Secular Humanism/Part 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Paul Kurtz, and Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2005
What historical evidence about Jesus’ life do secularists not want your children to hear? Why do humanists oppose the teaching of creation in schools?


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Secular Humanism – Part 3

What Historical Evidence About Jesus Life Do Secularists Not Want Your Children To Hear?

John Ankerberg: We’re talking about Secular Humanism. Is there any rational justification for being a Humanist? And, is it more or less “rational” for a person to hold to biblical Christian beliefs?

My guests are Dr. Paul Kurtz, the man who drafted the “Humanist Manifesto II” and “A Secular Humanist Declaration.” He’s also the editor of the main Secular Humanist magazine entitled, Free Inquiry. My second guest, Dr. Norman Geisler, an Orthodox Christian scholar, the author of many books on philosophy and theology.

Tonight we want to talk about Secular Humanists’ view of God. In the Humanist Declaration, Paul, we find these statements that you (Secular Humanists) say: “We find the traditional views of the existence of God either are meaningless or have not yet been demonstrated to be true. Secular Humanists find insufficient evidence for the claim that some divine purpose exists for the universe.” They reject the idea that God has intervened “miraculously” in history or revealed Himself to a chosen few, or that He can save or redeem sinners. “We reject the divinity of Jesus. We do not accept as true the literal interpretation of the Old and New Testaments.”

Now, along with this, in the magazine that you’re the editor of, Free Inquiry, I was really appalled here, Paul, that you have a deal, “Was Jesus a God?” And the state­ment that is made in here, “Jesus nowhere claims to be a God in the New Testa­ment.” Paul, do you really want to go with that?

Paul Kurtz: Who is that article by, John?

Ankerberg: Tom Franczyk.

Kurtz: I see. Yes. Well, you’re raising the question, “Is Jesus the Son of God? Is he divine? What’s the evidence for that?”

Ankerberg: First of all, though, I looked at this article and I just had to say that most Christians that have opened their Bible and looked at it would say, “This guy couldn’t find any verses?” He says, “Nowhere did Jesus claim to be a god,” [but he] never checked out Mark 2, and never checked out the book of John, where even the enemies of Jesus said, “He being a man makes Himself out to be a God.” Or “Jesus said, “…to prove that I have authority on earth to forgive sins,” He did some­thing.

Kurtz: I don’t necessarily agree with Tom Franczyk in that article. Being the editor of a journal, I don’t agree with everything that I publish in the journal.

Ankerberg: I’m glad to hear that.

Kurtz: But in any case, I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to say that Jesus was divine, to take it to that point. Because I don’t take the Bible as divinely in­spired. I think the Bible is a human document, like the Qur’an, like the Book of Mormon, and that these were written by primitive people—the Bible over a thousand years, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. And I don’t think that the claims of revelation or miracles, as you read in the Bible, can be supported by the evidence. That’s why I’m a skeptic about the divinity of Jesus.

Ankerberg: Okay, you don’t think there is enough evidence concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, supported by the historical documents of the New Testament, to give probability historically that Jesus is God?

Kurtz: The answer to that is “No.” Now, I’m not a biblical scholar. That’s not my field (biblical criticism) so I will speak as a philosopher. I find that the New Testa­ment… the four Gospels of the New Testament, as far as I can tell, were not written by eyewitnesses. They were written by people who themselves did not know Jesus directly—neither Paul, nor Mark, nor the other authors of the Gospels.

Ankerberg: Then you’re not familiar with William F. Albright, [from] Johns-Hopkins, who said before he died that every one of the books of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the time of 40 to 80 A.D., probably some­where between 50 to 75?

Kurtz: Yes, granted—after the death of Jesus. Yes. But [they] did not know Him directly. They were written…

Ankerberg: Well they would all still be alive and they’d have been contemporar­ies of Jesus if it were written in that time period.

Kurtz: If Jesus had died—we’re not certain—somewhere about 30 A.D., then the books of the New Testament were written from 20 to 30 to 50 years after his death.

Ankerberg: Okay. You don’t know of any evidence there. Dr. Geisler, you’ve written about 20 books on that topic…

Norman Geisler: John exaggerates a lot.

Ankerberg: So give us a little evidence in terms of from history and any way you want to go on that one.

Geisler: Well, very simple. Let’s start at the top. Jesus did claim to be God. He said, “I and the Father are One.” They took up stones to stone Him. He said He “forgives sins.” They said, “Who can forgive sins but God only.” He said, “Before Abraham was I Am.” Anybody who looks seriously at the New Testament knows that Jesus claimed to be God. Then He offered three proofs: (1) He fulfilled prophecy made hundreds of years in advance; (2) He lived a sinless, miraculous life; (3) He predicted and accomplished His resurrection from the dead. No one in history has made those claims and offered that evidence, and pulled it off.

There are more historical documents that verify the New Testament as being authentic. There are 5,366 Greek manuscripts alone that verify the New Testa­ment—to say nothing of 15,000 other copies—that go right back to the threshold of the First Century. It was written by eyewitness contemporaries of the events. His Resurrection was witnessed by over 500 people, the Apostle Paul said, “Most of whom are still alive.” There’s more evidence that Jesus lived, claimed to be God and proved it, than there is that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. So if the skeptic wants to be skeptical and wipe out the New Testament, he has to wipe out ancient history, too, for which there is less evidence.

Kurtz: Well, I didn’t realize we were going to argue the Bible, because I’m not a biblical scholar…

Ankerberg: Well, this is part of the Humanist Manifesto…large chapters there…

Kurtz: I have to bring what I’ve read on this, as best that…

Geisler: Here, take mine.

Kurtz: I’ve read the Bible many, many times, but I’m not a minister of the cloth. But let me speak as a skeptic and as a non-believer. As far as I can tell, there’s no independent confirmation from sources outside the Gospels written at that time.

Ankerberg: Careful, Paul.

Kurtz: The Gospels were written by propagandists for the faith; people who really believed…

Ankerberg: Paul, you don’t want to really say that, do you?

Kurtz: …who believed in Christianity, and they were not…

Ankerberg: You’re proving that you’re not a scholar in this area, Paul, because there’s just too much evidence. Let me go this way. I’ve got to nail you down here. You have a quote in one of your books that you say, “We’ve got to base our conclu­sions on evidence.” And you say, “We will follow those conclusions right to the end, no matter where they lead us.” Now, here’s my little question before I ask Geisler to give us a little evidence. If we show you the evidence, will you change your mind?

Kurtz: I would. But I’ve looked at the evidence, I’ve read everything I can about it, and I still, the more I read… I have been reading the Bible. I wish I had read the Bible more intensely when I was younger—I’d be a stronger Atheist than I am now. But on this point…

Ankerberg: Okay, wait a minute, Paul. Let’s answer your question then—con­cerning what you said there—concerning the sources, as well as…

Kurtz: Are there sources outside the Gospels, contemporaneous?

Ankerberg: Dr. Geisler, what about that? You’ve written one big whole 500-page book on that topic. Give us a few shreds of evidence there.

Geisler: 611 pages, John.

Ankerberg: Sorry about that.

Geisler: Well, first of all, look what he’s saying. Take a courtroom scene and pretend that he is one of the attorneys. And he’s saying, “Now, look, Geisler, apart from your eyewitnesses, you have a pretty poor case, don’t you?” I mean, of course, the eyewitnesses are in the New Testament.

Kurtz: Who are the eyewitnesses? None of them were contemporaneous. Mark didn’t know Jesus, nor did Luke, Matthew or John.

Geisler: Matthew was a Disciple. He spent 31/2 years with Jesus and I imagine he knew Him quite well. Mark was probably the “young man” in the Gospel of Mark…the end. He was a secretary and assistant of Peter who was an Apostle. He was a contemporary of Christ. Luke—he was a contemporary and looked into the sources. He was a doctor, a historian, that Ramsey showed was accurate in every­thing he could check on, and was a skeptic before he checked out Luke. John was an eyewitness. The Apostle Paul was an eyewitness. All of them were eyewitnesses.

Kurtz: How was Apostle Paul an eyewitness? Did he know Jesus?

Geisler: Yes, he certainly did. He knew Jesus and he was a witness of the resur­rection. He lists himself in 1 Corinthians 15 as one of the witnesses of the resurrec­tion because Christ appeared to him. In fact, Christ appeared…

Kurtz: Appeared to him on the road to Damascus, but he said—this was an uncorroborative observation—but he did not know Jesus at the time that Jesus was alive, as far as I can tell.

Geisler: He most certainly did. Because if He appeared to him on the road the Damascus, that was only a short time after…

Kurtz: After the death of Jesus.

Geisler: …and Paul was an Apostle and contemporary.

Ankerberg: And not only that, Paul, but they also preached….

Kurtz: Look, there is a body of biblical criticism which denies that Matthew was an apostle of Jesus and denies that any of the other three writers of the Gospels knew Jesus. Now you are differing with that interpretation. At least it’s an arguable question. There are people who maintain that the authors were of the second gen­eration and were not contemporaneous with Jesus.

Geisler: Well, put it this way. There were people who believed that. That’s a pre-archaeological point of view. But most scholars, even rabid scholars like Robinson—the “death of God” scholar, J. Robinson, who wrote a book Redating the New Testament, in which he says all the basic Gospels were written between 45 and 65, during the life of the eyewitnesses. And he didn’t even believe in the exist­ence of God, so he didn’t have any axe to grind. That was a view, but it’s archaeo­logical curiosity now rather than really a serious scholarly view.

Kurtz: Well, I deny that point. There are serious scholars who dissent with your interpretation.

Ankerberg: But there are also a lot of what he’s saying—archaeological data.

Plus, when we’re talking about in the documents themselves, if you remember—if you’ve read the book of Acts—where Paul himself, on trial before Agrippa, points to Agrippa himself and says, “You know the things that I’m talking about, because these things were not hidden. They weren’t done in a corner.” Even he was preach­ing to other people who were eyewitnesses.

Kurtz: He mentions 500 people having seen the resurrection of Christ. We have no statement of the 500 people. I mean, this is uncorroborated testimony given by people who are creating a new religion. It would not hold up in a court of law. Most of the Gospels are contradictory on many points. As I read the Gospels side-by-side, I find that they contradict each other on very important things.

Geisler: Three things out there—let’s take them one at a time. “Uncorroborated testimony.” You have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James—that’s hardly uncorroborated. You’ve got “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” So you’ve got corroborated testimony. Secondly, they were eyewit­ness testimonies. Thirdly, there aren’t any contradictions, there are alleged contra­dictions in the Gospels. And the alleged contradictions actually argue for the authen­ticity of the witnesses because they “called it as they saw it.” They didn’t get together and try and put this thing together. You get that type of thing when you get indepen­dent testimonies.

Kurtz: Well, if you read the resurrection, as I read the four parts side-by-side, in one case you have—let me see if I can reconstruct—you have a youth dressed in white; you have two angels—first inside the tomb and then outside the tomb; you have different reports. I suggest that anyone who wants to have an open mind about this, read the four Gospels side-by-side, and the eyewitnesses differ on that point.

Geisler: Well, I have read the four Gospels and I’ve read that point, and there’s nothing contradictory that either you pointed out or that can be pointed out in that record. Sure, you had two angels, and sure, they were in the tomb once, and sure they were outside. But that’s not a contradiction.

Kurtz: Well, but if you have an accident, or you have a crime and you have witnesses, and if your witnesses give different testimony, what are you to make about this?

Geisler: You’re to assume that if their testimony differs…

Kurtz: The testimony does differ.

Geisler: …that it’s independent testimony, and that’s the kind of thing that actually argues for the authenticity of it. And to bring out the other point that you made, that, “It wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.” As a matter of fact, the Professor of Harvard University of Law a number of years ago, Simon Greenleaf, was challenged on that very point. Now, he wrote the book on legal evidence used by lawyers to test these things in court. And they challenged him to apply that same logic to the New Testa­ment and see what he would conclude. Here’s what he concluded: The New Testa­ment documents are authentic. The witnesses are reliable. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. You ought to read it, The Testimony of the Evangelist, Simon Greenleaf.

Kurtz: It’s an article of faith on your part.

Ankerberg: Paul, let me jump to the next topic, because we’ve only got a few minutes. What do you think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?

Kurtz: Well, how many witnesses were there for that? Why did not Jesus appear to non-Christians?

Ankerberg: How about Thomas? Was he a Christian? He says, “I will only believe….”

Kurtz: Well, he was a doubter, but he was one of the disciples.

Ankerberg: Well, he’s like you then..

Kurtz: But why didn’t Jesus appear in Rome, or why didn’t He come before Pontius Pilate? Why did He…?

Ankerberg: Well, you asked me and I just gave you an example, and He did.

Kurtz: Because He only appears to the people who believe in Him. This is an article of faith on their part.

Ankerberg: Did Thomas believe Him? He says, “I won’t believe unless I check out the empirical data.”

Kurtz: Well, this is written after the fact. What the facts are, we don’t know. They’re trying to convince people to accept Christianity. Much the same as the Qur’an. Do you accept the Qur’an? Would you go through the evidence for the Qur’an? There are 800 million Mohammedans today. You can raise the same thing about whether or not Muhammad’s view was reliable. Or whether Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon….

Geisler: Well, he [Muhammad] didn’t claim to be God and offer this proof. And besides that, there are two other people who weren’t believers that Jesus did ap­pear to—His brothers. James and Jude weren’t believers. He appeared to both of them after His resurrection…

Kurtz: This is hearsay.

Geisler: Well, the eyewitnesses are the ones who heard it and saw it. And they said it. If that’s hearsay then….

Kurtz: It’s like reading books by a disciple of Rev. Moon. Now, a lot of peopletoday are very critical about Rev. Moon. Do you go to the Unification Church to findout what Moon believes and what he does not believe, and what he did and did not?

Geisler: If I followed your logic, Paul,…

Kurtz: No, you would be very cautious about reading what Rev. Moon wrote. You’d read about what other people in the context at that time wrote. All that you have are the Christian documents.

Ankerberg: Careful, Paul, careful. Because I’ve had the key spokesman for Rev. Moon on the program and so I’ve done all the research. So let’s not bring that up too far.

Geisler: If anyone who saw the events is disqualified, and anyone who believes that is disqualified, then you should never read a book by any Evolutionist and accept any scientific fact in that book, because he has an axe to grind.

Kurtz: Well, the point is, I don’t take the New Testament as scientific fact. I think it’s an expression of belief. It’s a product of an oral tradition. The stories probably changed. It’s based upon hearsay, second-hand and third-hand testimony. It’s not direct testimony that can be interpreted in historical terms.

Geisler: What we just showed you was that it was first-hand, eyewitness testi­mony for which there are more manuscripts, more witnesses, more cross-checks, more archaeologically supported than any book from the ancient world. So you just, again, wiped out all the ancient history.

Kurtz: Okay. Let me suggest that there is a literature of biblical criticism that goes back at least two centuries. And there are a number of scholars who deny every point…

Geisler: Do you know where that criticism started? It started with Benedict Spinoza in 1670 in his book, Theological Tractatus. Benedict Spinoza was a Pan­theist Naturalist who didn’t believe in miracles, and because of his rationalism and anti-supernaturalism, he assumed those miracles didn’t happen. And modern criticism sprang from that, built on an anti-supernatural bias.

Kurtz: But in the 19th Century, which is independent. I say, go to the Bible, read it with a scientific, open, objective mind. Do not read it through the eyes of faith. Read it as you read any other book. And if you read it as you read any other book, then doubts begin to creep in on this point.

Geisler: I would say just the opposite. Go to the Bible with an open mind, say, “What are they saying? Whom are they saying it about?” And ask yourself the ques­tion, “Is it true? Is there evidence for it?” And you will conclude that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Frank Morison did. He was a skeptic. He did the same thing and he wrote a book, Who Moved the Stone?, showing how, when he looked at it that way, he was converted. Sir William Ramsey did it. Lord Littleton did it. Simon Greenleaf. It happened to skeptic after skeptic. And I suggest, if you do it, it might even happen to you.

Kurtz: I have done it and I have reached the opposite conclusion. And manyother people have done it and reached the opposite conclusion at the same time.

Geisler: You couldn’t have done it very carefully in view of what you just told us before because you didn’t know what it said.

Kurtz: I think I did it as carefully as I could.

Geisler: I suggest you might try and refresh your memory on it a little bit and give it a chance, because the Bible says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” You’re interested in freedom as a Humanist, and I suggest that you can get true freedom through Jesus Christ.

Kurtz: Well, that’s a very nice sermon. It may be true. I think that the Bible ought to be re-read today. I think it’s important that people read the Bible freshly and independently without any theological bias. And I think you ought to read it in the light of archaeology, and read it in the light of philology, and linguistics, and other scien­tific endeavors at the same time. Read it in the same way you read the Qur’an, and be skeptical.

Geisler: Why do you add “and be skeptical”? Read it and be open to the evi­dence. Don’t read it with a bias against it. Read it and be open to the evidence. I looked at the Qur’an. I’ve read it and I’m open. Muhammad claimed to be a prophet, he didn’t claim to be God. Muhammad didn’t die and rise from the dead. He didn’t fulfill prophecy and do miracles.

Kurtz: He claimed that he had a visitation. You’re really closed minded and biased about the Qur’an. You should have an open mind about it.

Geisler: That’s what it says.

Kurtz: He claimed to have had a visitation from Gabriel in the Cave at Hirja, north of Mecca. He was the only one that had this visitation from Gabriel. It was uncorroborated. On the basis of that he gave his marvelous statements that became the Qur’an. And there’s something like one billion Mohammedans in the world who now accept the Qur’an as true.

Ankerberg: Okay, Paul. Can I jump in right there? The thing is, if you have two competing world systems like the Muslim religion and the Christian religion. And in the Qur’an, Muhammad is told to repent seven times. You also have the fact that in the Qur’an, it was said, “He didn’t die on the cross and He didn’t come forth from the dead.” Christianity says, “He did die on the cross and He did come forth from the dead.” One or the other is right. They both can’t be right at the same time saying contradictory things. Now, how would you come to a conclusion which one is right?

Kurtz: Well, the question is, “What is the evidence for the resurrection?”

Ankerberg: Hey, good! I agree with you.

Kurtz: It may have been that Jesus, if Jesus existed—some people have denied that He existed, but I assume that He did—if He existed, He may not have died on the cross, He may only have swooned. He may have been taken into the cave and then disappeared and not necessarily have been resurrected—not necessarily had died.

Ankerberg: Dr. Geisler, what do you think about that?

Geisler: Well, the “swoon” theory has long since “swooned,” but Jesus did die on the cross. We know it because He was on the cross from 9 o’clock in the morning till just before sunset…

Kurtz: Six hours.

Geisler: He had five wounds. He was on the cross from 9 o’clock—I know you have to read it again, because if you don’t know that…

Kurtz: Till late afternoon.

Geisler: He was on at 9 o’clock in the morning—when you read Mark’s account you will see. He had wounds in His hands; wounds in His feet. They put a spear in His side. He gave a death cry. He said He was dying. The Roman soldiers verified His death. He was wound up in 100 pounds of spices and things put in a grave and it was sealed up. If ever anyone was dead, He was dead.

Kurtz: Pontius Pilate was surprised when they heard He was dead.

Geisler: He double-checked, in fact. He double-checked it to make sure after all of that, on top of it, and Jesus Christ rose. Read Stroud’s book on the physiological causes of Christ’s death. If you ever had an infallible proof from a distance that Jesus died because the blood and water came out of His side, you have it in that book. And if you’re open-minded, I suggest you take a look at it.

Kurtz: Well, there are other people who have suggested that we don’t have sufficient evidence to say that He died. That He may merely have fainted and risen in the tomb and then left.

Geisler: Anybody can suggest anything, but the evidence shows that He died.

Ankerberg: What would be sufficient evidence, Paul?

Kurtz: I think sufficient evidence would be by not necessarily propagandists but by objective or impartial people. The problem is that this is long far gone. It’s very difficult now to corroborate these facts.

Ankerberg: Norman, what do you think about that?

Kurtz: The claims that are made are claims that are made against natural events. Now, if people do die usually they do not come back to life. Therefore, if we are to accept the fact of resurrection, then we would need very strong evidence indeed, and not merely the evidence as a product of an oral tradition that is passed down by religion. We would need corroboration. I don’t think we have that in regard to the New Testament.

Ankerberg: We’ve got about two minutes left, Norman.

Geisler: Well, we do not only have corroboration, we have numerous witnesses who saw Him on at least ten different occasions over a 40-day period of time. They stuck their finger in His hand. They stuck their hand in His side. He ate fish. They felt His flesh and bones. He taught them. He performed miracles. He transformed them from cowards to courageous men who went out and preached the Resurrection and converted the very people, in the very city, in the very area in which this had all happened—not hundreds of years later, but just 40 days later. That’s good evidence.

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