Presuppositionalism

Fallacy of modern apologetics

The Disney World of Modern Apologetics

JOEL MCDURMON

Once upon a visit to Disney World and Epcot Center in Orlando, my best friend and I tried to concoct a photograph of him standing with arms upheld and the great Epcot “Spaceship Earth” (the big silver ball) in the background in such a way as it appeared that he was carrying the massive ball by his own strength. We never quite got the angle right, but the idea entertained us enough to try several times.

I always think of this story when I hear of Christian apologists mounting evidences together in order to prove the truth of the Bible. Such an endeavor involves a man trying to do something that lies beyond the capacity of man to begin with: guarantee supernatural truth. It’s a bit like trying to stop a train with a bird net, or catch an airplane with a kite string. Our tools for the task fall vastly short of adequate for the job. The exception is that when considering God and man, that vastness is an infinite vastness, bridgeable only by the infinite God Himself, not man’s perceptions, arguments, or reasons.


I generally tolerate books on “Christian” or “Biblical Evidences,” as they usually offer interesting historical vignettes into our faith. I tolerate them, that is, until I begin to read very far through them. One example (chosen not to chastise any particular authors or ministries, but only because this particular one found its way across my desk) will suffice to illustrate my objections. In a chapter titled “Resurrection on Trial,” this popular book stands by the evidence for the resurrection and raises the bar upon itself (a great rhetorical strategy): “But is the evidence so good it could stand cross-examination in a modern court of law?”[1] They continue: “Our purpose is to cite sufficient documentation and examples to prove that even those expertly trained to evaluate and sift evidence declare that Christ’s resurrection would stand under legal cross examination.”[2] They go on to cite dozens of lawyers and legal experts who support their conclusion.

Among the many examples they quote, the following struck me as a particularly egregious instance of legal and bombastic nonsense:

Sir Lionell Luckhoo is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s “most successful lawyer,” with 245 successive murder acquittals. He was knighted twice by the queen of England and appointed high commissioner for Guyana. He declares, “I have spent more than forty-two years as a defense trial lawyer appearing in many parts of the world … I say unequivocally the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no doubt.[3]

 

I find this statement utterly incredible coming from a trained lawyer. The “evidence” for the resurrection resides within the texts of the Bible (aside from a minor and debated reference in Josephus), written by men whom we Christians believe to have been inspired by God to write the truth. But no law court in the world will admit divine inspiration as evidence. To do so would be to decide the case already. If it’s inspired, then it’s self-authoritative, and there’s no sense in trying the matter in a court of law. But if the court undertakes to judge the matter, then it sets itself up as the ultimate authority of the matter, and thus replaces God as the ultimate judge. So, a court of law would only examine the texts of the Bible in an allegedly “neutral” fashion, disallowing any testimonial recourse to their divine origin.

But at this point we run into a major problem. If we look at the Bible as merely one more historical record, it fails a fundamental test of evidence in a modern law court: The Hearsay Rule. The Federal Rules of Evidence state, “‘Hearsay’ is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”[4] No such statement, with several but in our case irrelevant exceptions, shall be admitted into court.[5] Since the Scriptures — when stripped of divine authority and subsumed below human scrutiny — consist of little more than stories passed from person to person and copied many times over throughout history, they constitute hearsay as defined by a modern law court. No lawful judge would admit them for cross-examination to begin with. Mr. Luckhoo doesn’t luck-out on this one; he just lost his 246th murder trial: this one for the murder of honesty. As a trained lawyer, he should have acknowledged the long-acknowledged and obvious issue of hearsay. To go so far as to state to the contrary that the proof “leaves absolutely no doubt” is nothing short of Christian propaganda aimed at reassuring naïve and uncritical pew-warmers.

If I were an unbeliever, I would parade this point to anyone who tried to use anything like this “many lawyers” fallacy promoted by our evidentialists. In fact, classic unbelievers have done so. This simple acknowledgment fueled the deistic-agnostic skepticism of Thomas Paine ages ago. He argued,

Revelation when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.… No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of the case, that something has been revealed to a certain person [say, Matthew, John, or Paul], and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other.…[6]

Such a point should get our attention enough when pertaining to ordinary facts, but should press us all the more when involving miraculous claims. Paine complains about the facts of the virgin birth of Christ resting only upon the claims of Mary and Joseph (this, of course, leaves God out of the picture, but I shall return to this). Paine explains his right to deny the virgin birth:

… such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not chuse [sic] to rest my belief upon such evidence.[7]

Now, we can easily poke holes in Paine’s arguments, but his main point suffices to call out the extravagances of our evidence-minded apologists. No lawyer, no army of lawyers, could change this simple fact. Unless God exists to begin with, we have no authority on which to believe the certainty of the miraculous, or any other claim in the Bible.

Now, I admit that I am no lawyer, and so I would certainly defer to these greatly decorated men of law in their area of expertise. There may be some loophole in the rules of evidence which I have missed. The Federal Rules of Evidence allow for several exceptions to the Hearsay Rule, including “ancient documents” (at least 20 years old, though the exceptions generally appear mostly intended for wills and other documents that pertain to property, and which nevertheless have to be accepted as “authentic” to begin with), as well as a “catchall rule” which leaves a door open to individual special cases. Even these, I strongly doubt, would allow the testimony of the New Testament into a court of law. Besides, even if they did, would you really want to base your faith on a narrow loophole in American federal law?

So it appears to me that if we wish to appeal to the authority of “evidences,” tribes of lawyers, and modern law courts, then we have little alternative than to follow the skepticism of Paine. All the boasts of all the great believing lawyers aside, the method of legal evidence at this point in the game fails the tests of man’s courts, let alone God’s.

Does this mean that the New Testament accounts are untrustworthy, or that skeptics have a valid reason to disbelieve them? Hardly. The same rule applies to the skeptic: he cannot admit the Gospels to the court of law in order to attempt to disprove them. Rather, this issue must get resolved in ahigher court. Additionally, to prosecute his thesis the skeptic bears the burden of proof in demonstrating contradictions, errors, etc., in the Bible, and simply put, the more such attempts get made, the more convincingly they get overturned. (See the enormous output in historical studies involving guys like N. T. Wright, Larry Hurtado, and the masterful work by Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, just to name a few among increasing hundreds.) This is the great value of historical scholarship and evidence-gathering: it continually rebuts the unbeliever as it scrutinizes his many anti-biblical claims. As Christians we expect this: since the God of the Bible exists, every fact of history must and will confirm His will. But this means we pursue such scholarship in the light of His revelation (in nature and Scripture), not to establish it.

The lack of evidence beyond the Gospels leaves the work of persuasion to the Holy Spirit. Upon God’s power the Gospel advances, as Paul says: my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Cor. 2:4–5). More to my point the apostle writes, The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16). The Spirit is the ultimate witness, the ultimate testimony of our faith. God gives us the faith as a gift (Eph. 2:8), and gives us the Spirit as a seal of assurance (Eph. 1:13–14). To try to add external evidences as proofs besides these divine proofs is to pretend we carry Spaceship Earth on our own backs, all the while God upholds the created world and us at the same time.

Besides, what would we really gain if every judge, jury, and court in the world said “Yes!” and “Amen!” to the facts of the Gospels? What would we really have established? I assert to you that we would not have established any truth, but rather mere consent among men. And it remains just as likely that all of these exemplars of evidence-sifters joining together in unanimity could still be wrong. Likewise, they could just as easily decide in the opposite direction, in which case the devout believer—whose heart the Holy Spirit has hold of—would remain disinclined to believe them all. In fact, I suspect that for every one lawyer willing to make extravagant claims like Luckhoo above, there stand several waiting to deny them. These guys rarely make into the “evidences” books. Nevertheless, in any of these cases, the jury only represents the opinions and contrivances of man, not the truth of God. And as the Psalmist prophetically reminds us, even though the kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed.… He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them(Psa. 2:2, 4). The greatest of men joining their utmost powers cannot establish or overturn any truth.

What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, And mightest prevail when Thou art judged” (Rom. 3:3–4).

This is why I think the evidence-based methods of defending our faith are fundamentally misguided. They attempt to erect all sorts of permutations of human authority as confirmations of divine authority—a fundamentally backwards, and in fact, downright idolatrous practice. Yet it is this idea that permeates the vast majority of the most popular apologetics books: “we can rest assured in our faith because so many evidences support it.” Hogwash. Unbelievers can and do poke major holes in such arguments all the time, and the strong faith so many place in such “Christian evidences” is the great albatross around the neck of Christian apologetics. (Fittingly, the source for the Luckhoo quotation above was published by Albatross Books, Claremont, CA).[8] We simply must disabuse ourselves of the desire to confirm divine authority through human means: God upholds us, we do not uphold Him. God’s word judges us, we do not judge God’s word.

Only the divine can attest for Himself; man can guarantee the truth of nothing. This is why Jesus offered only His own divine word as the ultimate authority for Himself: He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day (John 12:48). And this is not an issue that we can enter in to man’s courts, or which deals on the level of man’s authority. It pertains only to God’s court which expands throughout all eternity, space, and time, in which only God can guarantee the truth of any statement.

Ultimately it is this fact—that God alone guarantees and persuades His people of His truth—that undergirds our faith. If we set “evidences,” or any man’s testimony, or any lawyer’s or judge’s confirmation as the test by which we verify the Scriptures, then we have removed God as the ultimate authority, and placed man’s word in place of His. And to that I surely say with the skeptic Paine, “I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence.” For did I so choose upon that standard, I would be denying the very God I wish to affirm. I’d be as well off to pack up my faith and head to Disney World.

Endnotes:

1.       John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Handbook of Biblical Evidences (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 99. []

2.       Ankerberg and Weldon, Handbook of Biblical Evidences, 99. []

3.       Quoted in Ankerberg and Weldon, Handbook of Biblical Evidences, 106. []

4.       See http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/rules.htm#Rule801 [accessed June 23, 2009]. []

5.       See http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/rules.htm#Rule802 (accessed June 23, 2009). []

6.       Thomas Paine, “The Age of Reason,” Selection from the Writings of Thomas Paine (New York: Carlton House, no date), 188. []

7.       Paine, “The Age of Reason,” 189. []

8.      See Ankerberg and Weldon, Handbook of Biblical Evidences, 387n25. []

 





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