So, I finally got around to watching Atheologica’s video response to me on why I think atheists should reconsider Christianity. It seems like he misses the mark on a couple of key points:
First, Derreck appears to want to diminish the significance of the criteria, basically saying it commits the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. For a quick review, these are the criteria:
- D – Distance: If the initial report of an event occurs at a great distance from the actual occurrence, skepticism is warranted.
- O – Opinions Already Established: When miracles align with preexisting opinions and biases, caution is necessary.
- U – Uncertain and Undetailed Event: Even if an event genuinely happened, if it can be reasonably explained as a natural occurrence, skepticism is justifiable. Lack of detailed information about a supposed miracle also raises doubts.
- B – Belated Reports: When the first accounts of a miracle surface long after the event, skepticism is reasonable.
- T – Trivial Events: Miracles unrelated to any significant purpose should be treated skeptically.
- S – Self-serving Miracles: If a miracle claim appears to be motivated by human desires, such as power, greed, or fame, it should be scrutinized.
Yeah, I don’t understand why a skeptic would dislike this filter unless they’re just completely closed-minded when it comes to miracles. It’s obvious that these criteria serve to reduce the likelihood of a genuine miracle occurrence, and I fail to see how anyone could argue against that, or why we should dismiss the criteria just because the resurrection manages to pass the filter. My modest ask is that if something passes the filter (like the resurrection does), you should examine it further. I’m not asking someone to receive Jesus into their heart on the spot.
If there’s another miracle out there that passes these criteria, despite his assumptions about me being some kind of rigid fundamentalist, I’m actually all for investigating it and I’m fine with adjusting my worldview accordingly if it turns out to be well-evidenced. Any honest investigator should want to do so. But if you’re settled naturalist, I guess there’s no room for any of that ‘inquiry into God’ kind of thing. But it’s not my fault that the evidence we have for Christianity rises to the level of actually warranting investigation, (A fact that atheist Jeff Lowder, the founder of Internet Infidels, has basically admitted) and suggesting that one investigate isn’t all that big of an ask.
Bennett argues the criteria don’t really matter, and he dissects them one by one. But he’s kind of missing the point. It’s not just about one criterion; it’s how they all add up. So when he talks about time and distance being no big deal because legends can spread fast, he tends to forget these other reported miracles also often lack details or play into established opinions or self-interest.
What we’re essentially doing here is attempting to eliminate alternative explanations by looking for red flags. False memory and exaggeration are likely problematic, which is why we exclude events that are very late or far removed in time, where details could easily be stretched without verification (belated reports (B) and distant reports (D)). Fraud is also taken into account by the criteria regarding preexisting opinions (O) and self-serving claims (S). Mundane natural events mistaken as miracles are considered with the uncertain or undetailed events (U) criterion.
If he’s dissatisfied with these criteria, then I’d be interested to see if he can provide his own. Because if Bennett can’t, when it comes to handling claims of past miracles, how can he be so certain he’s not mistaken about the absence of any miracle ever occurring? How can Derreck completely rule out the possibility of a black swan-type event? It seems like his view might lack some falsifiability.
The counterexamples he provides, such as Sabbatai Zevi, clearly fail to meet the criteria by aligning with preexisting opinions and possibly serving self-interest, given that Zevi seemed to use his popularity to depose opposing rabbis. He also fails to mention that under pressure, Zevi converted to Islam, which significantly weakens his entire argument. We don’t see a similar scenario with Jesus and the disciples unless you want to take the ultra-skeptical stance, like Paulogia does. If you’re wondering whether miracles genuinely happened in the past, Zevi probably isn’t where you’d start your investigation.
He mentions how Mormons faced persecution while moving from Missouri to Utah, but we’re still missing a thorough description of what those golden plates were like or what exactly happened during those encounters with the Angel Moroni, even with the signed affidavits. The thing is, Joseph Smith, who’s the main witness here, can be criticized for being self-serving. I mean, he did run for President of the United States and had multiple marriages, including one with a 14-year-old girl. Just as with Zevi, if you’re wondering whether miracles really occurred at some point in the past, the origins of Mormonism aren’t a promising place to begin.
Bennett also brings up the case of William Branham supposedly raising someone from the dead. However, once again, this is an uncertain report that conveniently aligns with opinions already established. The available details of this report are quite vague, and to the best of my knowledge, there aren’t any accompanying medical records (which isn’t too much to ask for, given its contemporary nature) or a detailed account, unless I’m mistaken. If such records do exist, the fact remains that a Christian minister raising someone from the dead doesn’t really challenge anything significant, even if Branham held some heretical beliefs later in life. I’m totally open to looking deeper into this claim, but the whole point of the DOUBTS filter suggests that this kind of report isn’t a particularly promising place to start, not that it didn’t at all happen.
That said, I DO happen to believe that there are credible contemporary cases of people rising from the dead for which we have good medical records, as documented in Craig Keener’s book “Miracles Today,” (see also this interview with Caleb Jackson on Capturing Christianity where one such report is discussed). These cases challenge some of Bennett’s textual beliefs about the Gospels. But I’m not talking about examining contemporary miracle claims here, those have a different criteria that I discuss here.
Does the resurrection fail the criteria?
Besides criticizing the criteriological approach of using the DOUBTS filter, Bennett tries to show that the resurrection fails the filter. He attempts to discredit the Gospels and their detailed reports by claiming they align with preexisting opinions. My point is that the documents, at the very least, claim that Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to his disciples, and that they boldly proclaimed this in Jerusalem, even confronting the Sanhedrin about it. He might say I’m emphasizing the word ‘claim’ too much, but the key is that it’s worth our time to at least thoroughly investigate it since the resurrection passes the DOUBTS filter. Were the original claims made in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus was crucified, and were the claims that they made be something that would be difficult to mistake?
In a sense, he’s actually playing into my argument because he’s putting in some effort to dig into the claim rather than outright dismissing it just because it involves a miracle. He’ll argue that upon closer examination, it doesn’t clear the filter. He wraps it up by stating that these claims can’t be trusted, and these documents were essentially created to cater to the Christians wherever they were written. However, he does seem to miss out on considering counterarguments.
Bennett is essentially examining the evidence from a single perspective, and that’s precisely what the entire video warns against. I’m essentially suggesting that we should revisit the Gospels and, at the very least, attempt to present a strong argument in their favor, at least the best one we can muster. But it seems clear that he isn’t doing that because he’s repeating tired arguments like “Matthew wasn’t a witness because he borrows from Mark and redacts Mark” (which shows he’s not paying attention to what I’m arguing elsewhere) and making appeals to symbolic time frames (40 days, 7 weeks, etc.) as if they must be non-literal.
Or he says things like Jesus ascending into heaven is too convenient when, well, what else was he supposed to do? Just stick around, be a king, and eliminate the moral choice arena in which people can willingly choose to follow his message or not? That kind of defeats the purpose of the whole mustard seed kingdom, and even in the OT we see clear hints of a two-stage coming of the Messiah. (Compare Zechariah 9 with Zechariah 14)
One of his strongest arguments is that he believes there was a preexisting opinion, namely, that the Jews had some context for a dying/rising Messiah based on what’s in the prophets. However, it seems that the early disciples didn’t necessarily expect Jesus to fulfill this role; they didn’t seem to grasp it until after the fact. This is probably why Peter denied Jesus, and why he fought him about going to the cross. I believe that the whole cognitive dissonance theory doesn’t work very well for a host of reasons.
Bennett seems to be quite a fan of Richard C. Miller’s ideas. In a nutshell, Miller suggests that early Christians didn’t see the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection as historical events but more like stories following a divine translation theme found in Hellenistic and Roman myths – basically, they saw them as fiction. Miller draws parallels between the Gospels and ancient Greek and Roman tales, arguing that the resurrection and ascension narratives borrowed from common structural and symbolic elements found in Mediterranean “translation fables,” influenced by myths like those of Heracles and Romulus. Um…OK. If you got evidence for that, that’s fine I guess, but it had better be good.
On the other hand, I’ve been advocating for the reportage model on my channel for quite some time, which strongly disconfirms Miller’s perspective. The bottom line is that the Gospels just don’t read like fictions (despite his vehement objections that sound strikingly similar to parallelomania), the weren’t received as fictions; because they read like testimony that’s very close up to the facts, for a host of different reasons. What I’m trying to say is, take a moment to dig into the evidence supporting the reportage view that we maximalists have been discussing and show you understand it. After that, if you still find Miller’s and other theories more convincing, that’s completely up to you – your perspective is your own prerogative. Bennett’s earlier parody video on “undesigned coincidences” in the Romulus accounts shows he doesn’t at all have a good grasp on what we’re talking about and finds the idea so preposterous that all he can do is offer up cheap ridicule.
I’m rescuing what now?
Finally, isn’t his title selection a bit weird? (Testify’s Failed Attempt to Rescue Christianity) No, I’m not on a grand mission to rescue Christianity in this video. Instead, I’m simply proposing that atheists should, perhaps begrudgingly, reconsider Christianity based on some common-sense criteria given what is considered to be at stake. Who knows, their investigation might (at worst) just turn them into more formidable counter-apologists – the horror! I don’t see why this should be controversial. I’ll also make an effort to better comprehend the perspective of his favorite scholars; it’s a point well taken and I genuinely appreciate the feedback. They’re not the usual critics that I normally read after.
I truly think that Bennett is a bright guy who has good intentions and genuinely cares about his audience. However, I couldn’t help but notice the overall lack of constructive criticism in his video here, as has been mostly the pattern in his other videos directed at me, which just underscores my entire point. I still think he could honestly benefit from taking my advice.
Erik is the creative force behind the YouTube channel Testify, which is an educational channel built to help inspire people’s confidence in the text of the New Testament and the truth of the Christian faith.