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The Case Against Christianity Revisited

by Michael Martin and Stephen Parrish

from the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1994, page 49. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

Boston University philosopher Michael Martin's The Case Against Christianity was highly acclaimed in atheist circles as a book which "Christian theologians and philosophers must at least try to respond to...if they wish to be taken seriously by their peers" (Free Inquiry, Winter 1991/92). In the Spring 1993 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL Christian philosopher Stephen Parrish (William Tyndale College) rose to this challenge with a two-and-one-half page Summary Critique of Martin's book.

Martin responded by sending the JOURNAL a rebuttal of Parrish's article. In the interest of fairness, and of advancing understanding of the debate, we here present Martin's reply, followed by Parrish's rejoinder.

Rebuttal by Michael Martin

In his review of my book, Stephen Parrish says: "It is encouraging if this is the best atheists can do." After reading Parrish's review, I am inclined to pay him a similar compliment: It is encouraging if this is the best Christians can do in defending their doctrines against my criticisms.

Parrish fails utterly to undermine the main thrust of my argument since he does not seem to realize what it is and attacks relatively minor points in my book. One of my book's basic themes is that the major doctrines of Christianity are based on miraculous historical events such as the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection. Because miracle claims are initially incredible, belief in them requires very strong evidence. I show repeatedly in my book that this evidence is unavailable. Parrish doesn't even attempt to answer this criticism.

One-third of Parrish's review defends the historicity of Jesus. Yet I make it clear in my book that my argument against Jesus' historicity -- covered in a single chapter -- will play no further role in my critique of the doctrines of Christianity. Thus, a person can consistently reject my argument against Jesus' historicity and yet believe that Christianity's major doctrines are improbable. Indeed, many critics of Christianity do precisely this.

Another example of Parrish's inability to come to terms with the major thrust of my critique is his defense of the Resurrection. He raises seven criticisms -- most of them on minor matters -- but never addresses my argument that in order to believe in a miracle, extremely strong evidence is needed, which in the case of the Resurrection is not available.

In his second criticism relating to the Resurrection, it is clear that Parrish completely misunderstands my argument. Based on my standard, he says, "most historical writing would be ruled out." This is nonsense. Most historical writing does not postulate miracles. Stricter standards are required in evaluating historical claims about miracles than claims about ordinary historical events since such claims postulate initially improbable events. Thus I am not being hypercritical of Paul and other New Testament writers as Parrish claims. I am simply demanding that we have very strong evidence regarding the reliability of the witnesses if we are to take their word about seeing the resurrected Jesus.

Still another example of Parrish's failure to come to terms with what is crucial in my book is his defense of the Incarnation. Although I argue that the concept of the Incarnation is incoherent, I also argue that, even if it is not, in order to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, very strong evidence is needed concerning Jesus' miracle-working ability and his moral perfection. But the evidence for Jesus' miracle-working ability is weak and there is good reason to suppose that Jesus had moral faults. Yet Parrish ignores this argument and only tries to show that I have not demonstrated the incoherence of the Incarnation.

So, Parrish has failed to refute the main thrust of my argument. But is he correct on the relatively minor points he raises?

Parrish concludes that my book offers critics a "target-rich environment." Perhaps. But critics had better be sure they have taken proper aim lest they end up shooting themselves. And they had better be sure that the "targets" they aim at are not illusions created by their own biases.

Counter-Rebuttal by Stephen Parrish

Martin attacks me for spending one-third of my review on his chapter dealing with Jesus' historicity. The historicity of Jesus is the foundation of all else in Christianity. If it is not defensible, then Christianity falls. If Martin doesn't stand by his chapter he should say so. If he does stand by it, then critiquing it is fair game.

Because of space limitations, I didn't deal with Martin's argument that miraculous events are initially incredible, and very strong evidence is therefore required to rationally believe in them. Nonetheless, I will deal with it now.

The antecedent probability of miracles is relative to different world views. On atheistic grounds, miracles are improbable at best; on theistic grounds, they are plausible. There is no universal plausibility structure for miracles. The Resurrection is essential to Christianity; that is, in the plausibility structure of Christianity the probability of the Resurrection is 100 percent. Martin begs the question in favor of atheism by presupposing its probability structure.

What is needed is a historical examination of the Resurrection. If the Resurrection has strong historical evidence, then it supports the Christian view and undermines the atheistic view. Martin's basic objection is philosophical, not historical. He presupposes the truth of atheism, and on that basis rejects the evidence.

Further, even on Martin's terms, being hyperskeptical of the writings that describe miracles is the wrong procedure. If one is investigating miraculous claims historically, the proper procedure is to objectively evaluate the documents to see if they meet whatever standard for confirming miraculous events one accepts.

Finally, the criticisms I made of Martin's attacks against the Bible are quite relevant. He argues that the Bible is unreliable and therefore does not support the truth of Christianity. I argue that his attacks can be refuted, and the historicity of the Bible stands. Does he really think the dates of the Gospels, the prophetic abilities of Jesus, and the early creedal evidence for the Resurrection, are minor points? If so, he has a strange idea of what is minor.

In response to Martin's numbered arguments, I offer the following brief replies.

The critique stands.

End of document, CRJ0190A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"The Case Against Christianity Revisited"
release A, December 1, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.

Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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