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2007-07-16 23:59:15
2007-07-16 23:59:15

Josh McDowell is one of the most popular writers that fundamentalist Christianity has. He is also one of the least trustworthy. Almost nothing he says in his books (e.g., Evidence That Demands a Verdict) has been researched at more than the most superficial of levels. Perhaps it is that very sloppiness that makes his books popular with lazy students who don't want to be confused with a lot of facts. They want simple answers, even when there aren't any. McDowell has produced a leaflet called A Skeptic's Quest , which ought to alarm all real skeptics. In it, he tells how he became a Christian. His story may be typical of how a person becomes a fundamentalist Christian. Especially interesting is how little real scholarship or investigation is required. If his conversion is typical, then we can learn a lot from it. It seems that McDowell was a self-proclaimed "skeptic" during his undergraduate days. He became impressed with a small group of students whose lives seemed to have purpose. Those students were, of course, fundamentalist Christians. Obviously, what the purpose of their lives was that McDowell didn't have in his life, didn't seem to matter much to him. Any purpose seemingly would do. He interacted with the students and was given the challenge "to examine intellectually who Jesus Christ was" Of course, if he had tried honestly to do this, he would have come up dry, because outside of the New Testament itself, nothing is known of Jesus Christ. The way in which McDowell came up with exactly the opposite conclusion, namely that belief in Jesus was intellectually correct, is interesting. It shows how faulty reasoning can easily lead one astray. McDowell decided that to disprove the intellectual validity of Jesus be had to: 1) demonstrate that the New Testament was not historically reliable, 2) since every-thing in Christianity was based upon Jesus' resurrection, all he had to do was prove that the resurrection never took place. Of course, the fact that it is logically impossible to prove that an event never took place didn't bother McDowell. He came to the incredible conclusion (on the basis of a faulty examination of the faulty evidence) that "the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best established events in history, according to the laws of legal evidence" The fact that none of the "evidence" could have been admitted into a current American court under any of the ordinary rules of evidence seems not to bother McDowell. To establish the first point above (upon which the second point depends), McDowell says he relied upon three basic tests: 1) the bibliographic test (he says this evaluates how many manuscripts you have, but this is really only one part of that test), 2) the internal evidence test, and 3) the external evidence test. Let us take each of these in turn. The bibliographic test for a manuscript in reality is: 1) can we trace the manuscript back to the original in an unbroken chain?, 2) how many copies of the manuscript are there?, 3) how closely do the copies agree?, 4) do we have any (or all) of the manuscript in the handwriting of the purported author? In reality, the New Testament flunks badly tests number 1) and 4). We have a 300+ year gap between the first entire Gospel manuscript and the time at which it was supposed to have been written. In addition, we have no manuscript in the handwriting of the purported author. In fact, we don't even know who the authors of the Gospels were. Remember, it's the Gospel accordng to Mark, Luke, Matthew, or John. This means that it's only an attribution, but not an established fact that anyone named that actually wrote a word of any Gospel. McDowell seems incapable of reasoning. He claims that there are 14,000 or 26,000 manuscripts of the New Testament. So what? What we need is not thousands of manuscripts from the Middle Ages (which is when most of these were written), but two or three from the exact time that Jesus supposedly lived and died. We have none until at least 40-60 years later (that is none was written down until then, but things remained in an oral tradition form), and we have no copies of any Gospel until the Codex Sianaticus of 350 A.D., more than 300 years later. Next, we must realize that because of both the unknown authors, the 40-60 year gap, and the 300 year gap to a complete Gospel text, we do not have reliable eyewitness testimony in the Gospels. Once you realize this, any attempt to document the life of Jesus or his purported resurrection (the Gospel accounts, in addition, conflict with each other), as reliable history becomes impossible. McDowell has committed an intellectual travesty by claiming the evidence is overwhelming (it is overwhelmingly negative for the resurrection of Jesus. Worse, McDowell has passed off this travesty upon unsuspecting college students, who don't know enough to see through his inadequacies as a scholar. When a group is as intellectually bankrupt as the fundamentalists seem to be (which of them has denounced McDowell for his inadequacies?), then we know that what they are pushing as their beliefs are unjustified. The "legal-historical method" is McDowell's claim to Christian evidence and it is weak in method and substance. Other aspects of McDowell's apologetics are equally weak. The apologist does not put forth evidence for supernaturalism per se. McDowell never supplies any empirical or philosophical argument that would demonstrate, even in principle, the possibility of supernaturalism. He never attempts to prove the existence of deity, nor does he try to posit even as much as a coherent definition of "God." He does not tender any argument that would support his initial bias towards belief in the supernatural. Perhaps he realizes that to address such issues would backfire and harm his attempt to "prove" Christianity. The apologist ignores modern biblical scholarship. One of the more salient aspects of McDowell's writings is the fact that he is completely out of sync with modern Protestant scholarship. He would be more at home in the 19th century. All of the textual and historical analyses that constitute the great bulk of scholarship today are cast aside in favor of the "Old-Time Religion" approach. McDowell, far from devising fresh arguments, is perpetrating a neo-fundamentalism that depends less on scholarship than it does on overt dogmatism. The apologists "evidence" is often nothing more than mere fundamentalist rhetoric. A great portion of McDowell's books consist of confirmation had from strictly orthodox scholars and laymen. The apologist will claim to offer "evidence" for his argument, but the evidence often turns out to be fundamentalist rhetoric from another source. For McDowell, fundamentalist rhetoric is secondary "evidence that demands a verdict." The apologist emasculates science. One of the more curious notions of McDowell's is his belief that science "is based on showing that something is a fact by repeating the event in the presence of the person questioning the fact" (More Than a Carpenter p. 37). By restricting science to such a narrow purview, we are left questioning the scientific credentials of Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, to name only three. Such a restriction ignores the full-bodied approach of science that brings rationality and logic to all systematic disciplines. McDowell perhaps purposefully limits science in the hope that his prejudicial belief in supernaturalism will forgo scientific scrutiny. In summation: McDowell has been refuted twice over. First, the Humean critique of the miraculous is a compelling argument against the Christian's fundamental assertions about the "historical" accounts of supernatural events. McDowell never shakes loose from the grasp of the skeptic and the result is fatal. Secondly, McDowell cannot recuperate from a hard look at his "evidence that demands a verdict," the "legal-historical proof." The "verdict" is in: The so-called "evidence" is no evidence at all; it is the uncritical, dogmatic acceptance of the New Testament. This brings us back to the fountainhead of the debate between Christian and freethinker. As much as McDowell would deny it, his case for Christianity rests not on compelling "evidence" but on religious faith. McDowell has not been able to elevate his case beyond a faith commitment; he has failed to "prove" Christianity. Belief in Christianity rests where it has always rested-on faith. Christians only need the Bible. And after the faith has come, he has no more need even of the Bible. All other readings the Bible or other books from Christian authors is self-hypnosis. Visit his website and make up your own mind. The link is on the left. I have not read the complete works of McDowell from cover to cover but I here refer to Evidence That Demands A Verdict and More Evidence That Demands a Verdict published in 1972 and 1975 respectively.
I make some observations on these works. Far from being ignorant, ill-informed, unscholarly etc. the research and broadness of study indicate quite the reverse. McDowell quotes regularly and freely from all sides of an issue and at length to fairly give the context of an argument. To illustrate this I noted the footnotes list given at the end of each chapter/section of one books. The second is much the same.
Evidence - Introduction 22 Chapter 4 - 108
Chapter 5 - 8
Chapter 7 - 44
Chapter 8 - 57
Chapter 9 - 29
Chapter 10 - 73
Chapter 11 - 54
Chapter 12 - 60

The point to me seems to be that the author of the above comments seems not to have read either of these two McDowell works. Given their published dates enough time seems to have transpired for this to happen. Obviously one is always free to disagree. It seems to me the works are balanced and well argued and fair to all sides. A Christian Apoloetic (defender) who did more harm to Christianity in his book "Evidence That Demands a Verdict."


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