Evidence of Christianity?

To: [....]
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: Evidence for Christianity
X-Attachments: C:\TEMP\ANKRBERG.HTM;

Dear friends, 

  Some time ago a Christian friend forwarded to me, with copies
to some other Christian friends of mine, an excerpt from an
article at <http://www.ankerberg.com/>, called "The Quality of
Evidence for the Truth of Christianity."  I had already written
briefly about evidence (as it pertains to questions of religious
historicity) in an article that was published in the January
issue of "The Skeptical Review", at
<http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/98/1/> under the
title "The Man With No Heart."

  I responded to my friend - he is good about disseminating
material, but not very good about responding to arguments -
saying that I would send him my response to the Ankerberg's
article if I could expect a response from him to my criticisms of
it.  He did not reply, but two others to whom he had sent the
article did volunteer rebuttals to my critique.  Because of their
courtesy, I am writing this evaluation of Ankerberg's article.  I
must apologize for its length, but I did not want to neglect any
of Ankerberg's main points.

  Rather than repeat the entire article here, I have attached it
in its original .HTM format.  Although my friend only sent me an
excerpt, I will deal with the entire part of the article that
discusses the evidence for Christianity (the first part of
Ankerberg's article deals with other matters).  

  I agree wholeheartedly with Ankerberg's initials premises,
which I will summarize:

  - If Christianity is God's religion, we can expect superior
evidence of its truth.   - The truth of Christianity must rest
"squarely on certain historical facts, open to ordinary
investigation"...   - ...based on a "jurisprudential approach"
using "legal standards of evidence" which have developed "as
essential means of resolving the most intractable disputes in
society."   - [if God exists,] God "desires men to find him."

  My agreement with Ankerberg (and the Christian apologists whom
he quotes in support of his statements) is based on my own
training and experience in American and English law, and the laws
of evidence as used in all English-speaking jurisdictions.  (I am
a lawyer by training.  I also did graduate studies in ancient
literature and linguistics.)

  From that point on, however, Ankerberg begins to be in trouble
with the principles he outlined above, both the principles of
legal evidence and the principles of logical argument.

  He argues that the place to start, in examining the evidence
for the truth of various religions, is with Christianity, because
no other religion has "sustainable evidence" in its favor.  Not
only is the term "sustainable evidence" meaningless, either in
legal or logical terms, but his statement is a fallacious begging
of the question.  No matter - I am perfectly willing to begin
with Christianity.

  Ankerberg cites the following as evidence of the truth of "the
Bible and the Christianity based on it" (already making an
unwarranted conclusion which he has not yet established: that
Christianity is the only and necessary religion derived from the

  - accurate and detailed prophecy in the Bible
  - scientific knowledge in the Bible as verified by later
scientific knowledge   
  - historical accuracy of the Bible as verified by later
historical research   
  - archaeological accuracy
  - philosophical and logical consistency
  - lack of internal contradiction despite multiple authorship

  My comments:

  PROPHECY:  Ankerberg discusses prophecy later in the article,
and I will delay my comments until then.

  SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE:  Ankerberg does not say what scientific
knowledge he is referring to here.  Most Christian apologists
acknowledge that the Bible must be forgiven great lapses in
scientific accuracy:  the age of the universe, the order of
creation of the universe (earth before stars), the geocentric
view, the contradictory order of creation of plants and animals
as described in Genesis, the causes of disease... to mention only
a few out of hundreds.  This is not the kind of scientific
knowledge which lends great weight to the evidence for the
scientific accuracy of the Bible.  For most people, the
scientific statements in the Bible indicate its origin in a
primitive, non-scientific mind, not in the mind of God.

objection applies to both):  Although there is much historically
accurate information in the Bible, it cannot claim to be more
accurate than many other ancient records which make no claim to
divine origin.  And the Bible's accuracy in history and
archaeology is not perfect.  It contradicts itself frequently in
many facts; many of its historical statements are absurd and
unverified; and archaeology has contradicted a significant number
of its statements.  For examples (of many), consider the plagues
of Egypt, the presence of two million people in Sinai for forty
years, the destruction of Ai, the massacre of the innocents by
Herod, the contradictions in the censuses and genealogies, the
impossible increase in the number of Israelites during the
relatively brief time in Egypt, the mass emptying of the graves
of Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, and many others. 
None of these have been confirmed, and many have been
contradicted, by historical and archaeological evidence.  I am
aware that Christian apologists have explanations for all these
(and other) apparent inaccuracies, but the mere fact that they
must be explained at all is weighty testimony that the evidence
is not the "superior evidence" that Ankerberg promised us.

  Even if the Bible's historical record - of kings' reigns,
battles, movements of peoples, etc., were accurate, and all the
places could be positively identified by archaeology, that is NOT
evidence that the miraculous events upon which Christianity is
based (e.g., the resurrection) actually occurred.  There is no
reason to accept the discovery of Lazarus' tomb or the City of Ur
as evidence that Lazarus rose from the dead or that Abraham was
visited by an angel of Jehovah.  Let me illustrate.

  If you visit Palmyra, New York, you will be shown the actual
grove where Joseph Smith had the vision of God the Father and God
the Son.  You will see the very Hill Cumorah where the Golden
Plates were buried, and the very bedroom in which Moroni appeared
to the Mormon Prophet.  These places have been identified
archaeologically and historically with close to 100% accuracy. 
Is that fact acceptable evidence to you that the events Smith
described actually occurred?  I think not.  Why not?  The
archaeological and historical evidence is exactly the same, or
even better, than the archaeological and historical evidence of
the Biblical events which are the basis for Christianity, and, I
submit, of just as little relevance.

  In other words, the historical and archaeological evidence for
the Bible's accuracy cannot, by its very nature, substantiate the
truth of any religion founded on it.  It is not the historically
verified fact that Pilate was procurator which is the basis for
Christianity, but the claim that Jesus rose from the dead and
ascended to heaven.

  The fallacy in the Christian claims which are based on this
assertion is an inversion of a valid objection to the Book of
Mormon:  there is no historical or archaeological substantiation
for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, therefore the Book of
Mormon must be false (a logically valid statement).  There ARE
evidences for the accuracy of some Biblical historical
statements, therefore the Bible (and all that it states) is true
(a logically fallacious statement).

  Although Ankerberg does not say this, I have heard other
Christian apologists say, "Much of the Bible has been proven
historically accurate, so therefore we can assume that it is 100%
accurate [including its absurd and miraculous elements]."  This
is a perversion of a very valid rule of evidence, namely, that we
may assume that a witness whose testimony is found false in any
one material matter may also be false in other parts, and we are
justified in discounting his testimony.  The rule as fallaciously
formulated by Christians seems to be that if the testimony is
true in some particulars, then we can assume that it is entirely
true.  If the logical absurdity of that formulation is not
obvious to you, then you and I are using different kinds of
thinking mechanisms.

  Because this kind of argument is so prevalent among Christian
apologists, let me illustrate with a hypothetical example. 
Suppose we have an ancient text, a chronicle of the kingdom of
Glog.  It lists the kings of Glog, the lengths of their reigns,
their wars with neighboring nations, the building of their
cities, over a period of several hundreds of years.  From the
chronicles of neighboring nations and from examining of
archaeological remains we are able to confirm some of these
mundane facts.  We are justified, then, in assuming that other,
similar, still unconfirmed statements are likely accurate.

  However, the chronicle also states that king Blik II of Glog,
in a war with the king of Moog, slew with his own hand, with no
aid from anyone else, between sun-up and sun-down, 50,000 Moogian
warriors.  Should we doubt the accuracy of that statement?  Of
course!  Even in light of the accuracy of other events which have
been confirmed from independent sources?  From our knowledge of
warfare we know that this is a physical impossibility.  We also
know that such "tall tales" are often invented to enhance the
fame of historical figures.  Of course we should doubt it.  We
should disbelieve it.  Would it help us to accept the story as
true if we were told that king Blik was aided in this superhuman
feat by the appearance of the great god Gamion?  No, that would
simply convince us that this event is a fictional exaggeration. 
Suppose this chronicle were offered to you as evidence of the
existence and power of the god Gamion.  Would you accept it then? 
I doubt it.  Then why should we accept similar tall tales in the
Bible as evidence of the existence and power of Jehovah?

  Suppose the chronicle also says that king Blik was so exhausted
that he died, and his body was embalmed and placed in its tomb,
but that, with ten thousand Glogians watching in awe, a host of a
thousand divine messengers descended from the sky, riding winged
elephants, and carried his body to heaven in a great light. 
Would you have the temerity to doubt the accuracy of that
account?  Even in light of the accuracy of other events which
have been confirmed from independent sources?  I would hope so! 
And yet Christians accept similar Bible tales because the Bible
contains other historically confirmed events.

  CONSISTENCY (Ankerberg lists consistency and lack of
contradiction as two items; I fail to see the difference, so I
will treat them together):  Here, again, the Christian apologist
makes the mistake of taking the reverse of a valid rule of
evidence and creating a new (but invalid) rule.  A valid rule of
evidence is that contradiction indicates falsity (or: lack of
consistency indicates falsity).  The reverse of that statement
(consistency indicates truth) is NOT a valid rule of evidence.  I
have some personal experience dealing with witnesses at trial who
told very complex stories that were very consistent. 
Nevertheless, the witnesses were lying.  The valid rule of
evidence, as I stated it above (contradiction indicates falsity),
is put to use with such lying witnesses by trying to get them to
make more and more statements in the hope that they contradict
themselves.  It is their contradiction that proves them to be
liars.  And only a few contradictions are enough to show that
they are lying.  If you cannot make them contradict themselves,
it does not prove they are telling the truth.  It only shows that
you have been unable to unmask them as liars.  In other words,
consistency in the Bible would not prove its truth.

  However, contradictions in the Bible would certainly indicate
its falsity.  This is even a test sanctioned by the Bible itself
(Mark 14:59).  And the Bible is full of contradictions -
numerical, genealogical, factual, and doctrinal.  Many of the
contradictions are not trivial, but deal with the basic claims
and doctrines of Christianity.  If there were no contradictions
and inconsistencies, as Ankerberg asserts, and if the Bible tells
a single, unified and obvious message, which should be clear to
any open-minded reader, then why, one may ask, is it necessary
for Christian apologists to write so many books that try to
explain the apparent contradictions?  There are dozens of such
books, listing thousands of apparent contradictions.  And why,
one may also ask, are there so many different interpretations of
Biblical statements, giving rise to hundreds of different
Christian sects?  Christianity itself refutes Ankerberg's claim
that that Bible's message is consistent and non-contradictory.


  Ankerberg selects two "lines of evidence" to support
Christianity:  prophecy and the resurrection.  He claims that
these two areas of evidence "meet the burden of proof necessary
to say 'This religion alone is fully true.'"  Let us turn to this


  A threshold objection is that even if several prophecies
reported in the Bible were verified, there is no logical reason
to conclude that the entire collection of Biblical books is of
divine origin.  If I found a record of a verified prophecy in a
book in the county library, that would not be grounds for
assuming that every book in the county library is divine. 
Ankerberg is arguing by assuming the conclusion (which is a
common fallacy among Christian apologists, namely, begging the
question):  the canon of the Bible is divinely inspired,
therefore if one book can be proven divine (or one event, or one
prophecy), that is evidence that the entire collection is divine. 

  Ankerberg also makes the false assertion that the only basis
possible for objecting to the validity of the Bible's prophecies
is a "philosophical (anti-supernatural) bias."  This is not an
accurate charge.  Although I can't presume to speak for all who
do not accept the validity of the Bible's prophecies, I'm sure I
speak for many when I say that I have no problem with recognizing
a truly valid prophecy, if there are any.  However, every
prophecy suggested by Christians (and other alleged prophecies)
fails to fulfill the criteria for what a valid prophecy should
look like.  The following criteria would seem to be fairly

  A valid prophecy, it seems, would:

  - be uttered in such a way that its meaning is clearly intended
as a prophecy of the future; 

  - be verifiable beyond reasonable doubt as to the time of its
utterance (i.e. before the events which are claimed to be its

  - be specific enough and unusual enough that its alleged
fulfillment could not have been reasonably guessed;

  - have some non-trivial purpose;

  - (especially if prophesying of more than one event) be
fulfilled in every particular by verifiable events.

  The problem for most of us critics of Bible prophecy is that we
have yet to have any Biblical prophecy confirmed as fulfilling
all those criteria.  Furthermore, Bible apologists seem to ignore
the many prophecies in the Bible which were NOT fulfilled, and
which cannot now be fulfilled.  As to unfulfilled prophecies,
apologists often suggest that "God's time is not man's time," and
that "someday" every prophecy will be fulfilled.  Not only is
that suggestion inapplicable to many unfulfilled prophecies,
which prophesied concerning people and places which no longer
exist, but it also allows every false prophet (like Joseph Smith,
for example) to claim the same courtesy of "wait and see"
regarding his own false prophecies.  To ask for validating
evidence (and to reject evidence which is not valid) is not anti-
supernatural bias, as Ankerberg suggests.  That is simply good
sense and good method.

  Ankerberg lists (but does not attempt to validate) the
following alleged prophecies, as evidence of the divine nature of
the Bible:

  - Isaiah 44:28-45:6, prophesying of Cyrus
  - Isaiah 9:6, 53:1-12, prophesying of the "specific nature and
death of the Messiah"   
  - Isaiah 39:5-7, the Babylonian captivity
  - Deuteronomy 28:64-66, a "1400 BC" prophecy which "hints at"
the Captivity   
  - Daniel's prophecies of the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman
empires, which are prophesied "so clearly" that critics are
"forced" to date the book in 165 BC, "against all the evidence."  
  - I Kings 13:1-2, prophecy of King Josiah
  - Micah 5:2, prophecy of the birthplace of Jesus

  None of these listed prophecies satisfies the criteria for a
valid prophecy.  I will discuss each only briefly, and refer the
reader to the generally accepted reference works on the Bible for
details of the evidence *against* Ankerberg's acceptance of these
prophecies as valid, such as The Interpreters' Bible, The Anchor
Bible, Funk & Wagnall's New Concise Dictionary of the Bible, or
any general encyclopedia, such as Brittanica or Americana - all
of whose articles on these biblical topics, by the way, are
written by Christian scholars of the highest reputation.  The
primary problem with all of these prophecies is establishing an
accurate dating.  In no case is there documentary evidence of the
date of their first writing.

  Isaiah 9:6-7 prophesies of a future king who would sit on the
throne of David and rule Israel.  Jesus never sat on a throne nor
did he reign over Israel.  This prophecy was thus not fulfilled
in Jesus.  

  The later chapters of Isaiah, cited above, are overwhelmingly
dated as post-exile, and not simply because they speak of the
exile, but based on other evidence as well.  The events they
"prophesy" had already occurred or were then occurring.  Can
Ankerberg (or anyone) establish conclusively that Deutero-Isaiah
was written before the Captivity?  No, he cannot.

  Deuteronomy and Kings are dated by most scholars as post-
Josiah, based on extensive internal evidence.  Can anyone
establish conclusively that they were written so much earlier? 
No, they cannot.

  Daniel, as Ankerberg points out, is dated by most scholars at
around 165 BC, but not, as he suggests, "against all the
evidence," but rather *based* on the evidence.  It is Ankerberg
and his fellow believers who ignore the evidence, not only the
evidence which shows the 165 BC dating to be accurate to within a
year or two, but also the evidence which shows that the author of
Daniel was totally unfamiliar with affairs in sixth century
Babylon.  An excellent summary of the evidence for the 165 BC
dating is at <http://www.danielprophecy.com/chap2.htm>.

  With all of the above Old Testament books mentioned above, we
have the same question:  what is the more likely explanation for
these apparently fulfilled prophecies?  In light of the fact that
they cannot be dated with any degree of certainty before the
events which are claimed to be the fulfillment, is it more likely
that 1) a miraculous prophecy has been fulfilled? or 2) pious
writers or editors have been at work to lend credence to their
own faith by attributing their writing to earlier prophets?  

  Should we be skeptical?  Of course we should.  Let me
illustrate:  I have in my possession a copy of a letter which my
great-grandfather wrote in 1899.  He claimed that he was a
prophet of God.  In that letter he prophesied that within a
hundred years a man named Clinton would be the President of the
United States, as well as many other events which perfectly
describe America in the 1990's.  In the same letter he outlined
God's wishes for what the human race should do in order to please
God.  By the way, the original letter has been lost, but I have a
typed copy.  It was also my great-grandfather's wish that no one
know of his prophecy until it had been fulfilled (as it now has
been, miraculously).  Do you accept my great-grandfather as a
prophet?  If not, why not?

  If you answer that his prophecy is not in the biblical canon,
then you are arguing in a circle.  Ankerberg's (and, generally,
Christians') reason for accepting Isaiah's prophecies is not
because they are in the canon, but because they were valid
prophecies that were fulfilled.  And that is also the reason,
presumably, why they are in the canon.  After all, when Isaiah
supposedly made the prophecies there was no canon, and yet they
are claimed to be valid prophecies, their validity arising at the
time they were made, not centuries later when they were admitted
into the canon.

  You do not accept my great-grandfather's prophecy as valid for
a very good reason:  it is too obvious, with no tangible proof of
the 1899 letter, that there was no such prophecy made in 1899. 
It is simply too easy to create an 1899 "prophecy" in 1998 and
say that the original has been lost.  And that is very likely
what happened in the case of the Old Testament prophecies
mentioned above.  We would be abrogating our critical judgment to
make any other conclusion based on the evidence that has been

  As to the Micah prophecy (5:2), Ankerberg is very careless in
his reference to this.  It is not given as a prophecy of "the
very birthplace of Jesus," as Ankerberg says, but is rather a
prophecy that from "Bethlehem-Ephratah" will "come forth" one who
will be "ruler in Israel."  This cannot be taken to be more than
a prophecy that the future king of Israel will be of the same
tribe as David (David was from the clan/town Bethlehem).  It says
nothing about a birthplace.  And of course it says nothing about
Jesus.  The suspicion is justifiable that Matthew and Luke,
knowing of this prophecy, simply reported Jesus' birth in
Bethlehem in order to "fulfill" the prophecy.  Since that would
be a very natural explanation, it is the burden of those claiming
miraculous prophecy fulfillment to negate that possibility

  Also, those who tout this passage as a prophecy of Jesus are
committing the same kind of reversal that has been pointed out
above:  at most, the passage sets up a minimum requirement for
the Messiah, namely, he must come from Bethlehem-Ephratah.  If
someone claims to come from someplace else, we could say that he
is definitely not the Messiah.  But that cannot mean that anybody
who DOES come from Bethlehem IS the Messiah!


  The "historical resurrection of Christ" is the second area of
evidence which Ankerberg selects.  He begins with an assertion
which I have diffulty understanding - not a difficulty in
agreeing with it, but in simply understanding what he is saying: 
"...the historical resurrection of Christ cannot logically be
doubted..."  Does this mean that the resurrection is logical?  He
fails to say how.  Does it mean that one who doubts it is not
logical?  That doubt is illogical?  

  Let us examine Ankerberg's presentation of the evidence.  He
says (I paraphrase):

  - New Testament documents have been shown to be reliable;
  - New Testament writers have never been proven dishonest or
  - Jesus claimed to be God, acted like God, and performed many
miracles, including his resurrection;   
  - The resurrection is minutely described in each Gospel;
  - The resurrection has never been disproved;
  - Rejection of the resurrection as an impossible miracle is
possible only if you define a miracle as impossible; a miracle
must be judged on the cumulative weight of the evidence for it;  
  - In a two-day debate, advocates for the resurrection won the
  - Early Christians believed in the resurrection; it was
essential to Christianity;   
  - A retired clergyman who lost his faith in the resurrection
committed suicide.

  Ankerberg then draws some conclusions from what he feels he has
proved, which I will discuss later.  I will now discuss each of
these "evidences" for the historicity of the resurrection.


  That this kind of general statement is not evidence for any
particular particular event, especially any supernatural event,
has been shown above.  We may well be willing to accept the fact
that the Gospels are sufficient evidence to prove that Jesus of
Nazareth preached in Palestine and was executed (even though in
relating the precise details, the Gospels are extremely
contradictory of each other).  But any reliability in
establishing the occurrence of ordinary events cannot be used as
evidence to establish the actual occurrence of an event so
extraordinary as the rising of someone from the dead.


  On the contrary, there is a great deal of evidence to show that
the Gospel writers wrote much that is fiction (perhaps with pious
intent, but still fictional; see the excellent recent book by
Randel Helms, "Gospel Fictions"), that some of the epistles are
forgeries (i.e., not written by those disciples whose names
appear on them), and to say that they were not deceived is to beg
the question.  Only by proving that the resurrection did in fact
occur can one say that they were not deceived in believing that
it did.  ("Begging the Question" is a favorite Christian
apologetic tactic, I have noticed.  I sometimes wonder if it is
not a semester-long course at evangelical theology schools: 
'Begging the Question 101')


  Claiming something and acting "as if" cannot reasonably
accepted as evidence.  At best, the reverse could be taken as
negative evidence:  we would know he was not divine if he did not
act divine.  However, to take the reverse of that is fallacious. 
That would mean that I can offer as evidence of my own divinity
the fact that I claim to be God and act as if I am God?  I
scarcely think so.  The famous Emperor Norton of 19th century San
Francisco claimed he was Emperor of the United States and Mexico. 
He behaved consistently with that claim, and the San Franciscans
humored him.  Does that prove that he was really Emperor?  No. 
He was insane.  Jesus may have thought that he was the Messiah,
the promised King who would save the Jews.  Perhaps he was also
insane.  That is certainly a more likely explanation of his
behavior than to say he really must have been God.


  This evidence - the reports in the Gospels - is, in fact, the
very best evidence available for the Resurrection.  All other
evidences - as I have shown or will show - are irrelevant,
immaterial, or illogical when viewed by the very rules of
evidence which Ankerberg insists on applying to them (and with
which I agree).  Therefore I will discuss this evidence more
thoroughly, because ultimately it, too, fails as evidence.

  It is often claimed that the Gospel authors were "eye-
witnesses" to the resurrection.  Simply reading their reports
shows that the authors themselves were not eye-witnesses.  Their
reports show on their face that they are reporting events based
on what they have been told by others who, at best, were
*perhaps* eye-witnesses.  In fact, the Gospel authors do not
indicate the sources for their information.  It is only hopeful
Christian apologists who assume that they "must" have gotten
their information from eye-witnesses.  Where else?  Since it has
been generally accepted that the Gospels were written several
decades after the events, they can have been based on anything
ranging from eye-witness written accounts (now lost) through eye-
witness oral accounts to tenth-hand accounts to pious legends
that had developed in the intervening years.

  Ankerberg claims too much when he says that "the resurrection"
is described in the Gospels.  The crucifixion is described, and
the burial, and the discovery of the empty tomb.  Various
sightings of Jesus after his entombment, and conversations with
him, are described.  But not the actual resurrection.  No one
describes that.

  The most striking thing about the minute detail in the four
accounts is that all the details differ!  They contradict each
other in their minute details and in their major details.  They
are contradictory in the times, the places, the people present,
the chronology of the events, the statements made, the reactions
of those involved.  Whereas in other arguments Christian
apologists insist that historical accuracy shows authenticity,
here, where the accuracy is very suspect, Christian apologists
usually say that it doesn't matter - it's still true.  The usual
arguments in explaining the discrepancies are that each author
emphasized his own "point of view."  No, that is not a valid
explanation.  Even Mark says (Mark 14:56) that witnesses whose
stories don't agree are false.  

  Mark is right:  witnesses testifying to the same events but
whose stories differ in details cannot be accepted.  All but one
must either be mistaken, deceived or lying, and perhaps they all
are.  We are not talking here about the often used example of
multiple witnesses to an automobile accident, some of whom see
one thing, and some of whom see something else.  We are talking
here of writers who clearly intend to tell the whole story, and,
furthermore, writers who are claimed to be inspired by God. 
Christians tell us that these writers are writing God's book, the
message that God wants us to hear in order to save our souls. 
How can it contain contradictions between its various versions?

  We do not even know with certainty who these Gospel writers
were.  We cannot be sure that the versions of their stories are
exactly the way they wrote them (there are no autographs extant,
and there is reason to suspect that the Gospels may have been
edited and altered in important features in the 4th century; our
earliest relatively complete manuscripts are from the fourth
century, three hundred years [!] after the events).

  Thus, the very best evidence for the resurrection is by no
means as conclusive as Ankerberg suggests.  None of the Gospels
would be accepted as evidence in any civil court.


  A statement like this can only be made by someone who has
absolutely no notion of the rules of evidence, of logic, or of
the scientific method.  The burden of proof is on the proponents
of the resurrection to prove that it occurred.  The fact that
some assertion has "never been disproved" has absolutely NO
weight as evidence.


  I agree that one should not reject evidence of a miracle simply
by arguing that miracles are impossible.  I discussed the problem
above.  I for one do not reject miracles as impossible.  I simply
wish to see sufficient evidence to prove that one happened. 
Until that evidence appears, I feel morally and intellectually
obligated to reject the claim of the miracle.  I suspect that
Christians would take the same attitude to claims of miracles
offered by believers in any non-Christian religion as evidence of
the truth of their religion.

  However, "cumulative evidence" will not necessarily help to
prove a miracle.  A mass of relatively weak evidence, especially
when all of it is circumstantial, is not persuasive when faced
with the burden of convincing us that something so unusual as a
resurrection has occurred.  And most of the evidence as presented
in support of the resurrection is not acceptable evidence at all. 
Mathematically, 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 still equals 0.


  This is not evidence.  It is cheerleading:  Our side won a
game!  Rah! Rah!


  This is not evidence that the resurrection actually occurred. 
What people believed - or even what they were willing to die for -
 is not evidence that what they believed was true.  Christians
who use this argument seem to believe that no one has ever been
mistaken about a religious belief, or that no one has ever given
his life for something that was not true.  Most Christians do not
accept the martyrdom of hundreds of early Gnostics at the hands
of the Christian authorities as evidence of the truth of Gnostic
beliefs, for example.


  This is very sad, but I cannot see how it proves that the
resurrection occurred.


  Ankerberg concludes with some final arguments, of which I shall
only deal with one, simply because Christian apologists seem to
make much of it:  Christianity is unique.

  Of course it is unique.  Every religion is unique.  How could
this be evidence of its truth?  But at the same time,
Christianity is much like many other religions.  So it is not
that unique at all.  This is non-evidence, a non-argument.


  Ankerberg's article does not really discuss and evaluate the
evidence for the resurrection.  It is not intended to convince
anyone who is not already convinced.  It is cheerleading. 
Sermonizing.  Like much Christian apologetic writing, it simply
ignores the weighty scholarship which disproves its claims.  It
ignores it with such self-serving statements as "The resurrection
has never been disproven!"  "Scholars have tried to disprove the
Bible's validity as God's word, but have failed!"  Says who?  The
countless honest, rational, thinking people who have examined the
Bible's and Christianity's claims, and not accepted them, would
disagree that those claims have not been disproven.  Countless
Christians have examined those claims and found them disproven,
and left their Christian beliefs behind.  To these people, the
claims of the resurrection have been disproven.

  Christian apologists such as Ankerberg, who insist on the
ability of Christianity's claims to stand up under examination
using accepted rules of history, evidence and logic would do well
to reexamine what those rules are.  They do not seem to be very
familiar with them at first hand.

Richard Packham

To: John F.
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: Re: Evidence for Christianity

[quotations to which response is being made begin with the ">"

Dear John,

  Thank you for taking the time to comment on my objections to
John Ankerberg's article on the "Quality of the Evidence for
Christianity."  My responses are interspersed with your comments

  I am sending by bcc your comments and my responses to each of
the people to whom I sent my original rebuttal.  I will do the
same for any other comments I get.

>At 04:46 PM 7/1/98 -0400, you wrote:
> Have you sent Ankergerg your comments?

  Yes, to <atri@ankerberg.com>, but I have not received any

>    Just skimming through I quickly I noted one glaring error. 
>The original room and the cabin that Smith  allegedly was in
>the angel Moroni visited him is long gone. I know for sure that
>it has not been there since 1975 when I first got interested in
>Mormonism.  I don't have a date for when it was gone.  A replica
>was just built on the supposed site late in 1997 and early 1998.

>My wife and I visited it abut 2 months ago.

  Well, my face is very red.  Thank you for that information.  I
feel like the devout Christian lady who had visited Jerusalem and
seen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but who later found out
that that isn't necessarily the place where Jesus was buried.

  Even though I used a factually incorrect example, I think my
point is still correct (and I could give other examples, if you
like):  archaeology cannot prove a miraculous claim.  You would
not accept archaeological evidence as proof of Joseph Smith's
claims of the appearance of God or angels.  Why should Biblical
archaeological evidence be accepted as evidence of miraculous

>    You dispute the historical and archaeological accuracy of
the >Bible and provide no references to support what you say. I
agree though,  >that even if  there was >100% support for these
items it would not prove the miraculous >events. 

  That's my point, and I'm glad you agree.  Ankerberg does not
seem to see that.

  As to references, any standard Biblical reference work will
refer you to the sources:  look up "Ai,"  "Jericho,"  "Sinai," 
look for historical corroboration of the plagues of Egypt or the
parting of the Red Sea (or the Reed Sea) - 

>But they do add credence.  

  No, they do not and cannot add credence.  They are not evidence
of what the claims are claiming.  It is in the very nature of
archaeological and historical evidence that it cannot in any way
substantiate a miraculous claim.  I think you are perhaps falling
again into the fallacious thinking, that if absence of any
archaeological or historical evidence shows falsity, then the
presence of such evidence tends to show truth.  Explain to me
exactly how the archaeological discovery of the very tomb in
which Jesus was laid, and the authentication of the shroud, etc.,
would be evidence that Jesus was resurrected.  When you do that,
I will be able to show you that the exact identification of the
spot in the sacred grove where Joseph Smith knelt, and the very
spot where God and Jesus stood during the vision will prove the
authenticity of Josephs Smith's first vision claim.

>Dr. Norman L. Geisler makes
>your point in his book, "Christian Apologetics." I suggest you
>read chapters 16-17 of this book.  He gives a good defense of
>    You dispute some of the miracles as if they were impossible
>but you provide none of the logic to make your point, like
>population growth of the Hebrews in Egypt.  

  I didn't really think I needed to explain how many of the
miraculous events in the Bible are impossible.  I thought that
Christians called them miracles precisely because they are
impossible under the ordinary everyday understanding of how
things work.  If they weren't impossible, they wouldn't be
miracles, would they?

  As to the population growth in Egypt, from the time Jacob's
family went there until the conquest of Canaan, consider the

  The population of Israel at the time of the Conquest must have
been two to three million (Ex 12:37, Num 1:45-46).  They had all
descended in about four generations from 70 (or 75) individuals
(Ex 6:16-20) who had gone to Egypt.  This rate of population
increase is impossible for that time, requiring an annual rate of
increase of over two percent - a rate which never was even
approached until modern times, and then only in highly
technological cultures (see references cited by John C. Kunich in
"Multiply Exceedingly," _New Approaches to the Book of Mormon_
pp. 240-243).

  Dan had one son (Gen 46:23), but three generations later there
are 62,700 Danites of military age (Num 1:39; Num 26:43 gives the
number as 64,400). 

  Levi's descendants: three sons, first generation (Gen 46:11, Ex
6:16); eight grandsons, second generation (Ex 6:17-19); eight (or
a few more) great-grandsons, third generation.  The fourth
generation numbers 8580 males (Num 4:34-48).

  I suppose I should have included this kind of substantiation,
but I did not want to make my article even longer, and I assumed
that everyone was aware of this problem with the miraculous
growth in population size.

>And you don't give
>the biblical chapter and verse you are disputing. This then
>it easier for you to perhaps erect a straw man that is then easy
>to tear down.  I am not saying you did this, but you have not
>left a trail that can be checked and examined.
>    Under the scientific area you dispute in a general way, but
>do not even quote the chapter and verse in the Bible you say is
>wrong.  You are condemning put are not specific enough.

  I was objecting to Ankerberg's claim of biblical accuracy in
scientific matters, which he did also not substantiate by citing
chapter and verse.  I am happy to provide you something of a list
(which does not include any alleged miracles, which are also, by
definition, contrary to science as we now understand it):

All of the following assertions made in the Bible are
scientifically false or impossible:

  - The earth is the center of the solar system.  See any good
Bible reference work under "Hebrew Cosmology"; that this was
considered dogma by all good Christians - assumedly based on the
authority of the Bible, remember the words of Cardinal Bellarmine
(1615, during the trial of Galileo):  "To assert that the earth
revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus
was not born of a virgin."

  - Earth is about 6000 years old, as calculated from the
genealogies in Gen and Luke 3.

  - Earth was created in seven days (Gen 1).

  - Earth rests on the seas (Ps 24:2).

  - Sun and stars were created after the earth was created (Gen

  - There was "night" and "day" and "light" on the earth before
sun was created (Gen 1:3-5, 14-18).

  - Plant life existed before sunlight existed (Gen 1:11-18).

  - Birds were created before land animals (Gen 1:20, 24).

  - Heaven is above, earth below (Jer 10:11, 31:37, 1 Thess 4:16-

  - The sky is solid, a "firmament" (Gen 1:6, Job 22:14, Isa
40:22).  It has windows through which the rain falls (Gen 7:11).

  - Earth has four corners, floating on water (Isa 11:12, Ps
24:2, 136:6, Rev 7:1).

  - Earth is a circular disk (Isa 40:22).

  - Earth is flat (Dan 4:10-11, Zech 9:10, Matt 4:8).

  - Earth does not move (Ps 93:1, 96:10, 104:5, 1 Chr 16:30).

  - Death or illness is a punishment for sin (Gen 2:17, Lev
26:16, 21, 25, Deut 7:15, 28:21, 27, James 1:15).

  - Disease and mental illness are caused by an "evil spirit" or
"possession" (Mark 1:21-34, 2:6-9, 1 Sam 16:23, 18:10, 19:9).

  - Leprosy can be cured by following the instructions in Lev 13,

  - Seed must "die" before it grows (John 12:24, 1 Cor 15:36).

  - Snakes eat dust (Gen 3:14, Isa 65:25).

  - Every beast shall fear man (Gen 9:2). 

  - The ostrich abandons her eggs (Job 39:13-16).

  - A river divides into four rivers and they flow in different
directions (Gen 2:10).

  - There was no rainbow before Noah's time (Gen 9:11-17).

  - Thunder is God's voice (Ps 77:18).

  - Earthquakes are caused by God's anger (Job 9:5, Ps 18:7,
77:18, 97:4, Isa 2:19, 24:20, 29:6, Jer 10:10, Ezek 38:20, Nah
1:5).  Or by his voice (Heb 12:26).  Or by Lucifer (Isa 14:16).

  - Earthquakes can occur in heaven (Heb 12:26).

  - Rainwater does not return to the sky (Isa 55:10).

  - Blood is "life" (Deut 12:23).  Breath is "life" (Gen 2:7).

  - Value of pi = 3 (1 Kings 7:23, 2 Chron 4:2).

  - Moon will turn to blood (Acts 2:20).

  - The moon has a light of its own (Isa 13:10, Matt 24:29).

  - The stars can be made to fall (Matt 24:29, Mark 13:25).

  - The bat is a bird (Lev 11:13,19, Deut 14:11, 18).

  - The whale is a fish (Jonah 1:17, Matt 12:40).

  - Whales were created before insects (Gen 1:21-24).

  - Jonah is able to survive three days and nights in the belly
of the fish without oxygen and without being digested (Jonah
1:17, 2:10).

  - The hare chews the cud (Lev 11:5-6).

  - Some fowl and insects have four legs (Lev 11:20-23).

  - Levi existed as a person in the loins of his great-
grandfather (Heb 7:9-10).

  - Cattle will produce striped offspring if they see striped
poles when breeding (Gen 30:37-41).

  - Bees will build a hive in a dead carcass (Judg 14:8).

  - Eagles will be attracted by a dead carcass (Matt 24:28).  

  - Salt can lose its saltiness (Matt 5:13, Mark 9:50, Luke

  - Jesus expects the fig tree to bear fruit at Passover
(March/April), when it cannot do so in Palestine until May (Matt
21:19-21, Mark 11:13-21).

  - A good tree always produces good fruit, a corrupt tree cannot
(Matt 7:17-20).

  I realize that Christians explain away all these false notions
as being 1) figurative or metaphorical, or 2) merely an
expression of the imperfect human knowledge of the time.  But
they don't seem to have been understood merely metaphorically by
Christians until modern science proved them wrong, and what is
imperfect human knowledge doing in a book that is supposed to be
from God.  Are these statements really the kind of superior
evidence for divine origin that Ankerberg promised us?

  Christians also say that the Bible is not "intended as a
textbook of science."  Perhaps not, but can't one expect that a
divine book, when it makes a statement of scientific fact, be
correct and not misleading?  Ankerberg's assertion was that it's
scientific statements "demonstrated scientific knowledge"
generally unknown at the time of its writing.  Hardly!

> In your example with the King of Moog, if the culture allowed
the >king to take credit for what his solders did, then it really
was >not impossible.  The cultural context cannot be ignored. 
There >is also the use of hyperbole.  Is this an accepted usage
in the >culture?     

  That's exactly my point.  Shouldn't we take the exaggeration
and hyperbole and make-believe in the Bible in the same way?  Did
the King of Moog kill all those enemies?  No.  Did the graves
empty in Jerusalem when Jesus was executed?  No.  Both are
examples of the kind of typical miracle tales common to those

>In the section about the resurrection stories, you
>were not very specific. Are you saying there are
>contradictions between the 4 descriptions?  I think I can show
>there are not. 

  Are you really not aware of the contradictions?  You seem to be
surprised that I would suggest that there are.  And yet your
statement that you can show me that there are NOT contradictions
implies that I would need your help to see the absence of
contradictions.  Here again, the mere fact that you (or some
other Christian apologist) must take the trouble to convince me
that what is apparent to me (contradictions) is something other
than that, is a powerful argument against Ankerberg's claim that
the Bible is consistent and not contradictory.  If it's so
obvious, why does it have to be explained?  Why can't the Bible
speak for itself to a normal, open-minded, rational, sincere
human being such as I?

  I would include a list of about forty of the most obvious
contraditions, but that would make this e-mail even longer than
it is.  

  John, I am familiar with quite a few Christian attempts to
harmonize the obvious differences in the four accounts.  I say
obvious, because anyone who opens up four copies of the Bible,
one to each of the four gospels, and reads them verse by verse,
cannot help but wonder if these accounts are describing the same

  All of the attempted harmonizations I have seen overlook
several basic points:

  - A witness (e.g. Mark or John) is supposed to tell the *whole*

  - Witnesses who don't agree in their details can be presumed
not to know the truth (or to be lying), as Mark 14:59 says.

  - It does not seem to be a great indication of the inspiration
of God at work, when God has to have four different versions of
the story, none of them complete (according to the harmonists),
in order to convince mankind that Jesus was resurrected.

  - The common explanation by Christians for the omissions and
contradictions is that each gospel author was speaking from his
own point of view, to a particular audience, for a particular
purpose.  That is a very poor argument.  It seems strange that
two of them (Matthew and John) do not even mention the Ascension,
for example.  Can we really believe that they didn't consider it
important for their particular audiences, that it was irrelevant
to the story they were telling, that they had a different point
of view that did not include the Ascension?  What do you think,
if I had been living in Matthew's day and had just read his
gospel, and asked him, "Matthew, did Jesus ever ascend into
Heaven?" he would have said, "Oh, I didn't think I needed to tell
you that.  You want to know about that?  Go read Mark's Gospel,
which I based a lot of my gospel on, and which I wrote because I
didn't think Mark told enough of the details."....?  By the way,
I think it's ironic that Mormons use the same argument to explain
the differing versions of Joseph Smith's first vision.  Do you
accept those arguments as valid? 

  - If it takes a modern Christian apologist to synthesize and
harmonize the apparently contradictory gospel accounts, why
didn't God simply inspire someone to do that originally, so that
we would have one, single, correct report?

  Again, John, thanks for your comments.


To: Pat V.
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: Re: Evidence

Dear Pat,

At 08:41 AM 7/4/98 -0400, you wrote:

>   I looked over you exchange with John.  I may have asked you this before -  
>what if all four gospel accounts agreed in every single detail. Wouldn't 
>this give rise to the suggestion that the four authors got together and 
>collaborated on their story?

  If the four gospels were absolutely identical, word for word,
it would appear that three of them copied it from the first. 
Copies are of no evidentiary value.

  I am not suggesting that four true accounts of the same events
would agree in every single detail.  I am suggesting that, if
they are true, then 1) none of them should contradict the other
in any detail; and 2) none of them should omit any essential

  Actually, Matthew and Luke both contain passages that are
identical, almost word for word, with passage in Mark.  Look at
any harmony of the synoptic gospels, where the three are printed
side by side, in three columns (or put three open Bibles side by
side).  Most scholars (including many devout Christian scholars)
take that fact to be an indication that Matthew and Luke used
Mark as a source.  Matthew and Luke also contain common material
which is not in Mark, which almost all scholars attribute to
another source, now lost, commonly called "Q".  

  The argument that we should *expect* the gospels to contradict
each other, because that shows that they did not collaborate
(i.e., they are being honest with us), is a very poor argument,
it seems to me, although it seems to be made often by Christians
trying to defend the gospel contradictions.  Does that really
make sense?  That they are telling the truth because they
contradict each other and can't keep the story straight?

  If they are all telling the truth, we would expect they would
tell the same story, even in the details.  A lying witness in a
courtroom is caught by even one little detail that does not fit
with what is known or with what other witnesses have said.  Each
gospel has many such details which contradict the others.

  Witnesses in a courtroom who are consciously lying, but are
telling the same story because they collaborated, will usually
tell the major elements of the story the same, sometimes even
using the same words.  But when the cross-examination asks them
about details which were not covered in their preparation for
lying, they have to make something up.  It makes sense when they
tell it.  It sounds plausible.  No reason to disbelieve it.  But
when another collaborating witness is asked the same question, he
is unaware of how his partner answered.  He makes up an equally
plausible detail.  Unfortunately, it contradicts what his partner
just said.  Both can't be true.

  The unfortunate attorney who has put on these false witnesses
tries to "explain" how the testimony of both witnesses can be

  Doesn't this sound just like the four gospel authors and their
evangelical Christian apologists?  If not, why not?

>   Also, have you ever looked at the four accounts from the viewpoint 
>of listing what things they agree upon?

  Yes, and many historians find, in those points in which they
agree, a possibility that certain events are historical:

  - a man named Jesus preached in Palestine about 30 A.D.
  - he may have claimed to be the Messiah predicted in Jewish
  - he gained followers
  - he preached doctrines which were attractive to the common
  - he predicted that he would establish a Jewish kingdom
  - he was executed by crucifixion by the Roman authorities,
probably for sedition   
  - some of his followers later believed that he rose from the
dead and ascended to heaven

  Remember, though, that under the rules of evidence, if a
witness has been in error (or lied) about any material thing, we
can disregard the remainder of his testimony.  Since the gospel
authors (whose identity cannot even be established with
certainty) have contradicted each other in many respects, we
should be skeptical about accepting even the bare historical
facts from them.  (There are those who make a very good case that
Jesus did not even live; that he is merely a legendary figure.) 
We should be even more skeptical in accepting what the gospels
report in the way of miracles (such as the resurrection), which
can so easily be explained as mere legend, manufactured by
faithful followers who are dealing with massive cognitive
dissonance, and invented as propaganda material to substantiate
their case.

  Any Christian apologist should become knowledgeable about two
areas of psychology/sociology:  cognitive dissonance and urban
legends.  Both fields have been developed only relatively
recently, but they explain much of what probably happened in the
days and years following Jesus' execution, and they explain it in
very ordinary terms, and very satisfactorily, leaving nothing
out.  Remember the principle of parsimony (also called "Occam's
[or Ockham's] Razor"):  the simpler, more ordinary explanation is
probably true.  The Gospels, the stories of the resurrection...
all are really very ordinary legends.

Best wishes,

To: Pat V.
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: Re: Evidence for Christianity

At 06:41 PM 7/7/98 -0400, Pat wrote:
>>...[snip passage from Richard regarding growth of Israel's
>   In doing genealogy, I was told to consider the average generation to be
>30 years.  Weren't the Hebrews in Egypt for 400 years between the time of
>Joseph and Moses?  Wouldn't that be a little over 13 generations?

Richard comments:

  That rule of thumb is handy for rough calculation when you
don't have exact figures to go on.  But the Bible is much more
precise.  It's that attempt at precision that causes the
problems, whether it's the number of years or the number of

  The length of the sojourn in Egypt is hard to determine
exactly:  Gen. 15:13 says that Abraham's descendants will be
strangers in a foreign land and afflicted "four hundred years." 
This passage is cited also in Acts 7:6.  That passage is a
prophecy, not a statement of history, one could say, since Ex
12:40 says that the sojourn in Egypt was 430 years, and states it
as history.  (This makes the prophecy rather inexact for a book
so highly praised as containing so many prophecies that are
"precisely fulfilled".)

  The descendants of Jacob were not in Egypt for 12 or 13
generations, because several passages indicate that it was only
three or four.  The descendants of Levi (who was among those
going to Egypt) are given in Ex 6:16-20.  Moses and Aaron are
descended from Levi on two lines; on the one line they are in the
third generation from Levi, and on the other in the fourth

  Levi > Kohath > Amram > Moses   and
  Levi > Jochebed > Moses.

  If you read Ex 6 carefully, it will be apparent that the
listing is intended as complete; it is quite specific.  There is
no hint that eight or ten generations have been left unmentioned.

  Kohath, in fact was born before the departure for Egypt (Gen
46:8-11) and died at age 133 (Ex 6:18).  Amram, his son, died at
age 137 (Ex 6:20).  Amram's son Moses was 80 at the start of the
exodus (Ex 7:7).  Even if Kohath were born immediately before the
departure, and even if he sired Amram in the last year of his
life, and Amram sired Moses in the last year of his life, the
sojourn in Egypt cannot have been over 350 years long:     
  Kohath's life 133 + Amram's life 137 + 80 years of Moses 

  If you calculated Jochebed into this, she must have been a
great deal older than her husband, making it all the more
unlikely that she could have borne a child sired by him in the
last year of his life.

  So, which of these passages will we accept as accurate and
which as incorrect?  The shorter the stay in Egypt, the more
unbelievable the growth of the population.

  And, as I pointed out originally, even over 400 or 430 years,
the population growth indicated would be unbelievable, unless you
consider it to be a miracle.  That rate of growth is found
nowhere in the world except in highly developed countries of the
last century or two.

  So, again we have confusing and contradictory evidence from the
"source book" that Ankerberg said would give us such "superior
evidence" "open to ordinary investigation."

Best wishes,


To: Rhondda C.
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: Re: Evidence for Christianity  

Dear friends,

Following is a response from Rhondda C.  My comments are at the

At 10:02 PM 7/8/98 +1200, Rhondda wrote:
>To Whom shall we go?
>There was a time in my life when I too walked away from Jesus.
>I was 19 and at university.
>My philosophy professor was a brilliant man, a one-time Christian  who had
>given it all  away and whose declared aim was to destroy the Christian
>faith of his students.
>I was a Christian, but I began to realise that so many clever men are
>It was then that that horrible monster, doubt, began to rear its ugly head. 
>I gave up attending church.
>I went to the public library and made a careful study of the many atheistic 
>books stocked there, searching for a satisfying philosophy to replace my
>Christian one.
>I was away from Jesus for nine months.  The this verse came to me as a
>revelation from heaven.  "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of 
>eternal life."
>I asked myself, "To whom shall I go?  What can these atheistic philosophies 
>offer me in return for not following Jesus?
>The answer was - nothing.  A cynical emptiness.  An everlasting vacuum in
>the place of everlasting life.
>So I went back to Jesus and with great joy rejoined His disciples.
>I  have majored in philosophy and taught comparative religion.
>More than that I have lived among Buddhists in China, Muslims in Pakistan
>and Hindus in India.
>I tell you there is nothing in other philosophies or in other religions
>that can satisfy the soul.
>Only Jesus can do that.
>Only Jesus has the answers.
>(Challenge Weekly p.12 June 30 1998)
>"Difficulties in the Bible"    R. A Torrey
>Important "Contradictions"  p 85
>"All the other apparent contradictions in the four accounts of the
>resurrection, and they are quite numerous, also disappear on  careful study. 
> But these apparent contradictions are themselves
>of the accounts.  It is evident that these four accounts are separate and
>independent accounts.  If four different persons had sat down to make up a
>story in collusion of a resurrection that never occurred, they would have
>made their four acounts appear to agree, at least on the surface.  Whatever  
>of contradictions there might be in the four accounts would only come out
>after minute and careful study.  But just the opposite is the case here. It 
>is all on the surface that the apparent contradictions occur. It is only by 
>careful and protracted study that the real agreement shines forth.  It is
>just such a harmony as would not exist between four accounts fabricated in 
>collusion.  It is just such an agreement as would exist in four independent 
>accounts of substantially the same circumstances, each narrator telling the 
>same story from his own standpoint, relating such details as impressed him, 
>omitting other details which did not impress him but which did impress
>another narrator and which the other narrator related. Sometimes two
>accounts would seem to contradict one another, but the third account would
>come in and unintentionally reconcile the apparent descrepancies between
>the two.  This is precisely what we have in the four accounts of the
>resurrection of Jesus Christ.
>from "Biblical Basis for Modern Science"  Henry M. Morris
>Queen of the Sciences p. 30
>"figure 1 Christian Founders of Key Scietific Disciplines
>"The humanistic claim that scientists cannot believe the Bible is refuted
>by the factthat many of the greates scientists of the past were
>Bible-believing Christians.  See appendix 1 for an extensive listing of
>these men.
>"Founders or Primary Developers of the Scientific Dissiplines Below.
>"Isaac Newton -   Dynamics               Johann Kepler  -  astronomy
>"Robert Boyle - chemistry                Lord Kelvin - thermodynamics
>"Louis Pasteur - Bacteriology            Matthew Maury  -  oceanography
>"Michael Faraday - Electro-magnetics           John Ray  -  biology
>"Clerk Maxwell - Electro-dynamics        
>"Carolus Linnaeus - taxonomy
Comments from Richard:

Re:  "To Whom Shall We Go?"

  To say - no matter how sincerely one says it - that only a
belief in Jesus satisfies the soul is testimony-bearing, not
evidence.  It is the intellectual equivalent of saying "I feel
good by believing this, therefore it must be true."  Feeling good
about something, rather than examining it in the cold light of
reason, is the motto of the fool, which is perhaps why Paul
called himself a fool for Christ, and why the Bible contains so
many warnings against the worldly wise.  Christians often
criticize Mormons for basing a faith in Mormonism on a "burning
in the bosom," but how does that differ from having a feeling of
satisfaction in one's soul?

  Ankerberg's article, on the other hand, confidently stated that
he was going to present evidence - "superior evidence" - of the
the "historical facts" on which Christianity firmly rests.  

  I also find such statements ("Only in Jesus can one find
[peace, etc.]") to be extremely arrogant, because they assume
that they know that others, with other philosophies or religions,
have no peace or contentment.  It is like comparing orgasms:  how
can I possibly know what yours is like in order to say that mine
is better?

Re:  "Proof of the truth and accuracy of the accounts"

  This is similar to the argument John Farkas made (which I have
not yet responded to).

  The version of the argument here sets up a fallacious "false
dilemma":  it assumes there are only two possible explanations
for the creation of the gospels, either 1) the four authors sat
down and collaborated, or 2) the gospels must be authentic and
correct, especially as to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.

  There is at least one other possible explanation, which is very
straightforward:  each author was writing a fictionalized account
built around what he believed was a historical event, namely, the
crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  None of the authors claim
to have actually seen the resurrected Jesus, or even to have been
eye-witness to the events.  They are clearly telling of events
they have heard from others.  There is no question that each
author believed that Jesus had been crucified and resurrected and
that during his life he had done miracles and preached certain
things.  But their accounts are *hearsay*.  They are third-person
(or even more remote) accounts.  We have no way of determining
their accuracy, or of judging the critical abilities of the
authors to distinguish fact from non-fact, or of judging their
willingness to accept wild stories on someone else's sayso.

  Hearsay is not admissible evidence, based on the "legal
standards of evidence" on which Ankerberg is willing to rely.

Re:  Scientists Who Believe The Bible

  Such lists are meaningless as evidence.  I can also provide you
with a long list of scientists who do NOT believe the Bible.  The
evidence should speak for itself, and each of us has an
obligation to examine it thoroughly for ourselves, and not simply
say, "Well, if Isaac Newton believed the Bible, I guess it must
be true!"

  Notice that we are not told how thorough a study each of these
scientists made of the Bible, or whether they accepted it as the
"inerrant word of God" or as some sort of nice "handbook of
morality" or with some other reservations.

  It is also misleading to cite scientists who lived and worked
before modern Bible criticism had begun to call into question the
accuracy of the Bible.  Newton, for example, lived in an age when
it would have been very difficult for a scientist to say that he
didn't believe in the Bible.

  This discussion is supposed to be about evidence.  Testimonials
and appeals to emotion - although they may make converts - are
not evidence.  Rather, they tend to conceal the evidence.

Best wishes,

To: Pat V.
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: Re: Evidence for Christianity  

Pat wrote, in response to Richard:

>> [Richard had written:]
>>  There is at least one other possible explanation, which is
>>straightforward: [...snip...]

Pat's question:

>    Are you stating that none of accounts were given by eyewitnesses, or are 
>you saying that this is a third alternative?

  I'm saying that none of the accounts we have (the gospels) are
by eyewitnesses AND that this is a third - and much more
plausible - alternative than the two cited by Rhondda (i.e., 1.
the gospel authors colluded; OR 2. the gospels must be true).  

  My point was that Rhondda's source relies upon a false dilemma: 
"There are only two possibilities, and since the first one is
obviously false, the other must be true."  That is a good example
of this fallacy of logic.   

  Reports that are not by eyewitnesses (especially reports of
extraordinary events, like a UFO landing, or an appearance of the
Blessed Virgin, or a dead man coming back to life after three
days in a tomb) cannot be relied on.  

  Fallacious reasoning cannot be relied on.  


To: Dan N.
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: Re: Evidence for Christianity

Dan N. wrote:
>Hi Richard,
>It was written:
>>>This discussion is supposed to be about evidence. 
Testimonials and
>appeals to emotion - although they may make converts - are not
>Rather, they tend to conceal the evidence.<<
>I decided I wasn't going to go through the tail chasing and hair
>splitting of discussing the generations and offering theories as
>conclusions.  However, if you would like to discuss some of the
>evidences, I would like to point you to a couple of book titles and one
>author in specific.  "The Verdict of History," "Evidence That Demands A
>Verdict" are two in particular.  The author for evidential apologetics
>and a wealth of information on probably every topic you decide to bring
>up is Dr. John Warwick Montgomery.  Some of his works include "Faith
>Founded On Fact," "Christianity For The Tough Minded," "Evidence For
>Faith," and others.  If you would like to correspond with him, I can
>forward his London address to you.
>In Christ Jesus,

Dear Dan,

  Thanks for your comments.

  The discussion on population arose because Ankerberg claimed
the Bible is historically accurate, and John Farkas wanted me to
give him some examples, when I disputed Ankerberg's claim.  I
used the incredible population growth during the sojourn in Egypt
as an example.  There are hundreds of others.  All it takes is
one, and Christians' claim that the Bible is 100% reliable and
historically accurate is gone.  

  Many Christians have referred me to Josh McDowell's book
"Evidence that Demands a Verdict,"  and one friend lent me a
copy.  I read it and was extremely disappointed.  I started to
write a rebuttal for my Christian friend, but discovered that a
very lengthy rebuttal already exists.  It is online, at The Jury
is In" at
<http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/>.  I
highly recommend it.  There are links there to rerebuttals by
defenders of McDowell.

  McDowell's fundamental problem (Ankerberg's, too) is that he
does not understand what "evidence" is, what qualifies as
evidence, or what the limitations are as to what evidence can
establish.  It is a general problem in Christian apologetics, I
am beginning to believe.  Just a couple of examples (I am giving
these from memory - I don't have my notes in front of me): 
McDowell presents the following as evidence for Christianity:

  - Christianity is unique
  - Jesus said he was God
  - Millions of people are Christian
  - Many famous people believed Christianity
  - There are many copies of Bible manuscripts
  - The canon of the Bible is inspired because it includes only
inspired books
  - No one has been able to disprove the Bible
  - ...and so on

  None of these statements, even if true, are evidence for the
truth of Christianity, under any generally accepted rules of
evidence.  They are useless as evidence.  They are "feel-good"
statements which have importance only for those who already
believe, and logically fallacious.

  Thank you for the reference to Montgomery.  I am not familiar
with his books.  I will try to get one or two through
interlibrary loan.  I hope he knows more about evidence than
McDowell or Ankerberg.

  Meanwhile, I heartily recommend that you check out "The Jury is
In" at the URL I mentioned above.

Best wishes,


Pat V. asked:

>> [Richard had said:]
>>  Reports that are not by eyewitnesses (especially reports of extraordinary >>events, like a UFO landing, or an appearance of the Blessed Virgin, or a
>>dead man coming back to life after three days in a tomb) cannot be relied

>    And by eyewitnesses are you referring to the fact that no one saw Jesus 
>get up and come out of the tomb, or are you including eyewitnesses in the
>category of those who say that they saw the resurrected Jesus after the
>three days?

  I am saying that we have no eyewitness reports of any of those
events.  They are all hearsay reports.  

  An eyewitness report says something like "I was there. I saw
such-and-such."  At best, the gospels are hearsay, that is,
reports of what the gospel writer may have heard were eyewitness
reports.  But since the gospel writers do not identify their
sources (e.g., none of them say "Mary *told* me herself that..."
one can only *assume* what those sources were.  That is not
acceptable evidence, especially when trying to substantiate
incredible claims like the resurrection.

  I might also add that even an eyewitness report "I saw the
resurrected Jesus" would be suspect (e.g. Paul's vision), unless
you would care also to accept Joseph Smith's eyewitness report of
his vision?

To: Rauni H.
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: RE: Evidence for Christianity  

Rauni H. wrote (Richard's response is at the end):

>I may not be understanding this correctly, but let me quess:
>You are saying that NONE of the Gospels were written by
eyewitnesses?  Mark's gospel was dictated by Peter, an
eyewitness. That is same as "written by an eyewitness", IMO. John
was an eyewitness. He was known as "the beloved apostle" of
Jesus, and who was very close to Him - and His cousin even. There
are many first century Christians who had that knowledge - i.e.
Polycarp (A.D. 60-155)
>Luke was a companion of Mark on some of his missionary journeys,
and thus was familiar through him (and Peter) of the happenings.
Matthew's gospel is the only one that we are not that sure of,
but it could have been written by Jesus' disciple by the same
name, since Matthew's Gospel does show that he was very familiar
of keeping records of money (as he was a taxcollector), he was
also obviously a Jew and very familiar with laws, customs, area
etc.  There are more details in this gospel that point to him as
its writer than not.
>You are quoting those who are skeptics on everything and who say
that it is possible that Matthew did not write this gospel etc.
They are only possibilities that you choose to pick.  The much
stronger possibilities are the ones I am quoting above.  I have
read a lot pro and con and I have come to this conclusion. It
does not matter that much what I believe, but it matters that
many, many very prominent Bible scholars agree with this
conclusion also.

Richard responds:

  Ankerberg's article, which was the start of this discussion,
claimed that the truth of Christianity rested on "superior
evidence", "not just some evidence, or inferior evidence," on the
"very reasoning employed in the law to determine questions of
fact...," using "legal standards of evidence."

  Here are the standards that Ankerberg is relying on, quoted
from standard works on English and American common law (my
emphasis in caps):

  From "Handbook of the Law of Evidence" by John Evarts Tracy,
professor of law, Univeristy of Michigan, New York,
Prentice-Hall, 1952, page 218:

  "Hearsay.  There is no more thoroughly established rule of
evidence than the one prohibiting the use of hearsay.  A witness
must tell what he knows himself, not what he has heard from
  "...the hearsay rule bars a written statement of a third party
just as much as an oral one....
  "An affidavit [writing sworn to under oath] of a third person
is no more admissible than would be his oral statement.
  "...the real reason for the rule is the lack of opportunity for

From "Summary of American Law" by Robert T. Kimbrough, Former
Editor-in-Chief of the Lawyer's Co-operative Publishing Company,
member of Kentucky and New York bars, Rochester and San
Francisco, 1974, p. 296 (this book is a summary of one of the
standard legal encyclopedias, American Jurisprudence 2d Edition,
available in your county law library):

  "It is a general rule that hearsay evidence is not competent or
admissible in judicial proceedings.  'Hearsay' may be defined ...
as evidence which derives its value not solely from the credit to
be given the witness on the stand, but in part from the veracity
and competency of some other person."

  Thus, if we are reading what Mark says he learned from Peter,
what Mark says is hearsay, and NOT admissible evidence.  We have
Mark's words, but not Peter's (or any other supposed
eye-witness's).  Thus we must discard Mark's gospel without even
coming to the other issues, namely, that Mark never even says
that what he is writing is based on information from Peter... he
does not even say how he knows what he is reporting.  And add to
this the somewhat uncertain identity of the author (it cannot be
established), the whole gospel by Mark is suspect on several

  The same objections can be made of Luke's gospel, which, as
Rauni admits, at best is even one more step removed from an
eyewitness if Luke depends on Mark (and/or Q).  Matthew even
Rauni concedes is uncertain.

  The author of John's Gospel cannot be established with any
certainty.  Whether the "John" of its title is the same as the
apostle or as Jesus' brother is conjecture.  Many facts (e.g. the
late date, the late style) speak against it.  It is not presented
as an eye-witness account.  The author never speaks in the first
person.  The author never identifies himself or places himself in
the events.  At best, it is not the "superior evidence", "not
just some evidence, or inferior evidence," that Ankerberg claims,
but rather very tenuous and objectionable evidence.

  From Kimbrough, op.cit. p. 289-290:

  "Weight and sufficiency of evidence.  ... The testimony of a
disinterested witness which is in no way discredited, or
contradicted by other evidence, to a fact WITHIN HIS KNOWLEDGE,
WHICH IS NOT IN ITSELF IMPROBABLE or in conflict with other
evidence, must usually be accepted...  It does not necessarily
follow, however, that a verdict or finding must be made in favor
of the party introducing such evidence, where the issue remains
in dispute and doubt.  Although the testimony of a disinterested
witness is not directly contradicted by other witnesses, if there
are circumstances which controvert it or explain it away, or IF
it otherwise APPEARS TO BE UNWORTHY OF BELIEF, the [jury] is not
disregarded, even though it is not controverted by other

  "The degree of proof required depends upon the nature of the
case [ordinary cases require a mere preponderance of the
evidence, but where more is at stake, e.g. a criminal case, the
evidence must establish guild 'beyond a reasonable doubt']"

  "Where circumstantial evidence is relied upon in a [case
requiring a higher degree of proof], ... the circumstances must
not only concur to show [the prosecution's claim] ... but also
HYPOTHESIS [opposing that claim]."

  The claim that Jesus was dead and then rose again is precisely
the kind of claim for which a witness's testimony may be
disregarded IN ADDITION to its hearsay nature.

  So, the gospels are hearsay, and thus inadmissible as evidence. 
Even if they were eyewitness reports, the testimony that a man
rose from the dead is of such an incredible nature and so
contrary to the laws of nature that it could be disregarded. 
However inspiring they may be, however much people may regard
them as... "gospel," they are NOT the kind of evidence that
Ankerberg promised.  

  Lest anybody suppose that these rules of evidence, which
Ankerberg accepts, absolutely prevent evidence of any miraculous
event, let me say that they do not, and humbly refer you to my
article on evidence for miracles which was published recently in
the Skeptical Review, and is online at
ml>, "The Man With No Heart."

Barry has pointed out, in response to my response about the
"false dilemma" that there is at least one more possible
alternative than the one which I mentioned, and referred me to a
series of articles by Earl Doherty at
<http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus.html> which point out the
paucity of evidence that Jesus even actually existed.  I'm just
passing that on without endorsement or argument.

To: John F., Rauni H.
From: Richard Packham <packham@teleport.com>
Subject: Evidence for Christianity

Dear friends,

  Below are my responses to comments by John F.  Because Rauni H.
made similar comments in a private post to me, I am combining my
comments into one post.  I forwarded John's complete post
earlier.  Some of Rauni's comments are excerpted because they
were in a private post.

  (BTW, John, best wishes for success in your efforts at

  I had asserted that archaeological evidence cannot substantiate
miraculous claims.

John wrote:

>>>But they do add credence.

Richard wrote:

>>   No, they do not and cannot add credence.  They are not
evidence of what >< the claims are claiming.

John responded:

>    I don't agree. While credence is not proof it does say to me that if 
the writters were correct in what I could check then what I
cannot check may be correct also.  For me, the writters
reliability is built by what I can check. I agree it is not

Rauni wrote a similar comment:

> Naturally we cannot prove miracles, but if there were nothing
found archealogically, we had a real reason to doubt the rest of
the story. Now we don't have a reason to question the historical
part, so the miracles could be possible also - after all they
were recorded by the same people who told the truth about things
that leave physical evidences.  If we know a person who always
has told the truth about things that can be proven to be so, and
then he tells about his experience, somewhat "far-out-type of a
thing" that cannot be proven one way or the other, we'd tend to
believe that too, since he has demonstrated that he is a truthful
person. We could not insult him by doubting him, could we?  But
if he has told "tall tales" of treasures he is hunting and
finding of gold plates that tell a story of ancient peoples, and
only he can see the plates - and that angel takes them to heaven
afterwards...but nothing provable ever has shown up - then the
miracles, experiences etc. told by that man are more than likely
also false. Woud you agree?

Richard comments:

  Let me remind you of my hypothetical ancient chronicle of the
kingdom of Glog.  Would you lend credence to the incredible and
miraculous parts of that chronicle simply because you found a
good deal of archaeological evidence for the mundane facts of
Glogian history?

  Suppose that you are a jury member at a court trial.  The issue
is a dispute over certain facts about family matters, land
ownership, boundaries, etc.  One side puts a witness on the stand
who very calmly and with assurance testifies to all the matters
in dispute.  His testimony is corroborated by documents and other
witnesses.  It makes sense.  It appears that side has won the
case.  As the witness is about to step down from the witness box,
the attorney asks, "You are certainly knowledgeable about many
historical and family matters in this area... were you born
here?"  And the witness says, "No... actually I was born on the
planet Pluto.  My father was a great king there, and he sent me
here in a space ship when I was a baby.  A kind family here took
me in and raised me as their own."

  Now, as a member of the jury, how do you now view this witness? 
Is your reaction perhaps the same as Rauni's, and John's?  "Well,
everything else he said was true and correct... He probably is
also correct about being born on Pluto."  Or would you doubt this
fact?  You don't have to suggest that the poor man is not telling
what he believes to be the truth.  He likely does believe it to
be the truth.  But do YOU believe it?

  That's what we have with the Bible.  Jerusalem's history is
written in its stones.  We can corroborate the Bible's record of
its ruling dynasties from non-biblical records.  Pilate, Herod
governed in Palestine.  All of that appears accurate, more or
less.  So we therefore should accept its testimony that Jesus
rose from the dead?  Would you believe that our witness was
actually born on Pluto?  I have no doubt that the authors of the
gospels believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and that they
believed they were telling the truth (just like our witness from
Pluto).  But just because they believed it, should we?  Is it
completely impossible that they were deluded, deceived, mistaken,

  Rauni will probably argue (forgive me if I make such an
assumption) that "we have hundreds of manuscripts of the Bible." 
Does an error (or a legend, or a myth, or a lie) become more
correct because we have more copies of it?  Or because more
people are duped by it?  If so, why?  

John objected to my suggesting that the opening of the graves at
Jesus' crucifixion is an incredible hyperbole and should be
rejected as fact:

>> Richard:
>>   That's exactly my point.  Shouldn't we take the exaggeration and hyperbole 
>> and make-believe in the Bible in the same way?  Did the King of Moog kill 
>> all those enemies?  No.  Did the graves empty in Jerusalem when Jesus was 
>> executed?  No.  Both are examples of the kind of typical miracle tales
>> common to those cultures.
> John:
>    Let us read what the verse says,
>Matthew 27:52
> 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, >From verse 51 we learn there was an earthquake which would open graves.  
>But note it asays,
>"many bodies of the saints".  So it is not saying all in the graves arose, just some of 
>the saints.


  So, if just some of the saints came out of their graves, it is
more believable?  

Re:  The four Easter Morning narratives

[..John's proposed scenario is omitted..]

  John presented a "possible" scenario for Easter morning,
piecing together bits from all four gospels.  This is a
challenging exercise which many have attempted, but, like all
such attempts, fundamental questions remain:

  - If one reads only one gospel account, whichever one, then one
is struck immediately by the smooth flow of events, the
conciseness of the story, the unity of point of view.  Obviously
the author has a clear picture of the events.  One is convinced
that - if the author knows what he is talking about and is
telling the truth - this is a moving story!  But as soon as you
read a second gospel account, you realize that you are reading a
*different* story.  The theme is the same, but the characters are
different, the events are different, the details are different. 
It is like four Hollywood scriptwriters who are given an
assignment to "write a screenplay based on the life of [some
historical person]."  They may have a few basic facts, but most
of it is made up.  Like the Gospels.  The Gospels are obviously
fictionalized history, with all the characteristics of
fictionalized history, legendary tales.

  - If God intended us to know the facts, why would we have such
a mish-mash that needs so much explanation?  These gospel writers
are not ordinary witnesses, but they are supposed to be
"inspired" by the Holy Ghost to know the truth and to tell it so
that we can save our souls by the knowledge they give us.

  When I made a similar statement previously, John responded:

>    As I said you are trying to tell God how to run his

And then again,

> You are trying to cast God into the way you would do it, using
>human logic.


>..you are trying to play God and demand it be done your way.  I
suggest you read Prov 14:12.

  Such statements are examples of the logical fallacy of "begging
the question":

  Ankerberg says that the Bible contains no contradictions and
stands as evidence for Christianity, "open to ordinary
investigation."  I point out what seem to be obvious
contradictions, discoverable by ordinary investigation, and
thoroughly explicable by a theory that the Bible is simply a
human product.  

  Ankerberg's reasoning seems to be:

     - The Bible contains no contradictions
     - Only a divinely inspired work would contain no
     - Therefore the Bible is inspired by God

  (The second premise is false, by the way - many uninspired
works are free of contradiction.)

  My comments tried to show that the Bible DOES contain
contradictions.  John seems to be saying:

    - The Bible is inspired
    - An inspired work cannot contain contradictions
    - Therefore the Bible contains no contradictions

  But by reasoning like that, John has placed the very question
at issue ("Is the Bible inspired?/Is the Bible trustworthy as
evidence for Christianity?) as his basic premise.  That is the
common fallacy of "begging the question," that is, using the
desired conclusion as a presumption on which your reasoning is
based.  Fallacious reasoning is dangerous and unreliable.

  Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a
man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."

  Rauni also suggested to me that what may seem right to the
human mind should be suspicious:

>We are talking about close to 2000 years old documents and you
are trying to apply 20th century, and American, legal
requirements into it. It is a bit ridiculous, IMO. 

  Well, it appears that both John and Rauni soundly disagree with
Ankerberg (and his source Dr. John Warwick Montgomery), who
started this whole discussion by insisting that the evidence for
Christianity CAN be judged by our modern rules for evidence, and
"Not just some evidence, or inferior evidence... but superior
evidence." (Ankerberg)  Montgomery (as cited by Ankerberg)
insists that its correctness can be shown by "the very reasoning
employed in the law to determine questions of fact" and praises
the "advantage of a jurisprudential approach" because of the
"legal standards of evidence developed as essential means of
resolving the most intractable disputes in society."

  Now, Rauni, John, I am citing here two of the great defenders
and apologists for Christianity.  You seem to be saying they are
walking the "way of death" and are "ridiculous."  

  Rauni cautions:

>It was quite common during those days that someone gave a report
and the other, perhaps more capable for writing, took it down. 
It is not uncommon in even our day - as a Mormon you and I knew
that Joseph Smith himself wrote very little, even the things that
were written in first person were taken down by Oliver Cowdrey or
William Clayton et.al.. >Richard, before you go on judging
writings that are 2000 years old and written in an other culture,
far different from ours, you'd need to know more about those
times and that culture. Your reasoning failed.

  First of all, Rauni seems to be confusing "facts" and
"reasoning."  She criticizes my facts, but says my "reasoning" is
what failed.

  Rauni fails to see the difference between Clayton's acting
simply as an amanuensis, writing something which Joseph dictated
with "The Lord said to me...  I prophesy..., etc." and Mark's
Gospel, which does not appear to be dictated by anybody, let
alone by Peter.  The Gospel of Mark does not purport to be
Peter's words (the Apocryphal Gospel of Peter does, however -
would Rauni accept that as authentic?)  But that's a minor
quibble, I think.  (Rauni also points out that I misquoted her as
saying John was a brother of Jesus... she had said he was a
cousin.  I apologize for the misquote.)

  I thoroughly agree that one should be familiar with the culture
from which a document comes.  Here are some things I suggest one
should remember about the culture in the near East in the time of
Jesus and the following century or two:

  - The people were extremely superstitious and credulous. 
Miracle workers, magicians, faith healers, prophets of all
persuasions and religions abounded.

  - Accounts of miracles and stupendous marvels proliferated -
old pagan, Christian, Mithraic, Zoroastrian, mystery cults.

  - It was common practice for proponents of a religion, a cult,
or a school of philosophy, to write fictitious works or pseudo-
history to authenticate the author's claims (some of these
writings even have crept into the Bible!).

  - It was common practice for an author to attribute his writing
to someone else, to lend authenticity to it (e.g. the Gospel of
Peter, the Gospel of Thomas).

  In sum, we have no way of knowing whether the miraculous events
portrayed in the canonical gospels are accurate reports.  Not by
any ordinary historical or archaeological or evidentiary test
available to us.  

  Lacking that evidence, why should one believe those accounts? 
Why should I believe those particular accounts, but doubt other
similar ancient accounts of miracles as told of other characters
which even Christians label as mythical?

  If one wishes to believe something without evidence that can be
demonstrated, that is an individual choice.  I choose not to do
so.  Others choose to do so.  My argument is not with those who
say "I wish to believe it, whether there is evidence for it or
not," but with those who say, as Ankerberg does, that the
evidence is there, "open to ordinary investigation," and thus
imply that I am stupid, stubborn or sinful if I am not willing to
be credulous.

  Edmund Way Teale in his 1950 book Circle of the Seasons said: 
"It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not,
so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you
got your money as long as you have got it."

  W. K. Clifford said, "It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for
everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."  

  I submit that those statements are just as God-inspired as
Proverbs 14:12, and belong in the canon of any one's scripture.


Pat wrote:
>...[snip quote of Richard's objections to viewing the gospels as
written by eyewitnesses]..
>1 John 1:1-3 "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which
>we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have
>touched - this we proclaim concerning the word of life..."
>Acts 2:22 - "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man
>accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among
>you through him, as you yourselves know."  Peter speaking in Jerusalem
>Acts 2:32  "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of
>the fact."   Peter speaking.
>Acts 3:14-15 "You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a
>murderer be released to you.  You killed the author of life, but God raised
>him from the dead.  We are witnesses of this."    Peter again.
>Acts 4:19-20  "But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it
>is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help
>speaking about what we have seen and heard.'"
>Acts 10:39 "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews
>and in Jerusalem."   Peter again.
>The Gospel of John refers several times to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" :
>(13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20,24)  John 21:24 says, "This is the disciple
>(author) who testifies to these things and who arote them down.  We know
>that his testimony is true."  While true that John does not identify himself
>as the author, he writes as one who was there.  The other 3 gospels name
>John a number of times, since he was a prominent disciple. However, the
>Gospel of John does not , which makes sense if the author is John, writing
>about himself in the third person.
>   Also, as Rauni has pointed out several times, we have Polycarp, the
>disciple of John who was acquainted with many of the disciples.  And
>Irenaeas, the disciple of Polycarp, testified on Ploycarp's behalf that John
>wrote the gospel in Ephesus ("Against Heresies" 2:22.5; 3.1.1)

Richard responds:

Re: 1 John - 1) It is by no means certain that the author of this
epistle is identical with the author of the gospel of John.  2)
The epistle does not identify *what* it is that the author has
seen and "handled."  For all we know, he may simply be saying
that he saw and knew Jesus, and that he believes that Jesus was
"from the beginning."  Here I think Christians need to be
reminded of one of their own "first principles" of biblical
interpretation:  don't read into a text something that isn't
there, but that you would like to be there.

Re:  Acts -  I thought I had made clear what is testimony of an
eyewitness.  It is when we have the eyewitness speaking to us
directly.  Acts was not written by Peter.  Most Christians accept
its attribution to the author of the gospel of Luke.  If that is
true, any quotations from Peter are hearsay under the rules of
evidence.  (There are exceptions to the rules of evidence, under
which some kinds of hearsay may be considered as evidence, but
none of those exceptions apply here.)  We have no way of knowing
how the author of Acts knows Peter's exact words.  If the author
was Luke, then we have no reason to believe that Luke was able to
know Peter.  On the contrary - following Rauni's admonition that
we must consider the customs of the culture of the time - we know
that writers of history at that time did not hesitate at all to
invent appropriate words to put in the mouths of the characters
they are writing about.

Re: Gospel of John - Pat quotes:

> "This is the disciple
>(author) who testifies to these things and who arote them down. We know
>that his testimony is true."

  This sentence (into which Pat *presumes* to insert the word
"author" - an insertion which is by no means 100% justified)
already begins to cast doubt on the authorship of this gospel: 
certainly John did not write these words, since they refer to
John in the third person.  Scholars generally assume, based on
such evidence, that chapter 21 (and perhaps chapter 1) were, in
fact, NOT written by the same person who wrote the rest of the

  Who is it then, who is stating "we know that his testimony is
true"?  Is this an example of the "I'll vouch for him" story?  (A
rag-tag man comes into the bank and asks to borrow a huge amount
of money.  The banker objects that he does not know the man.  The
man says he will bring in his friend Mike, who will vouch for
him.  The banker objects, "But I don't know Mike!"   The man
says, "I'll vouch for him!")  

  Pat also says (using an argument often used by Christian

> While true that John does not identify himself
>as the author, he writes as one who was there.

  I have on my bookshelves a large number of historical novels -
a genre I am very fond of.  I happen to know that the authors of
none of these books were actual witnesses to the events they are
describing.  But they write *as one who was there*.  That does
not for a moment make be believe that they were eyewitnesses to
those events.  Many of them are even written from the point of
view of an eyewitness.  But still I do not assume from that that
the author was an eyewitness.

  In summary, as to the gospel of John, it *may* be that it was
written by the apostle of that name, but we do not have the kind
of clear and convincing evidence to establish conclusively that
it was.  We cannot establish that the only explanation for the
existence of this book is that the apostle John wrote it.  It can
just as possibly be fictionalized history, propaganda material.  

Re: Polycarp - Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna 110 - 155 AD. 
He was martyred by being burned alive when he was 86 years old
(giving us a birthdate of ca. 69 AD), and the account of his
martyrdom is recorded in a letter from the church at Smyrna. 
Polycarp himself wrote very little.  The connection between
Polycarp and John is derived solely from Irenaeus, who writes of
his own memories of his youth, when he heard Polycarp (an old
man) telling of Polycarp's association with John, when Polycarp
himself was a very young man.  Irenaeus gives us no details of
what Polycarp said, but only generalities:  
  "... he [Polycarp] used to speak of his intercourse with John
and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord, and how he
would relate their words.  And everything that he had heard from
them about the Lord, about His miracles and about His teaching,
Polycarp used to tell us as one who had received it from those
who had seen the Word of Life with their own eyes..."  (cited in
Encycl. Britannica, 11th ed, 22:21)

  It has been argued also that the "John" whose disciple Polycarp
was, was not the apostle, but John Presbyter.

  So, that seems to indicate that Polycarp may have known John
the apostle.  What can that signify as to whether the gospel
according to John is an eyewitness account?

  The evidence is extremely tenuous, it would seem.  Please
remember that the quality and weight of evidence depends on what
must be proved, what objections must be overcome.

  If I tell you that I ran into Phil Phoot downtown yesterday and
had a nice chat with him, my saying so is probably sufficient
evidence to you that what I said is true.  If, however, you know
that Phil left town day before yesterday and flew to London,
intending to stay for a month, you will not be so likely to
accept my statement.  I will have to come up with some evidence,
more than my mere statement, in order to convince you that I did,
in fact, see Phil yesterday.  

  But let us say that you know that Phil died two weeks ago, and
you attended his funeral, and saw him lying in his casket, you
are not going to believe even my "eyewitness testimony" that I
saw Phil downtown yesterday and chatted with him.  You will think
of any number of likely explanations for my insistence that I saw
him, and none of those will consider that Phil has risen from the
dead.  I suspect that even if you *can't* think of an explanation
you will not believe that I saw him.

  Suppose that I also tell you that Phil told me that he has,
indeed, risen from the dead, and that he told me to tell you that
he now knows that your religion is false, and that you should
listen to what I will tell you is the true religion.  And that
the money he owed you when he died, you should give it to me. 
What kind of evidence would you want me to give you, to prove
that what I am saying is true?

  Whatever evidence you would want from me, that is the kind of
evidence I expect from Christians.  They don't have that kind of

  One general comment:  we must discount all the NT writings to a
certain extent as testimony simply because they are not
disinterested.  None of the evidence is from disinterested
non-Christians.  The NT authors are writing for the sole purpose
of converting the reader to their beliefs.  It is propaganda.  It
is only natural that writers of propaganda embellish, "spin,"
invent, omit contrary evidence, put everything in the best light. 
We have seen the Mormons do it repeatedly, and we have recognized
it.  Being as charitable as possible, one could say that most
Mormons who exaggerate in their propaganda do so out of a sincere
belief that they are only telling what is the truth (or should be
the truth) in spreading a good message.  That is also, I think,
what the early Christians and NT authors did.

  That does not make it any less fictional.

Best wishes,


Rauni wrote:
>I read your argument with amazement!
>I would suggest that we'd change a subject for a short while and
let you explain to me and others why you believe, if you believe,
that, lets say, Alexander the Great existed, fought the wars etc.
He did not write anything himself, so how do we know anything
about him - or any other person for that matter? Do the writings
of a history of the world be then all a fiction, because the
people who's lives the history describes, did not write about
these things themselves.  How do we really know that Abraham
Lincoln did what we have been told he did - and said what is
attributed to him? Is the entire human history a fiction, a
hearsay in your opinion?  I'd like you to apply same critique to
ALL history as you do to the Biblical record. And in all fearness
you should. If you do, honestly, then nothing is reliable.
>Maybe it is all in illusion! Maybe there is no such a thing as
>a accurate history. Maybe none of the people who we have
>learned about throughout our lives really existed at all,
>but somebody just made them up - maybe the people who made them
up were not real either.  Maybe everything is a hearsay - because
we do not have records that would pass "Richard's Court and
Jury".  Would you like to enlighten me on these?  History has
always been my favorite subject.
>It was my father's also.  He told me many war stories of
Russia-Finland wars. He used to say that the generation that
forgets or doesn't know, will repeat the horrors. He was there,
fighting those wars.  He did not write them down though.  If I
wrote them down, they would only be hearsay, not reliable record
at all - after all, I was very young (17) when he died - and he
had told me those stories many years prior to that. I am at loss,
Richard! And amazed! There is nothing in the past then, that we
can trust or count on as being true, really true. Maybe I am not
even here either... It's all an illusion.
>You have broken my bubble, Richard!

Dear Rauni,

  First of all, please calm down and take a couple of deep

  I have tried often enough to have discussions with you on these
issues, and I always seem to have the same difficulty with you. 
You try to put words into my mouth, you misinterpret what I say
(I assume unintentionally), and you paint things with too broad a

  I DO apply the same test to all historical claims as I do to
the biblical record.  If a historical record claims something
contrary to human experience or scientific knowledge, I assume
that it is myth or legend.  And so do you (or do you believe in
the literal truth of the reports of appearances of the Olympic
gods to characters in Greek and Roman history, or the miraculous
events told of in most ancient histories in all cultures?)  Do
you believe that Caesar's body was carried to heaven in a fiery
chariot, as reported by Suetonius the historian?  Do you believe
that the god Krishna rode with Arjuna in his chariot at the great
battle as recorded in the Baghavad-Gita?  If not, why not?  Do
you believe that Rama was helped by the Monkey King in the wars
recorded in the Ramayana?  If not, why not?  Explain to me,
Rauni, how you recognize when something is a myth or legend, and
when it is not.

  Because I do not find convincing evidence for an alleged
historical event which contradicts all human experience before
and since (the alleged bodily resurrection of Jesus), that does
not mean that I call into question evidence for historical events
which do not claim to be miraculous.  Please go back and read
about King Blik II in a previous post.

  Have you been following the general discussion about evidence
at all?  I thought I had given you my position on all these
points already.  An eyewitness is an eyewitness.  Direct evidence
is direct evidence.  Hearsay evidence is NOT eyewitness evidence. 
Circumstantial evidence is NOT direct evidence.  

  One may be justified in accepting hearsay or circumstantial
evidence to establish that King Blik II of Glog ascended to the
throne at the age of 42 and immediately went to war against Moog. 
But to believe that the king single-handedly slew 50,000 enemy
warriors based on that sort of evidence surely calls upon us to
be skeptical.  It's obviously a myth.  If the same sort of
evidence tells us that the king's body was carried to heaven by a
thousand angels riding winged elephants - we have a report from
someone whose grandfather actually witnessed this spectacle -
would you believe it?

  Do you believe the "Testimony of Three Witnesses" printed in
the front of the Book of Mormon?  Those are eyewitness reports. 
There are millions of copies of that report in print.  If you
don't believe it, and accept it as valid eyewitness evidence, why

  Do you believe that Alexander the Great existed?  I do.  His
life and campaigns are recorded by numerous historians, and we
have physical artifacts and abundant archaeological evidence of
his life.   Legend has it that Alexander was sired by Zeus, who
appeared in the form of a dragon (probably an early version of
the Holy Ghost) and impregnated his mother.  I don't believe
that.  Do you believe that?  If not, why not?  

  The letter from the church at Smyrna reporting Polycarp's
martyrdom reports that the fire would not consume Polycarp's
body, so an executioner stepped up to Polycarp to kill him with a
dagger.  And when he plunged the dagger into the body, out came a
live dove and so much blood that the fire was quenched.  And all
the multitude were *eyewitnesses* to this marvel, according to
the letter.  Do you believe this *eyewitness* account, word for
word?  If not, why not?  If so, then do you believe the
testimonies of the eyewitnesses to the great manifestations that
occurred at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple?  If not, why
not?  If your answer is not the same to both questions, please
explain how the evidence is different.  Actually, it would seem
that the evidence for the angelic manifestations at Kirtland is
considerably better than the evidence for the dove emerging from
Polycarp's body.

  You perhaps have misunderstood a statement I made in an earlier
post, when I commented that some scholars make a good case that
an actual person Jesus never existed.  I personally think that
the evidence is sufficient to show that a man Jesus did exist,
that he was a popular teacher, and that he was executed by the
Romans for treason.  He may also have believed that he was the
messiah promised in the Jewish scriptures, and his followers
almost certainly believed it.  (Remember however that just
because people believe something does not mean that it is true!)

  Now, here is where you usually say something like, "That's what
the gospels say!  That Jesus was executed by the Romans!  That's
true, and you admit that.  Now, everything else the gospel writes
said must be true, too, and they said that he rose from the dead! 
Q.E.D.!"   That is, "if part of it is true, then all of it is
probably true."  If you can see that such a conclusion is not
warranted (John F. seems to be having something of the same
problem), then fine.  Because it is not warranted.  I think I
showed you that already.  (Remember the witness who said he was
born on Pluto?)

  I guess what I am trying to do with this whole discussion is to
subject the NT story to examination in light of the concept of
the nature and the weight of evidence.  What  facts are
sufficient to establish something with enough certainty that we
should accept it as a fact?  Why should we not be as demanding of
the evidence presented for Christianity as we are with the
evidence presented for Mormonism, or for Islam, or for any other
religious claims?

  There is another aspect to this whole question which is not
often mentioned, but it is crucial.  If I accept the reports of
the deeds of Alexander the Great or Abraham Lincoln as relatively
correct, or if I reject them as unbelievable, there is relatively
little harm done.  My life is not immediately affected (unless I
insist at a cocktail party that there was no such person as
Abraham Lincoln - I might be labeled a nut).  But those who
insist (like Ankerberg, and most Christians) that if I do not
accept their story of Jesus' resurrection and give up my present
religion (or lack of religion) my soul will burn in hell for all
eternity, I think I am entitled to more evidence than that
ordinarily used to determine a merely academic question such as
what Lincoln actually said at Gettysburg, don't you think? 
Suppose my religion teaches me (as does Islam) that if I *accept*
the Christian story my soul will burn in hell for all eternity,
don't you think I have a right - an obligation - to demand that
the Christian story have sufficient evidence to remove all doubt
from my mind that it happened the way they say it happened, if I
am to change my whole life? 

  The world is full - and has probably always been full - of
false prophets and false saviors.  How does one recognize a true
one from all the false ones?  Give me a test!  I have asked that
question of hundreds of Christians and Mormons, and I have yet to
get an answer.  Give me a test that I can apply to the evidence
offered on behalf of any religion or system of belief that will
clearly show that all the others are false, but that the one you
are promoting is true.  (Be careful - no question-begging tests,
such as "If it follows the teachings of the Bible, it's true!" or
"If its God died for your sins and was resurrected, it's true!") 

Best wishes to all,


Neville wrote (Richard's comments are interspersed):

>Dear Richard,
>Thanks for sending these letters on the evidence for Christianty to me. I
>liked what Pat wrote. Do you know where in the Bible it claims to be the
>Word of God? And where Jesus said the scripture is God's Word. If Jesus was
>telling lies, how could he be the sinless savour?

Richard comments:
  I can't tell from the way you ask, Neville, whether you want me
to point out to you where the Bible claims to be the Word of God,
or whether you are checking to see whether I already know that. 
I presume the latter.  Yes, I am familiar with about twenty
passages that Christians use to show that the Bible claims to be
the Word of God.  None of them use the word "Bible," of course,
because there was nothing called the "Bible" until several
centuries after Jesus.  There were only many individual books,
some of which were held by the Jews to be sacred, to varying

  So you can't strictly say that the *Bible* "claims to be the
Word of God."  Various authors of different books which later
came to be included in the Bible said that various things in
their own books they got from God, and several made reference to
"scripture" as being "given by inspiration of God" (e.g. 2 Tim
3:16).  But how does this help us?  What did Paul mean by
"scripture"?  At the time he was writing, much of the New
Testament (particularly the gospels and Revelation) had not yet
been written.  How can Paul be referring to works which are still
unwritten?  Does Paul include 2 Timothy under "scripture" as he
is writing it?  You would have to suggest that Paul meant
"Whatever is later decided by the councils of the church to be
included in the Bible canon, a couple of hundred years from now,
that is inspired by God"?  How could Timothy know, as he reads
this letter from Paul, that it is "scripture"?  And yet
Christians accept it as scripture.  

  There are also passages by Paul where Paul seems to be saying
specifically that what he is writing is NOT from God, but just
his opinion (1 Cor 7:6, 12, 25; 2 Cor 11:17).  Paul even corrects
himself at one point (1 Cor 1:14, 16).  Both his original
statement and his correction are now "scripture" and "inspired of

  What about materials in the Bible which can be shown to be
quotations from pagan sources.  Are they also "inspired of God"?

  What about the words which were spoken by prophets of God and
written in books which are NOT in the Bible (there are quite a
few).  Does this mean that they are NOT "scripture"?

  The biggest problem in any inference that the Bible's claim to
be the "Word of God" should itself be taken as any evidence of
the truth of the claim is:  it is so clearly a case of circular
reasoning:  To prove that the Bible is the Word of God, you quote
the Bible, which says that it is the Word of God.  Don't you see
how this is meaningless?

  The Koran also says that it is the Word of God.  The Mormon
Doctrine and Covenants says that it is the Word of God.  Do you
accept those claims as even a hint that those books are, in fact,
the Word of God?  (Or, to paraphrase John Farkas, Do those claims
"lend credence" to the inspiration of those books?)  Of course
not!  And rightly so.  So why then should we lend any more weight
to the same claim as made in the Bible?  (If you are tempted to
reply, "Because I believe the Bible because it is the Word of
God!" then you have succumbed again to that common problem of
Christian apologetics:  circular reasoning. 

>I read the Bible so God can speak to me, and when I do what the Bible says,
>I am helped.

Richard comments:

  I am glad that you can find help in doing what the Bible says,
that you find it a useful guide in your life.  I hope you don't
take it too literally, though, and stone apostates (Ex 22:20,
Deut 17:2-5), or kill your rebellious children (Lev 20:9, Ex
21:17, Deut 21:18-21, affirmed by Jesus Matt 15:3-9).  I hope you
don't take the advice of the Bible at Matt 5:29-30, Matt
19:16-21, Luke 6:36 (if you do, please send me $1000), Luke
14:33), Matt 6:25-34 (do you not have anything "put away" for a
rainy day?), etc.

  But whether you follow the Bible's advice literally and
completely, or whether you only do those things that seem right
to you and disregard the rest, even though it is "inspired by
God," any help that the Bible gives you in leading your life is
NOT evidence that it is from God, is it?  I get a lot of good
advice for my life by following the suggestions of many wise
writers - philosophers, poets, psychologists, thinkers - and very
few of them are Christian.  But they help me.  Is that evidence
that their advice is inspired of God?  

  So I'm afraid that even though you find great comfort in what
you interpret the Bible to be saying to you, I'm afraid it is NOT
evidence that the Bible is inspired.

  And, Neville, when you say "I read the Bible so God can speak
to me," you are again assuming the very thing that you and
Christians like Ankerberg are trying to prove.  If the Bible is
NOT in fact the Word of God, then it isn't God speaking to you
when you read it, is it?  No matter how wise or lovely or
inspiring those words may be, and however helpful they may be. 
How do you know that you are not being misled, that there would
not be better advice, greater wisdom, more knowledge, from some
other source which your devotion to the Bible now forces you to
exclude from consideration?

>I hope you don't mind this little Bible study, but these are some of the
>verses that have been a help to me.
>Here are some verses that helped me to believe in Christ:
>John 12:10-11, "But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus
>also to death; 
> 11  Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed
>on Jesus."
>Why did the chief priests want to put Lazarus to death?
>John 20:29-31, "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me,
>thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have
> 30  And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples,
>which are not written in this book: 
> 31  But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ,
>the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
>Why did Thomas believe?
>The Bible is not against reason, we have a reason for the hope that is in
>us. 1Peter 3:15, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready
>always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope
>that is in you with meekness and fear:"
>Proverbs 10:21, "The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for
>want of wisdom."

Richard comments:

  I am not surprised that if you read the Christian propaganda
material, which were written specifically to convince the reader
that Christianity is God's religion, and if you read it without
questioning it, you will believe it.  Of course.  That is true of
any religious propaganda.  

  What would you say to a Mormon who used the same argument to
you:  "Here are passages from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine
and Covenants that have helped me to believe that Joseph Smith
was a prophet of God:..."?  With the implication, of course, that
if YOU will read them and accept them, you will also believe that
Joseph Smith was a prophet?  And yet that is exactly what you are
doing with your citation of Bible verses.  Of course if I
accepted those verses and believed them and acknowledged them as
"inspired of God" I would become a Christian.  But why should I? 
That is the whole point of this discussion:  What evidence is
there to convince me to believe it?

>Have you seen this web site?
>Index to Biblical Contradictions

Richard comments:

  No, I was not aware of this site.  Thanks for the URL.  I'll
take a look at it.

  Right now I'm occupied with the Habermas/Flew debate, referred
to by Ankerberg in his article.  I'm about 30 pages into it. 
I'll post some brief (I hope) comments when I've finished it.

>1. God is satisfied/unsatisfied with his works
>2. God dwells/dwells not in chosen temples
>3. God dwells in light/darkness
>4. God is seen/unseen and heard/unheard
>Kind Regards,
>...[snip quote from Pat 7/18/98, presenting NT eyewitness

Sharon writes, responding to Richard, whose comments are

>I read with interest your various correspondences.  Thanks for sharing
>them.  I gave my friend Charles everything you sent me and I think he will
>write to you--not to engage in a long discussion as he has no  time for that
>now--but mainly to share his story with you.  He says you  two share
>similar things. 
>> don't you think I have a right - an obligation - 
>>to demand that the Christian story have sufficient evidence to remove all
>>doubt from my mind that it happened the way they say it happened, if I am to
>>change my whole life? 
>>  The world is full - and has probably always been full - of false prophets
>>and false saviors.  How does one recognize a true one from all the false
>>ones?  Give me a test! 
>"HOW can we KNOW when a message has not been spoken by the
>Richard, your question was asked thousands of years ago already! Here's
>your test:
>...If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord DOES NOT TAKE PLACE
>or COME TRUE, that is a message the Lord has not spoken."  Deut. 18
>"...a prophet...will be recognized as one truely sent by the Lord ONLY if
>his prediction COMES TRUE."  Jer. 28
>Richard, in my estimation, prophecy is one of the strongest evidences that
>we have been given.

Richard responds:

  The test in Deuteronomy 18 is a fine test, and a good test. 
However, if you read it carefully, it is not just a test of
whether the prophecy is false, but whether the prophet is false: 
the penalty for the supposed prophet who utters a false prophecy
is death (Deut 18:20).  That is, one false prophecy - one
unfulfilled prophecy, however many fulfilled prophecies the man
may have uttered - condemns him.  The implication is that a
prophecy should be fulfilled within a normal lifetime -
otherwise, how could the false prophet be punished?  Ezek
12:21-28 specifically deals with this problem (the false
prophecies the fulfillment of which is claimed to be yet "far
off") by the Lord saying that no more will the fulfillment of
prophecy be "prolonged."

  One of the problems with testing the fulfillment of ancient
prophecies is that we can rarely be certain that the prophecy was
actually made and recorded before the fulfilling event.  The
prophecy of Josiah which Ankerberg mentioned, for example, is
recorded in the Book of Kings, which is generally dated from
Josiah's time.  

  Even disregarding that, however, the fulfillment record of
Biblical prophecy is not very impressive.  The last few years I
have been making a list of Biblical prophecies for my own notes,
and there are an awful lot of them that were not fulfilled and
never can be fulfilled.  The list is pretty long.  What I find
interesting is that Christian apologists who try to explain why
all these prophecies were not fulfilled use exactly the same
arguments that Mormons use to explain the failure of practically
all of Joseph Smith's prophecies.  So, if you can make excuses
for the nonfulfillment of all these Biblical prophecies, are you
willing to allow Joseph Smith the same latitude?

  (I debated with myself about including a list of failed Bible
prophecies here, but it would make this post too long.  I'll send
it to anybody who wants it.)

>"...the basic reality of God is plain enough.... By taking a long and
>thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to
>see what their eyes as such can't see:  eternal power, for instance and the
>mystery of his divine being."  Rom. 1

Richard comments:

  I think we see some circular reasoning here:  If we look at
what God has created, we will realize that God created it? 
Merely by choosing the transitive verb "create" you have biased
the statement.  I can just as easily (and just as justifiably)
say:  "By taking a long and thoughtful look at what exists, all
by itself, and has existed by itself as long as we can tell, we
can see how existence simply exists, without any outside force,
whether we understand all the details of it or not."
>A strong evidence with me is birds.  Yep.  Birds.

  Well, I'll bite, Sharon!  :-)  Does it have anything to do with
the Holy Ghost appearing in the form of a dove?

>I assume you are knowledgable of F.F. Bruce's "The NT Documents--Are They
>Reliable?"  and "The Defense of the Gospel in the NT"?

  No, I'm afraid I am not.  Are you familiar with Randell Helms'
book "Gospel Fictions" which shows the fictional nature of the

Pat writes:

>   We have been trying to tell you that we think we have sufficient evidence
>for the claims of Christianity, but what we present is not acceptable to

  And I have been trying to tell you that your evidence does not
meet the standards of the ordinary rules of evidence, which was
the standard Ankerberg claimed he was using.

>    Earlier in you post you said, "If a historical record claims something
>contrary to human experience or scientific knowledge, I assume that it is a
>myth or legend."  Why so?  That is the only option, or the only one that you
>will accept? 
>    And you said, "Because I do not find convicing evidence for an alleged
>historical event which contradicts all human experience before and since
>(the alleged bodily resurrection of Jesus), that does not mean that I call
>into question evidence for historical events which do not claim to be
>miraculous."  So it is the miracle part that you object to?
>    If you are going to take the position that there can be no miracles,
>then hasn't your bias (against miracles) arbitrarily eliminated options up
>   A Christian, on the other hand, can believe in the laws of nature, but
>also be open to the possibilty of God's intervention.  Both can be
>consistent with his world view.
>    Can you tell me with absolute certainty that miracles cannot happen?
>Wouldn't you have to know everything about the way the universe works; how
>reality itself works?  Isn't the idea that miracles cannot or do not happen
>an article of faith in itself?

Richard responds:

  I think I referred you to my article on this issue at
ml>.  The "bias against miracles" argument is often used by
Christian apologists to deflate criticism of biblical miracles,
and particularly the resurrection and virgin birth.  I think it's
a false issue, and it is misused by both sides of the debate.  

  I suggest that the issue is confused by the use of the word
"miracle."  The issue is not whether an event is a "miracle" or
whether a "miracle" has occurred.  The issue is whether a
particular person (Jesus) really died, and then a couple of days
later, after having *really* been dead, came back to life (and
then flew off to heaven with a lot of people watching).  I don't
care what you want to call it.  I just want reliable evidence
that it happened.

  I offered the testimony of a witness who had been born on the
planet Pluto.  That's pretty hard to believe.  Do you believe
what the witness said about his birthplace?  Would you believe it
if you had sufficient evidence?  If so, what would that evidence
be?  (Or are you biased against the idea of people being born on
the planet Pluto and coming to earth?)

  I probably should have stated my position (which you quoted) a
little more precisely:
"If a historical record claims something contrary to human
experience or scientific knowledge, I assume that it is a myth or
legend."  I should have added: "...unless there is a tremendous
amount of evidence which shows that it really did happen, and
there is no other explanation for that evidence."

  You ask whether I can tell you with absolute certainty that
miracles cannot happen.  Let me remind you that the burden of
proof is on the one asserting something, not the one contesting
it.  So, define "miracle" and then prove to me with absolute
certainty that such a thing can happen.  You have the burden of

>>...[snip of quote from Richard]...
>>...  Give me a test that I can
>>apply to the evidence offered on behalf of any religion or system of belief
>>that will clearly show that all the others are false, but that the one you
>>are promoting is true.  (Be careful - no question-begging tests, such as "If
>>it follows the teachings of the Bible, it's true!" or "If its God died for
>>your sins and was resurrected, it's true!")
>The test of Christianity rests in the resurrection of Jesus.  When you look
>at Islam, the question is, did Mohammed return from the dead, or is he still
>in his grave?  

 No, Pat, you are doing exactly what I warned about:  you are
creating a test that only your religion can satisfy, without
showing us why that should be the test of the "true" religion. 
Why should the death and coming to life of the founder of a
religion be the only possible evidence that it is true?  I think
a much better test would be that the founder never died at all,
but is still alive after 5000 years.  Or that he is still walking
around, visible to anybody, and emptying the hospitals and the
graveyards, 24 hours a day.  I can think of a hundred better
tests than the one that happens to fit the Christians' claims
about Jesus.  

>If he is still in his grave, does he have the power to save
>anyone?  The same goes for any other religious leader.   How many have
>returned from the grave?   By the way, haven't most religious leaders urged
>their followers to follow their teachings as a means of enlightenment, etc.?
>How many claimed to have the power to  raise people from the dead.  

  Claims are easy, Pat.  This discussion is about the EVIDENCE
for claims.  And the issue of whether Jesus returned from the
dead is the VERY ISSUE we are discussing, precisely because you
Christians do not have any reliable evidence that it actually
happened.  You are begging the question terribly here, Pat.

>That is
>the claim that Jesus made - for Himself and eventually for us.  Jesus was
>not just a teacher whe asked people to listen to his teachings. He asked
>people to believe that He is God.

  Pat, you are preaching here, you are bearing your testimony,
not presenting evidence.  (Actually, if I wanted to be flippant,
I would ask you to believe that I am God.  Does that make me

>    Getting back to miracles.  Actually, there is only one important one
>when  God intervened in human history that we need to mainly concern
>ourselves with.  Paul was convinced of that, for he said,"For what I
>received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our
>sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on
>the third day according to the Scriputres, and that he appeared to Peter,
>and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred
>of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some
>have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally
>born." (1 Cor. 15:3-7)  If this did not actually happen, then Jesus' claims
>to be the only way to God can be dismissed.

  Again, can you prove to me that what Paul claimed actually
happened?  How does his claim have more credibility than the
claim of Joseph Smith?  Claims are easy to make, but hard to

>    But, in order to dismiss the resurrection, there are still a lot of
>circumstantial evidence that would have to be explained away.  I guess that
>is the bottom line.  While I don't think that anyone can prove to you
>scientifically, that it actually occurred, ...

  Ah, but that's exactly what Ankerberg claimed:  that the
evidence to prove the resurrection was overwhelming....

>...the question is, what is the most
>reasonable explanation for the outcome of the empty tomb?  All of the
>explanations that I have heard require as much or more credulity than
>believing that Jesus is who He said He is.

  I thought I had posted the evidence rule about circumstantial
evidence.  It must be credible, not contrary to ordinary human
experience or the laws of science and nature, and it must not be
explainable by any other possible theory other than the one which
it is being called upon to support. 

  You also seem to be assuming that we must accept the gospel
reports - contradictory and late and third- or fourth-hand (or
even more remote) - as word-for-word reliable.  I fail to see why
we must do that.

  I really fail to see how the "empty tomb" report is that
important.  I can imagine all kinds of explanations for a report
of an empty grave or tomb which do not require one to assume that
the occupant has come back to life.  We are bound by Ockham's
Razor (the "law of parsimony") to take any of those mundane
explanations in preference to assuming that the body has come
back to life.  And circumstantial evidence won't do it, under the
laws of evidence.

  I have suggested (as have many others) several explanations for
the reports in the New Testament, utilizing what we know about
human psychology, about mass movements, about the culture of the
times, about literary and theological customs of the time, about
how legends develop.  With the evidence that we have, without
being credulous, those events are 100% explainable.  No miracles
occurred, no rising from the dead, nothing which cannot be
explained by what we know from our ordinary experience.  So,
shall we accept a perfectly mundane, ordinary explanation, or
shall we be credulous and take the most outrageous possible
explanation (which is no explanation at all, really, but a "great
mystery of Godliness")?

  The only miracle about the resurrection, it seems to me, is
that so many people insist on believing it with so flimsy
evidence for it.

  The burden of proof is still on those who claim that the
resurrection occurred.  The evidence that Christians have
presented does not pass the test of the ordinary laws of
evidence.  I have pointed out exactly why that is.  You have not
pointed out how my analysis is incorrect.

Evelyn writes (Richard's comments follow):

>Richard, dear!
>I have to say that I am an eye witness to a vision of the cross right here
>in my living room in broad daylight. This occurred on Sept. 19th at noon in
>1989. I was very much a Mormon. When it faded I made a colored sketch of it
>in every detail my mind's eye remembered. I shared my sketch with a Navajo
>Mormon missionary who was hoping my lovely daughter would wait for him and
>for Christmas that year he made me a wood carving of my vision. Mormons
>don't want to look upon a cross. Yet this fellow had a personal
>relationship with Jesus and he treasured my experience as much as if he had
>it himself. It was one of the puzzle pieces that eventually came together
>to bring me out of Mormonism. Plus a dear friend and I had shared a
>vision/tongues experience in the Celestial room at the Chicago Temple on
>June 13, 1993 at about 3 p.m. This one revealed to us that  the Temple God
>was Satan. Another puzzle piece to add to the whole picture. A dream both
>my friend and I had on the same night-Sept. 26, 1993-where Jesus came to us
>and told us both-she living 25 miles from me-that He came for the whole
>world-not just a select group of people. Another puzzle piece. A Bible
>Study wherein we read in Job 33:14-18, 28-30 why we LDS sisters had our
>visions and dreams. You can read it for yourself. BINGO!!! The puzzle
>pieces finally fit together and formed a clear picture as to why we had to
>resign from the Mormon cult and from there we learned through the Holy
>Spirit what our purpose was and through our witness between us we have
>touched about one thousand people's lives and stopped them from going on to
>get baptized as Mormons (since Nov. 1993 when we finally had the guts to
>stop going to that cult.  
>Two sisters ( I was her visiting teacher for 5 yrs). finding the truth
>through something supernatural. We both experienced it. WE both saw visions
>and had the same dream. I could no more deny what happened to me and Sandra
>than you can deny what happened in your life to cause your decision to
>leave the cult. We personally lived it and witnessed it and I can't deny
>it. I guess if someone threatened to kill me if I didn't change my story
>then they would have to kill me. Because I can't change my story. It really
>My minister told me that Constantine also had a vision of the cross and
>very few people in history have had that same vision (that recorded it
>Well, that's my  eyewitness report!!
>Best wishes,

Richard comments:

  Dear Evelyn, I hope you know how much I respect you, the
sincerity of your beliefs, the continuing affection you have
shown to such a persistent atheist as I am.  You have shared with
me before (I don't recall whether you posted it on exmormon also)
some of your very moving spiritual experiences, and I find them
very moving.  I understand why you are so firm in the convictions
which you base on those experiences.

  And because of my affection for you, I am reluctant to say
anything about your experiences - which were so profound and so
personal.  But, in order to keep this discussion open, frank and
rational, I'm afraid that I must.

  Let me assure you, right off, that I do not doubt for a single
moment that you experienced what you report.  I am certain that
you did.

  But I must, in my own mind, place your experiences alongside
the experiences of thousands of others who have used similar
words to report similar (and, unfortunately, in some respects not
so similar) experiences.  Human beings have been having religious
experiences - dreams, visions, rapturous visitations, etc. -
through all of recorded history.  William James wrote his classic
"Varieties of Religious Experience" on this subject.  And when
one studies these religious experiences - from all cultures and
religions - one is struck by two things:  their great similarity
and their great dissimilarity.  They are similar in that the
person who has such an experience is profoundly moved by it, it
sometimes changes his life, it is the most real and vivid
experience he has ever had.  They are dissimilar in content,
however.  The experience had by the Muslim testifies of Mohammed
and Allah; the experience by the Christian is "proof" of Christ;
the Mormon sees Joseph Smith in the Celestial Kingdom, etc.  Can
all of these visions and manifestations be from the One God?  Why
- if the true God is Jehovah/Jesus - would a Muslim have a moving
religious experience which confirms his faith in Islam, which
teaches him that he will spend forever in hell if he believes in
the divinity of Jesus?

  Now, you will immediately object that you had a vision of the
Christian cross while you were still a Mormon.  Paul saw a vision
of Jesus while he was persecuting Christians.  Constantine saw
the vision of the cross while he was still pagan.  I think that
is no problem:  an obvious possible explanation is that the
vision involved something already present in the subconscious
mind.  What seems never to happen is that a Tibetan monk who
never heard of Jesus has a moving vision of him (and the monk has
to ask, Who are you? and the vision answers 'Jesus the Christ,'
and the monk has to say, I never heard of you.)

  To use such visions as hard evidence, however, causes immediate
problems.  We have your report of your visions and dreams.  We
also have the reports of the Three Witnesses to the Book of
Mormon.  Shall we give them equal credence?  We have Joseph
Smith's report of his visitation from the Angel Moroni (I'll not
mention the First Vision, since there seems to be contradictions
there in the reporting, just as there is in the reports of Paul's
vision).  Mohammed testifies of his communications with the angel
Gabriel.  And so on.  Either we must accept them all at face
value, or we must look for more solid evidence.  The ultimate
problem, of course, is that a "religious experience" can only be
evidence for the person who experiences it.  Even the Bible warns
us to "test the spirits" - but how do we test them?  If we are
believing something false, wouldn't an evil spirit confirm us in
that false belief?  The testimony of the vision or the spirit
must be tested by some other means.  

  Even if I were to have such an experience, I would have to
remind myself that a hallucination is a hallucination precisely
because it seems so real.

Bruce writes (Richard's response at the end):

>Dear Friends on this thread,
>Since I last posted I went to Adam's funeral and have been on the road.  I
>have done some real soul searching, yes also prayer..  I wish to share with
>you all some my thoughts and considerations on this topic.  I have no outline
>for what I wish to say so I will simply let the thoughts come as they will and
>hope it is not too fragmented.
>I was thinking how so many exmormons I've seen come the list with their belief
>in God shattered.  It seems common.  I think it is perfectly logical IF one's
>belief in God was based on the man Joseph Smith, Jr.  
>Another thought I had was that if there is a God, it is obviously Its Nature
>to allow false prophets, false claims, false scripture and false religions.  
>It should also be obvious that all religions cannot be true yet many religions
>have huge financial assets and large followings.  Based on this observation I
>must conclude that it is also God's nature to allow false religions to
>flourish and succeed and deceive.
>Other thoughts I will save for another post.  (I just realized I have so
>In the most recent discussion I read on this thread Richard asked Rauni the
>following questions: 
>...[snip of Richard's request for a test to apply to religious
>Bruce:  Richard, allow me to answer according to my ability. Please keep in
>mind that most believers believe that God is Invisible and Jesus the same -
>Invisible.  I am not a witness to the resurrection of Jesus nor do I know
>anyone who is.
>Invisible things are VERY real.  The very Love one feels for his or her family
>is very real yet entirely invisible.  I offer this only as one example and I
>could list many other examples of Invisible Realities but I don't feel the
>need to.
>It is not my belief that it’s God's Nature to hide -- on the contrary.  I also
>don't believe that it is our job to "pierce the veil" so to speak and find
>In my humble opinion our part is small -- the greater part is His.
>If you would like me to expound what I think "our part" is please ask.
>I won't attempt to answer the other questions because I am not in a position
>to apologize for or defend certain things.
>This thread has been most helpful to me and is very close to me.  I wish to
>thank all contributors.

Richard's comment:

  I have no problem admitting that many "real" things are
invisible.  (I might point out that imaginary things are usually
also invisible.)  But the resurrection of Jesus is claimed to be
an actual, non-invisible event, and Ankerberg (and many other
Christians) also claim that the evidence for its having actually
happened is sufficient to convince any open-minded person, using
the ordinary rules of evidence.

  It seems to me, in fact, that one of the most convincing
arguments against the existence of the Christian God is the very
paucity of the evidence for the historicity of the events on
which that religion is based.  It seems utterly inconceivable
that God would make my eternal salvation depend on my acceptance
of certain things as facts, and would provide me with a brain,
yet not provide the evidence to permit me with good conscience to
acknowledge those supposedly essential truths as such, but rather
make them appear contradictory, absurd, and unbelievable.  Why
shouldn't the true religion make sense?

Best wishes to all,


Comments? (Please, no preaching or hate mail!) Write:  packham@teleport.com

©  1998 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”    — John 8:32

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