Monday, 16 January 2012

A Resurrected Dialogue

I bank my life on two main premises: 1) there is a God and 2) Jesus rose from the dead. I think to hold to these two premises you ultimately have to have faith in them, but I do not think it is a blind faith. I think there is some evidence for these two premises, evidence that can be examined and conclusions could be drawn from them. I agree with Paul who said if the resurrection did not happen then the Christians faith is in vain, is misrepresenting God and those who believe it are to be most pitied.

In 1985 Antony Flew and Gary Habermas debated the likelihood of Jesus' resurrection. 15 years later John Ankerberg got them together on his show to have the same debate to see if either had developed or changed their thinking as in that time they each had produced books on or around the same topic. This was a pretty good idea as I know in my case, I sometimes have a conversation with someone and a bit after that I think of something I wish I would have said, although maybe not 15 years later. The bulk of this book is made up the debates transcript and then there is a short essay by each of the three people (Flew, Habermas and Ankerberg).

The subtitle of this book: An Atheist & Theist Dialogue, is incorrect. It really should be: An Atheist & Two Christians Dialogue as Ankerberg, who was chairing the discussion, jumps in way too much to be fair on Flew. This grated on me as the chair of a debate/discussion, even if it hosted on their own show, should remain objective.

What really surprised me was how much Flew, one of the most prominent atheist at that time, conceded in the debate and he really didn't offer that much of an argument against Jesus' resurrection. Flew agreed that Paul's writings were accurate, that Paul saw something on the road to Damascus and that Jesus' tomb was empty. Flew provided no reason how the tomb came to be empty and argued for the hallucination theory to explain the sightings of Jesus that the apostles, the two Mary's, Paul, James, the 500 etc. all saw. Flew even conceded that from a theistic world view the resurrection becomes quite likely and that it even makes sense. In the follow up essays in the following chapters, Habermans noted that now Flew had become a theist (as the book was published 5 years after the debate) and wondered now if Flew would consider the resurrection as a historical fact. The essays were not counter-point essays, but from all other reports Flew never became a Christian. He believed in an impersonal God who created everything but did not interact or reveal Himself/Itself to people.

Habermans kept the debate in the terms of the historical evidence for what both sceptical and Christian scholars agreed upon. Not even using the Gospel accounts, Habermans showed from Paul's writings and also from sources outside the Bible that lots of people reported to have seen something after the resurrection. Hebermans also show that Paul and James were not good candidates for the hallucination theory and they by no means were looking for Jesus' memory to live on as they opposed him. Flew wanted to know about how all the other people in Jerusalem who heard about Jesus' resurrection and didn't believe, those people who we don't have any evidence for (although in Acts we are told that 3000 people in Jerusalem believed in one day). It seems that Flew's argument was: other than all the sources we do have, what about the ones that we don't? I am not sure Aristotle would appreciate this line of reasoning for not following the evidence that we do have (but Aristotle also didn't believe in miracles so maybe he would side with Flew after all and not follow the evidence wherever it leads).

Ankerberg's last chapter in this book was quite good. One thing he did was to give an overview of other theories that people come up with to deny the resurrection. He points out that of the 12 or so facts that all historians agree on, these theories fails at least in one point (but mostly in more areas) to accept all of these facts and they can not adequately explain the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and the transformed lives of his followers.

Flew's strength (I think) is in the philosophy of miracles, leaning on Hume a bit, but this debate seemed to more resolve around history which was Hebermans strength, so I don't think this had the strongest defence/explanation from an atheist's world view of what happened at Easter. The Internet infidels have a long review of their first debate written by someone who I think wished they were there instead of Flew.

You can read the first 38 pages of this book on Google Books and I think this YouTube clip is the 2000 debate whose transcript  makes up the bulk of this book.


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