Friday, August 28, 2009

Out With Doubt – A Look at the Evidence for Christianity, Kyle Butt

Out With Doubt – A Look at the Evidence for Christianity, Kyle Butt

Looking for an excellent book to begin a study of Christian Evidences with teenagers? This is a good place to start. The book deals with various topics relating to Christian Evidences: the existence of God, the inspired word of God, pain & suffering, creation and age of the earth, evolution and theistic evolution, dinosaurs, and facts surrounding the life of Jesus Christ—his existence, the miracles performed and his resurrection. I appreciated Butt’s rebuttal of the compromise with evolution often called “theistic evolution”. Efforts to harmonize the Bible with macroevolution per Darwin and such are not possible. The sooner our teenager realize this the better in order to protect them from an untenable compromise. All of these topics could be expanded to additional books with a greater degree of detail; however, this book is designed for those unfamiliar with these areas so as to encourage a lifelong study of these great themes.

Christian Evidences (or Apologetics) is an exciting field of study. I have been a student of this field of study since my teenage years and have never grown weary of it. I know that young people’s faith and resolve have been strengthened by studies along these lines. Often when I am looking to begin studying on a complex issue, I seek out literature that seeks to make the “complex understandable”. This is what this book does.

In this book, brother Butt dispels the common falsehood that faith is some “leap in the dark”. Tragically many are taught due to a distorted view of faith. I can recall hearing it said that the difference between belief and faith is whether the object is seen or unseen. If you can see it, then it is belief. If you cannot, then it is faith. That is partially true but misses a key component. Some extrapolate the unseen into no proof to back it up. Sadly, that is what many Christians are sometimes left to believe—that there is no evidence for their beliefs. What they fail to realize is the scientific method is only one measure of evidence. Some become so narrow in their definition of evidence that they fail to realize that testimony constitutes evidence. The book points out that faith in the Bible is not a “leap in the dark” (suggesting no proof), but is based on testimony that can be substantiated.

An aspect of the book that I also appreciate is the Afterward. I have several books by Josh McDowell which are excellent reading. One of my criticism of McDowell’s work is his explanation of the plan to be saved as reciting the “sinner’s prayer”. One should be careful to think critically and validate material in books. Even the Bible demands to be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:21). When one compares the “sinner’s prayer” with the Biblical plan, one realizes that the “sinner’s prayer” is nowhere found in the Scriptures, but baptism for the remission of sins is clearly taught in the New Testament. Brother Butt makes an appeal to young people to consider the biblical plan of salvation and obey it.

I became more familiar with this book thanks to our teenage class. The teacher and I were looking for an idea of how to generate interest in the teenage class. When we examined this book, we decided it would be a useful tool to teach a subject that we had not taught as much as we would have liked. . The discussion questions helped stimulate the critical thinking for both the students and the teacher. The church decided that a book would be given to each teenager to keep for his or her own personal libraries for future reference. At the conclusion of the class, I spoke to the teenagers and the teacher about the class to see what the results were. The teenagers I spoke to were eager to keep the book (plus there were none sitting around unused later). The teacher and students thought it would be a good idea to have a follow-up class on the material. The study was viewed as very profitable to the point that we are seeking to maintain in the curriculum so no young person who goes through the teen years attending our classes will miss this vital material. I highly recommend it for the church library since it makes excellent reading for new Christians who may be unfamiliar with the field of Christian Apologetics as well.

11 comments:

Betty said...

Everyone Christian needs to be able to know Christian evidences.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, testimony makes lousy evidence. It's fallable, often biased and cannot be idependently verified.

I cannot "believe" Christianity simply because someone 2000+ yrs ago wrote an account (not even an eye witness account mind you) citing the actions of a man, never mentioned outside of those writings themselves.

drkenney said...

"...never mentioned outside of those writings" is INCORRECT. I suggest you consult Kyle Butt's work "Behold! The Lamb of God" to rethink this.

For example, Tacitis (AD 56 -117) who wrote the classic "Annals of Tacitus" and was a hostile critic of Christ and his followers:

"Nero fabricated scapegoats--and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius' reign by the governor of Judea, Potius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome." (15.44, parenthetical comments in originals).

Other examples can be brought forth from other pagan philosophers, historians plus Jewish sources.

Thanks for your comments and I hope you will study some more on this matter. You may also find "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel of interest as well.

Anonymous said...

I've read both Strobel and Licona and found them both lacking any evidence that they both claim to offer. I finally tired of Licona talking about "historical bedrock" and offering no evidence for his classification of it as such. Just because you call something historical bedrock doesn't make it so.

The Tacitus mention is the source of some debate among historians. The same goes for the Josephus reference. There is at least some doubt raised to their authenticity.

However, I can easily grant both the Tacitus and Josephus mentions (of the "christ" and not Jesus) this hardly amounts to supporting evidence. It remains 3rd party testimony and there simply is no first hand testimony of Jesus and his teachings. None of the new testiment writers were documenting first hand accounts. It's all hearsay.

It is each person's right whether or not to accept 2000 year old, 3rd party testimony, as evidence. I cannot. I completely reject the idea that testimony should somehow be considered equally (or above)the evidence provided by the scientifc method.

drkenney said...

With all due respect, you are mistaken that there are no first hand accounts. Matthew and John were both disciples of Jesus. The authenticiy to the book of John is abundant.

I understand you have read some on this subject. I guess it would include such thing as found in this piece? http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/26-the-historicity-of-jesus-christ

Relying on the scientific method, as you seem to be doing, would negate many other historical characters of antiquity. The scientific method is fine for areas it is designed to prove, but it is not the sole source for evidence.

Have you ever read this book?
http://www.amazon.com/Testimony-Evangelists-Gospels-Examined-Evidence/dp/0825427479

It takes the standards of evidence for the U. S. Justice system and applies it to the New Testament records. The New Testament passes the test abundantly so. To state that it does not would mean that our whole standards of evidence are fault.

As you stated, it is your right to decide if you will accept or reject the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul, John and the host of Christians who witnessed Jesus and even died for their allegiance to the same. But you cannot sustain the idea that Jesus' existence is not substantiated outside of the New Testament. I would agree that one cannot find much, if anything, in regards to his teachings outside of the NT, but that ignores the validity of the NT text and the teachings recorded there.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you lack such a fundamental understanding of the historical authorship of the bible. None of the gospels were written by the individuals they were named after. The historical documents come far too late for that to be the case. See Bart Ehrman's many works.

There are no first hand accounts of Jesus' teachings. Any suggestion otherwise is a mischaracterization of history.

So help me understand, if you are to accept the "testimony" of the Bible as evidence then must you not also accept the testimony of Mohammed's teachings as well? At least the Qur'an professes to be a first hand account of the prophet. With roughly the same evidence to support it as the Bible.

How do you pick and choose which testament on which to base your belief?

The book of Mormon is a much more contemporary document. Whether Smith existed there is no doubt. Shouldn't his testimony of revelation carry more weight than any of the second hand writings of the Bible?

drkenney said...

Just because something is contemporary does not make it better. I don't see any reason to accept contemporary critics of NT authorship over witnesses closer to the first century.

As with the Book of Mormon and the Quran, the Bible must be put to the test as to its claims of prophecy, accuracy, etc. The scientific method works as well on the other two documents.

The authenticity for the authorship of John is well attested to in early church history. I realize that the writers did not sign their names to the works, but that does not mean that the traditional view of their authorship has been disproven.

Testimony is not only type of evidence for accepting the New Testament, but that does not mean testimony does not constitute evidence. There are other types of evidence that support the Bible, but you stated that you will only accept the scientific method as proof which is deficient. Take for example Buddha...how do you know he existed, how do you know you have his writings, how would go about provings items using the scientific method?

If you cannot accept the evidence that Lee Strobel offers in "The Case for Christ", then there is little more I can offer that would be of any value to you. I wish there was. Thanks for writing.

Ron Lange said...

"The authenticity for the authorship of John is well attested to in early church history."

There is far from any certainty to John's authorship. See Steve Harris, Understanding the Bible or Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted. Most contemporary historians don't believe John was the author of any NT books.

And there is a difference between proving the historicity of a person for the sake of scholarly historical study and using that as evidence on which to base one's faith. I love the study of ancient history but I have no desire to adopt the culture of the time or base my life upon their ideas and beliefs. Any more than I would want to adopt the ancient Chinese culture or beliefs.

Christianity makes extraordinary claims and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. A 2000 yr old book with questionable heritage does not even get close to the realm of extraordinary evidence. Just looking at that culture from a historical perspective kills much of the Bible's credibility in my eyes. These were people incredibly prone to wild superstition. Everyday life was filled with myth and superstition. That a tale of this sort could develop within that culture is highly probable. That any of the miraculous events were true seems highly improbable.

I cannot reconcile in my mind how or why anyone can base the structure of their lives on the promises of a 2000yr old document? If it was inspired by God, why couldn't he have made sure the authors understood that the Earth revolved around the Sun or that the stars were millions of Sun's like ours or that the universe was far greater than they could imagine. There is simply nothing in the Bible that couldn't have been conceived and written by man. It's not a bad piece of literature and it does have some decent lessons on how to treat your fellow man but these are not unique to the Bible.

Science presents us with a constantly improving view of the world which has an excellent track record of accuracy and truth. Man use to think the world was flat, the Sun revolved around the Earth and that the stars were windows into heaven. Science has shown all of that to be quite wrong. Man use to believe that mental illness or disease was caused by demons or spirits. Science brought us the germ theory of disease and vaccinations.

Science, describes the universe in an accurate and independently verifiable way. Scientific observation and evidence shows us that the Big Bang likely occurred. The religious complain that the Universe had to be caused and that cause must have been God. Science makes no claims as to what existed before the big bang. It makes no claims as to a cause or lack of cause. There are hypotheses but we don’t know. Perhaps the best aspect of Science is that it's willing and capable of saying "I don't know" or "we were wrong". But at the same time, science fills in more and more gaps each day. Religion just wants to plug God into those gaps and stop asking questions. So to me religion is the opposite of progress. Religion claims we were…POOF…created. End of story, no need to ask any further questions. God did it. Even if God did do it, the mechanism by which he did it is far more complex than "POOF".

So science is about progressive understanding of our world. Not dogma. Religion is all about dogma and offers us only a fixed, unchanging view of the world. I have to wonder what the world would be like today if religion had been more successful persecuting scientists throughout the ages. One hundred years passed after his death before Galileo's works on Heliocentrism were published. Not until 1992 did the church acknowledge their error. Will we have to wait 300 yrs after Darwin for evolution to be socially accepted by the church?

Even today, religion tries to stifle scientific education and continues to deny fundamental facts such as the age of the universe and the evolution of species. In this way religion and pervasive superstitious thinking is creating a nation of scientifically illiterate citizens.

drkenney said...

Rob,

Modern critics do not have be benefit of seeing all the data that was available in the first century. Just because something is "modern" does not make it better. Many of the documents (secular and religious) from the first century have not survived to the modern era. The fact that the New Testament has so many copies compared to others of antiquity speaks to the reverence man had for its words. Does that not impress you?

For example, Irenaeus (126 – 190 AD) who served as Bishop of the church at Lyons (France) and student of Polycarp, refers to a four-fold gospel canon of which John wrote a gospel. He wrote “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.” This fact is important since he was a student of Polycarp (69 –156 AD) who knew the Apostle John but did not comment on the gospel.

What about the Rylands Papryus 457 or P52 (130 AD)? It is the earliest known fragment from a papyrus codex of the NT; which was found in Egypt and dated to be 130 AD. It contains John 18:31-33 on one side and John 37-38 on the other. How old would the gospel of John have to be to be copied and carried to Egypt if the dating of the copy is 130 AD?

These two examples show that the Gospel of John was written by the apostle John and that it fits into the lifespan of John. Now, I am sure you will say these are "lacking" because it does not fit your contemporary standards of evidence. But one has to ask--what would you accept? In today's age of media manipulation...what would you accept?

Flavius Justinus (100-165 AD) converted from pagan philosopy to Christianity. He attempted to convert his friends as well. He was scourged and beheaded in Rome for his unshakeable faith. How do you account for that? I am sure you know but others may better know Flavius Justinus as Justin Martyr.

The Christian viewpoint of science is more sophisticated than you are giving it credence here. Of course I know of shirts with slogans "I believe in the Big Bang--God said it and BANG it happened." Makes a cute shirt, but the it does open oneself up to the types of criticisms you are detailing. Have you read works such as Lee Strobel's "Case for the Creator"? How do you account for the fact that many of the great celebrated scientists actually believed in the Bible? At the very least you should be able to recognize that Christian Scientists are not stupid or misguided in their pursuits. Can you?

I am not familiar with Bart Ehrman. I am not sure if you are the same writer as "Anonymous" who posted before or not so I'll ask you (or both of you) this. I don't rely on Wikipedia without trying to verify the information. Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of him--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bart_D._Ehrman ?

Thanks for writing.

Ron Lange said...

"The fact that the New Testament has so many copies compared to others of antiquity speaks to the reverence man had for its words. Does that not impress you?"

Should it? I don't doubt for a moment, that man held the text in reverence much as they do today. A lot of people believe that aliens regularly visit earth or that bigfoot roams the forests of most every state in the US. Just because a lot of people believe something doesn't make it true. So no, not impressed at all.

"In today's age of media manipulation...what would you accept?"
I thought about this and came up with two answers. One, I would accept an overwhelming consensus of scholars. Two, it doesn't matter.

As I've stated before, I don't accept a 2000 yr old book of hearsay (no matter how many copies there are) as evidence for an all powerful god. As I've mentioned before there is nothing in the Bible that could not have been conceived and written by man. And I'm confident that it was all conceived and written by men. No divine inspiration necessary. All religions in history have been the creation of man. Why would this one be any different?

"Flavius Justinus (100-165 AD) converted from pagan philosophy to Christianity. He attempted to convert his friends as well. He was scourged and beheaded in Rome for his unshakeable faith. How do you account for that? "

How do I account for what? A man's willingness to die for his beliefs? Many religions hold Martyrdom as sacred. There are countless examples of people who have died for their beliefs. Plenty of brave Japanese soldier died for their living god, Tojo.

It is well known that the human brain is predisposed to believe things which are not true. See Caveman Logic by Hank Davis or How We Know What Isn't So by Thomas Gilovich. The psychology of belief is pretty well understood. We're hard wired for it. This is why every culture has forms of superstitious beliefs.

"How do you account for the fact that many of the great celebrated scientists actually believed in the Bible? At the very least you should be able to recognize that Christian Scientists are not stupid or misguided in their pursuits. Can you?"

There are clearly scientists today who are theists. Francis Collins the new head of the NIH is a prime example. And yes I do think he is misguided and that his science suffers from his belief. His appointment received a lot of jeers from the scientific establishment. He's regarded as a wacko. Now I don't think a scientist necessarily must automatically be a non-theist. There are well regarded scientists of faith. As long as they don't artificially limit their research or insert automatic assumptions about "god did it", I have no problem with them. However, any scientist who denies evolution is either ignorant of the evidence or simply deluded. However I think those represent a tiny minority and they probably all work for Ken Ham at his nutty Creation Museum where they make their own facts out of clay and paper mache.

I apologize for over generalizing about the Christian viewpoint of science though. I realize not all Christians deny the evidence of science. I was a Christian once but still held much of the same scientific viewpoints I do today. I've always felt that science was a far better way to explain the world around us than the fairy tales in the OT.

And OH YES! I have read Lee Stobel's book Case for the Creator. It's full of pseudoscience, misrepresentations of science and misunderstood science. Far too many complaints to get started in this response. Suffice it to say his case falls flat to anyone but an established believer. If someone is looking for confirmation of their faith its a great book. If you're searching for the truth stay away.

drkenney said...

Rob,

I realize that whatever I say here you will have a dismissive answer...

How did Job know the truth of Job 26:7...that the earth hangs on nothing? Lucky guess?

What about all the standards of sanitation in the Levitical system?

What about the laws of thermodynamics being inline with creationism but in direct contradiction to evolution?

How did Noah know the correct dimensions for the ark? Dimensions the military used to created ships that were viewed as basically unsinkable?

I do not deny that science has been able to explain many things about the world around us. I often tell people that the Bible is not a book of science, but when it speaks on scientific matters it does so accurately. This has been demonstrated repeatedly; eg, Matthew Fontaine Murray.

If I recall, didn't Darwin say that if the cell was proven to be a complex rather than simple organism that his theory fell apart? I doubt that Darwin, if he knew then what we know now, would cling to evolution. To me, the fact that intelligent design has taken root in the scientific community shows that not everyone is absolute in the conclusions you are making.

What about Anthony Flew who stated he can no longer deny the design manifested in the human genome and that he is no longer an atheist?

What do you think of this quote--"In this age of space flight, when we use the modern tools of science to advance into new regions of human activity, the Bible--this grandiouse, stirring history of the gradual revelation and unfolding of the moral law--remains in every way an up-to-date book." Wernher Magnus Maximillan von Braun (1912-1977), father of the American space program.

Other examples of intelligent faithful scientist who hold to God and the Bible could be cited. Again, I think there is far more room for a greater degree of uncertainity than your abosultism on this matter (to say the very least).

You say that scientist who deny evolution are "any scientist who denies evolution is either ignorant of the evidence or simply deluded." Would that include these--http://www.christiananswers.net/creation/people/home.html

I was not citing numbers of people who believe something as evidence of its validity. What I was mentioning that the survival of the great number of NT manuscripts agains all odds of being destroyed show that these were held in high regard. There are more copies of ancient NT manuscripts than any other document in antiquity--FAR MORE. To me, this is a demonstration to their importance.

In your response you may have overlooked one of my questions-- I am not familiar with Bart Ehrman. I am not sure if you are the same writer as "Anonymous" who posted before or not so I'll ask you (or both of you) this. I don't rely on Wikipedia without trying to verify the information. Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of him--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bart_D._Ehrman ?

Thanks for taking the time to write.