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Is Historical Evidence Convincing to Skeptics of Christianity?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Only if the skeptic is open to the existence of a God who can intervene in the affairs of the world.

I have discussed the historical reliability of the New Testament with many skeptics over the years.  The skeptics I typically speak to inevitably dismiss or downplay much of the historical evidence that I present.  They argue that ancient writers didn’t understand the difference between history and myth, that mythical stories of gods were rampant in the ancient world, that ancients were credulous and unsophisticated, and so on.

As soon as I respond to one of these arguments, they have another one along the same line.  It turns out, however, that the reason most of them don’t believe the Bible is historically reliable is because they don’t believe the miracles included in the Bible could possibly have occurred.  They don’t believe the miracles could have occurred because they don’t believe a God exists who can perform miracles.

Obviously, if no God exists who can perform miracles, then miracles cannot occur!

On the contrary, those who are open to the God of Christianity existing often find the historical evidence to be quite impressive.  Why?  Because they believe that a God who can perform miracles might exist.  They may not be totally convinced, but they don’t dismiss it out of hand.

My advice to any Christian who is discussing the historical reliability of the Bible with a skeptic is to pause and ask the skeptic if they believe in the real possibility of a God who can intervene miraculously in the world.  If they don’t, you need to drop back and discuss that issue first.  Otherwise, you may very well be wasting your time.


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Comments

  • aforcier

    “if they believe in the real possibility of a god”.. what an incredible statement.

    There is a god, or there is none. it is not a “possibility”, a”if”, a maybe. you cannot even be a skeptic. or a believer.

    there is god or there is none.

    you can produce a bible.
    you can produce the parthenon.
    you can produce images of jupiter.
    you can produce stories of ancient enki.
    you can produce stories about a jesus.

    but you cannot produce – in the flesh – or in any ethereal form – either a yaweh, an athena, a jupiter, an enki, they all belong to an ancient, but long gone civilization.

    as to jesus, he is a late bloomer in the god business. historically he does not register per se. but he like other children of the gods are part of the ancient gods event.

    you are simply deceiving yourself and the world by assuming them to be real and alive and the heavens above your head.

    who and what exists? you. the world. nature. why not get used to it?

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy

  • axnjaxn

    The idea that you have to be able to see God for God to exist is ridiculous. Why should the being who created matter be made of matter?

    And you’re playing semantics if you think that just because you don’t see a bearded man in orbit God doesn’t exist.

    These are ideas that are foreign to the Bible and foreign to Christian orthodoxy.

  • Ronz

    I read up on some apologetic on my own, too… And I must say that the idea of God for most skeptics, typically atheists are certainly unacceptable. With that, they do not believe that Bible is the source of God’s words in any form. With this strong disbelief, nothing we say will matter much, they will just dismiss it as mere myths, forged by the orthodox church and continued to be used to regulate society in imperialism era.

    Neither will they notice the beautiful consistency that the Old testament and New testament, and how the prophecies of centuries ago was fulfilled when Jesus is born. They just say that it is a story weaved carefully to make the consequent events more logical or plausible to accept.

    Is it true then, that God has hardened their hearts like He did to Pharaoh in Exodus?

  • http://shamelesslyatheist.wordpress.com/ Shamelessly Atheist

    If you’ve read your OT, you will realize that God presented himself many times. Why not anymore?

    I don’t think the bible is historically accurate for one simple reason: it gets history wrong. What evidence do we have for the exodus? Archeology has consistently failed to verify 500,000 people wandering the Sinai for 40 years. There is no record of the ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’. It’s much more likely to have been related to Herod’s elimination of his kin to avoid contesting his throne. There was no census which led Joseph and Mary to travel and bear Jesus on the way.

    Even if the bible were historically accurate (it isn’t), that accuracy does not translate to the records of Jesus’ miracles. We know the Civil War occured, but that hardly makes “Gone With the Wind” a biography of Scarlett O’Hara. Nor can we proclaim the actions of Jesus being miracles without much better evidence. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I would not call eyewitness testimony anywhere near extraordinary (it is the most easily impugned type in criminal court), and we do not even have that.

    The gospels themselves were written decades after Jesus’ supposed life and based on oral tradition. Not exactly reliable.

  • Bill Pratt

    Noting occurrences in the Bible that have not been verified by archaeology is hardly evidence that the Bible gets history wrong. You have ignored the mountains of people, places, and events that have been corroborated by archaeology.

    Two things would make the Bible historically dubious:
    1) If none of the people, places, and events were ever found outside of the Bible by archaeologists (this is the case with the Book of Mormon)
    2) If events recorded in the Bible were consistently found to contradict clear historical evidence from archaeology.

    Neither of these is the case. Archaeologists and historians have confirmed the falling of the walls of Jericho, the existence of King David’s palace, Nehemiah’s Wall, Jesus’ crucifixion, Paul’s shipwreck off the coast of Malta, the existence of Pontius Pilate, the existence of Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, references to Assyrian kings, Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem and on and on and on.

    William F. Albright, one of the greatest archaeologists, said, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”

    Nelson Glueck, the renowned Jewish archaeologist, wrote: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”

    Sir William Ramsay, another great archaeologist, said,” Luke’s history [in the books of Luke and Acts] is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

    Conclusion: For you to say that the Bible is historically inaccurate is demonstrably false.

  • aforcier

    what is it with pharaohs… and 2 to 5 thousands years old examples of how we should all live our lifes today?

    the ancient stories – and yes, some refer to real events… abound with gods, and kingship,and masters, and servants, and this or that fellow taking his dunkey to the market…

    that was then.
    now is now.

    perhaps you should come back to reality and live here on today’s earth. and you would not have to to search the heavens for orbiting – invisible – bearded man?

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy.com

  • Bill Pratt

    “what is it with pharaohs… and 2 to 5 thousands years old examples of how we should all live our lifes today?”

    If there is a creator of the universe, and this creator has communicated to humanity, and his primary method of communication was through human writers, and those human writers produced the works in the Bible, then we cannot but listen and respond. It is the height of arrogance to ignore such communication, if it occurred.

    If you truly feel that all the answers to the origins of mankind, his ultimate purpose, his morality, and his destiny lie in the completely random collision of trillions of atoms over billions of years, then I shake my head in wonder.

  • aforcier

    bill, i do not consider myself arrogant whatsoever. i have spent considerable time studying the many documents of humanity’s ancient past.

    there are gods’ documents beyond the bible.

    the hystorical facts made me reach a different conclusion than yours. you view the ancient gods (and your god) as having qualities that they or (He) did not possess. (external divinity)

    and, having your head fixed on the past, you do not see nature for what it is… even though it is the force that gives you life everyday.

    understanding the ways of the universe would make your head shake in wonder.

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy.com

  • http://irreligiously.blogspot.com Terence

    Well I’m on the fence in this one. Many Biblical scholars, such as those from the Jesus Seminar, have cast doubt on the reliability of the Bible, while others like NT Wright and James Dunn maintain the accuracy of the NT. Until I read their books, I will reserve my judgment.

  • Bill Pratt

    “you view the ancient gods (and your god) as having qualities that they or (He) did not possess. (external divinity)”

    I do not view the other ancient gods as having any qualities whatsoever. I view the God of the Bible as the creator of the universe.

    You can use your thick paintbrush to swipe over all ancient religious ideas as if they were one and the same, but that approach does not take any of the religions you paint over seriously. Until you actually take a religion seriously and truly study it, your ideas about religion will not be taken seriously, at least not by me.

  • Bill Pratt

    The Jesus Seminar was composed of a very radical group of scholars who did not represent the mainstream of biblical scholarship. You probably won’t take my word for it, since I’ve identified myself as a traditional Christian, but I ask you to read on your own about it. Start with this book: Jesus Under Fire

  • http://shamelesslyatheist.wordpress.com/ Shamelessly Atheist

    Noting occurrences in the Bible that have not been verified by archaeology is hardly evidence that the Bible gets history wrong.

    Actually, if we have an expectation that such records would exist if the events actually occurred IS evidence the bible gets history wrong. The Sinai has been scoured by archeologists and the conclusion is that the Exodus never happened. 500,000 people wandering around for 40 years leave more than traces. In this case, the absence of evidence IS evidence of absence. And this is just one of many examples.

    Sir William Ramsay, another great archaeologist, said,” Luke’s history [in the books of Luke and Acts] is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

    So what? I can produce many more scholars that have conclusively shown that none of the gospel writers were eyewitnesses. I can produce an even better witness to the non-eyewitness fact of Luke – Luke his (or more likely, her) self!! Read the first few lines of Luke.

    Besides, quotes from people is just an Argument from Authority, a completely unconvincing form of name dropping. No evidence is presented which at all refutes my assertion, and I stand by my assertion.

    Nor have you even remotely touched upon my “Gone With the Wind”-being-a-biography-of-Scarlett O’Hara-scenario-just-because-the-Civil War and a few places acutally existed scenario. For instance, so what if Jericho existed? Does that mean the wall really was destroyed by a trumpet blare? I don’t think so. Show me evidence that the wall fell due to the sound produced by a horn and then we’ll talk.

    I do not dispute the existence of Paul/Saul, by the way. But I do dispute any evidence from his visions. That is an Argument from Personal Experience. How does one tell the difference between a vision and delusion. Because the delusion tells him so? Please!

    There is something fundamentally illogical in your argument that you simply don’t get. The existence of people or places does not confer any legitimacy or veracity to unverifiable events described in the bible. Writing a fictitious story about an individual that really existed and lived in a real place does not at all suddenly make the story true!

  • http://shamelesslyatheist.wordpress.com/ Shamelessly Atheist

    If there is a creator of the universe, and this creator has communicated to humanity, and his primary method of communication was through human writers, and those human writers produced the works in the Bible, then we cannot but listen and respond. It is the height of arrogance to ignore such communication, if it occurred.

    Some of us prefer evidence before rejecting the null hypothesis.

  • aforcier

    bill, i understand your reluctance to re-visit the times of old… they contain many surprises.

    but do not brush or erase the inconvenient parts of the past because what they tell affect “my religion”.

    i like the truth.

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy.com

  • Bill Pratt

    I have never argued that because the Bible gets names and places correct that everything in it must be true. Please give me some credit!

    What I have argued is that where the Bible makes a historical claim that can be verified by external historical evidence (archaeology), it often has been verified and has stood up very well to archaeological scrutiny. That is why I quoted so many authorities on archaeology, to make that point. That is all archaeology can do. It cannot tell us whether Jesus was resurrected or whether he walked on water. There is a lot more argumentation that needs to occur before demonstrating the probable historicity of the many events recorded in the Bible. I covered those kinds of arguments in a series of posts which you may recall from several months ago.

    By your previous posts, you seemed to be saying that nothing in the Bible contains any historical truth, that it is all fiction – the names, places, dates, events, everything. I am trying to show that if you believe this, you have staked out an extreme position that a great majority of archaeologists and biblical scholars would reject. You could make that claim about the Book of Mormon, but not the Bible.

  • aforcier

    bill, i’m not sure if your addressing my post here. but you have the wrong impression about what i say concerning the bible.

    the bible does contain historical references. many of its stories may refer to real people and real events… but so do the stories within the enuma elish, the story of gilgamesh, the story of troy, the legends of the dogons, the mahabharata… etc, etc, etc…they are all ancient stories. one not greater than the other. all attesting to a far larger historical beginning to human civilization.

    i know that by narrowing and restricting the field of vision you can bring humanity to think that a single god existed… and still exists.

    how many books must you burn? how many thoughts must you censure? how many unbelievers must you silence before you can claim that you are the beholder of the only truth?

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy.com

  • James Rountree

    I would greatly appreciate if everyone who post would follow Bill’s lead and provide specific references when they make broad claims to provide “plenty of” examples, not to mention actually providing an example when you claim there are so many.

  • Bill Pratt

    Sorry, Albert. I was replying to Shamelessly Atheist, not you. In any case, I haven’t been burning books, censuring thoughts, or silencing unbelievers lately. My doctor told me it increases my blood pressure too much. :)

    Speaking of knowing the only truth, you feel the same way about your beliefs. You believe I am wrong and you are right. In fact, you believe that everyone who doesn’t believe the way you do is incorrect, so you are just as as exclusive about truth as I am.

    If you didn’t think you were the possessor of truth and I was was possessor of falsehood, you wouldn’t be writing comments on the blog telling me I’m wrong and you’re right all the time. I’m starting to become concerned about you burning books and censuring thoughts…

  • aforcier

    well bill, you got me there! – hope your heart is fine.

    but eh… compare to christians, once dead, i have many more heavens to visit…

    hum… actually, i prefer to live on earth.

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy.com

  • James Rountree

    aforcier,
    It is clear that you do not believe in the God of Abraham, and indeed to not accept that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Your religion is worship of self.

    Have you always existed or believe you are divine in nature? I hope that your truth is not so corrupted to believe that you are anything except a finite being that only exist because something greater than you created you.

    Truth must begin with three simple questions:
    1) Where did I come from?
    2) Why am I here?
    3) Where am I going?

    I invite you to consider these questions and tell me how it is that you believe that you are in control of the answers. Only self deception can make you believe that you are in control.

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