Josh McDowell's Charade by Gordon Stein, Ph.D
Copyright by Gordon Stein
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, and 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?, and 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.
Copyright 1995 Internet Infidels
Electronic Reproduction Permission.