianity. But the second claim, that non-Christians are somehow irresponsible or intellectually dishonest in rejecting Christianity, is extremely strong. It is also by definition a hard apologetic.

Hence, this book shall construe ETDAV as an attempt both to prove Christianity and to convict unbelievers of irrationality. We shall evaluate ETDAV on the basis of how well it does.

Objections to Jury

Many believers would try to dismiss a book like this from the very start. I'd like to briefly consider some of their objections and then respond to them.

Objection #1: "You have misunderstood the purpose of ETDAV. The purpose of ETDAV is to equip Christians to be able to defend their Christian faith, not prove to skeptics that Christianity is true."

Response to Objection #1:

(a) If "the purpose of ETDAV is to equip Christians to be able to defend their Christian faith," then who are they supposed to be defending it against?

(b) As a former skeptic and enemy of Christianity, surely McDowell had skeptics in mind when he wrote ETDAV.

(c) Just because McDowell stated that you can't argue someone into Christianity doesn't mean that McDowell didn't try to prove Christianity. It simply means that McDowell believes that apologetics are insufficient for conversion.

(d) ETDAV contains numerous statements and quotations that appear to have skeptics in mind. But if we accept the claim that skeptics are not an intended audience of ETDAV and that ETDAV is just a compilation of research notes, that would make McDowell appear intellectually dishonest, for he would be refuting skeptical objections in a book not intended for skeptics. By assuming that skeptics were an intended audience of ETDAV, we're giving McDowell and his intellectual honesty the benefit of the doubt.

(e) Most of ETDAV's "evidences" are used in other McDowell books in which skeptics are the target audience. The trilemma, as well as McDowell's evidences for the historical reliability of the Bible and the Resurrection, can be found in McDowell's apologetic More Than a Carpenter; McDowell's extra-biblical "evidences" for the historicity of Jesus can be found in McDowell's apologetic He Walked Among Us; etc.[6] But if McDowell is presenting identical or highly similar "evidences" in other books that contain arguments designed to convince skeptics, it is unclear what purpose is served by distinguishing "evidences" in ETDAV from "evidences" in McDowell's other apologetic books.

(f) If McDowell only intended ETDAV to be a collection of research and speaking notes, and not an apologetic for the Christian faith, then McDowell has presented only some of the relevant evidence, and a one-sided view at that. In a court of law or in a scientific examination, both sides of an argument are presented before conclusions are made. By weighing and evaluating both pro and con evidence, a verdict is reached. McDowell skipped the second half of the work and simply presented his evidence and his conclusions.

(g) It really doesn't matter what McDowell may have originally intended ETDAV to be used for. What matters is how people are currently using ETDAV, which is as an apologetic. If McDowell thinks that Evangelicals are misusing his "lecture notes" for the purpose of apologetics, then he should issue a disclaimer in the next printing. And even then, ETDAV would still be one of the most popular defenses of the Christian faith and therefore worthy of consideration, review, and scrutiny.

Objection #2: "McDowell is an easy target and is not a scholar."

Response to Objection #2: I have already addressed this objection above by pointing out that we do not portray McDowell's works as the best which Christian scholarship has to offer. Still, it would be a mistake to suggest that ETDAV is never quoted by (Christian) scholars. For example, in his book Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland thanks "Josh McDowell for first introducing me to the joy and importance of apologetics;" moreover he endorses McDowell's tests for the historical reliability of ancient manuscripts[7] and explicitly cites McDowell's infamous comparison of ancient manuscripts.[8] And Moreland explicitly endorses two of McDowell's books as "highly recommended": Evidence That Demands a Verdict and The Resurrection Factor.[9]

Moreover, Moreland is not the only philosopher who appears to take McDowell seriously. Ravi Zacharias, who has been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, has McDowell endorse both of his books (A Shattered Visage and Can Man Live Without God) on their back covers.[10] Likewise, Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks print McDowell's endorsement on the back cover of their When Skeptics Ask.[11]

So it does appear that there are Christian scholars who regard McDowell highly.

But even if one classifies McDowell's arguments as only "popular" it would be a mistake to suggest that his arguments may be dismissed as much. In the fifth-century BCE, Parminedes of Elea proposed to his fellow Greek thinkers that motion was impossible and that everything that we think is real is but an illusion. Obviously Plato (and his student Aristotle) found this notion nonsense but they had to take it seriously because it was a very popular argument. Plato eventually had to write the Sophist in order to refute Parminides' argument. Little has changed today. It is dangerous to dismiss absurd arguments out-of-hand. When we do the arguments fester and grow, and sometimes enjoy a modicum of respectability from an audience which hasn't the critical thinking skills to see what others find so absurd about the argument. Throughout history, whole movements such as the German National Socialists have taken on a life of their own because their absurd arguments went unchallenged. Granted, Josh McDowell's work is certainly not anti-Semitic or as serious as the political propaganda of the Nazis, but it is apologetical propaganda nonetheless. If he is left unanswered, McDowell's arguments could gain an undeserved legitimacy from an uncritical populace who has not heard the other side of the story.

Objection #3: "Why have you not debated Josh McDowell?"

Response to Objection #3: In the past, Farrell Till, Frank Zindler, Dan Barker, and the late Gordon Stein all challenged Josh McDowell to defend the claims he made in ETDAV in an oral debate. Yet McDowell did not answer any of these offers. We understand that McDowell has a new ministry to Russia which may well make it impossible for McDowell to debate atheists, and we have no qualms with that. What bothers us is that McDowell's fans continue to claim that skeptics are afraid to debate McDowell. On the contrary, skeptics are not afraid to debate McDowell and would happily do so given the chance.

Objection #4: "There is something immoral about writing a book like Jury."

Response to Objection #4: We are supposed to be after the truth. If McDowell's arguments in ETDAV are strong (as he claims), Christians should not be reluctant to subject them to critical (or even hostile) scrutiny. If his arguments can withstand scrutiny, then Christians will lose nothing but will gain the confidence that comes from investigating an argument and knowing that it can withstand scrutiny. If, on the other hand, his arguments cannot withstand scrutiny, that fact needs to be exposed. Of course, if a critic successfully refutes a Christian apologist, that may embarrass the Christian worldview. But that is the risk one takes when one becomes an apologist. Besides, I would think that McDowell would want his opponents to be able to take their best shot and aim to triumph anyway.

Objection #5: "You can accept the claims of Jury and the atheistic world view it embraces, or you can believe that Jesus is the Son of God and resurrected from the dead."

Response to Objection #5: Actually, Jury doesn't promote an atheistic world view. It merely critiques or refutes bad arguments for an Evangelical Christian worldview. One could consistently reject atheism and still accept all of Jury's criticisms.

Objection #6: "Jury is written by a bunch of amateurs and may be dismissed as such."

Response to Objection #6: Some of the authors are professional scholars (e.g., Robert Price, Ph.D. in New Testament and Ph.D. in Church History; Larry Taylor, M.A. in Ancient History); the others are well-informed non-experts. The fact that some of the authors do not have formal degrees in history or biblical criticism should only be an issue if their lack of academic background causes them to misrepresent or omit important trends in contemporary scholarship.

Objection #7: "I really like book X, yet Jury doesn't deal with book X. This is a serious omission."

Response to Objection #7: This is a response to ETDAV, not book X. Unless book X is highly influential and relevant to one of the chapters of Jury, this objection is irrelevant. Where appropriate, the authors of Jury have attempted to interact with major trends in contemporary scholarship, but even then the focus shall be on ETDAV and not on book X.

We therefore conclude that these objections to Jury fail.

Organization of this book

[This section shall not be completed until Jury is finished.]

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Bob Sarver for constructive criticism of an earlier draft of this introduction. James Still and Robby Berry also provided useful suggestions.

Notes

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

[2] See J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987); Ronald H. Nash, Faith & Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988); Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990); William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994); Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995); and Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996).

[3] Bill Bright, Foreword, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. iii.

[4] Bright, p. iv. Italics added.

[5] McDowell 1979, p. 10. Italics added.

[6] Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1987), and Josh McDowell, He Walked Among Us (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994).

[7] Moreland, p. 134.

[8] Moreland, p. 135.

[9] Moreland, pp. 260-261.

[10] See Ravi Zacharias, A Shattered Visage (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990), and Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas: Word, 1994).

[11] Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990).


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