A Review of “Cold-Case Christianity”

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As those of you who follow this blog know, I am currently reading and reviewing New Testament scholar Raymond Brown’s (very thick) two volume work, The Death of the Messiah.  It is very interesting in places and very, very dry in many others.  Therefore, I have decided to break up my review of this scholarly work and will begin to intermittently review J. Warner Wallace’s book, Cold-Case Christianity.  This seems to be the “go to” book for many amateur evangelical Christian apologists as the best defense of the claims of traditional Christianity.  I therefore feel it necessary to read this book in order to be better informed regarding Christian apologetic arguments.

Christianity makes a claim about an event from the distant past for which their is little or no forensic evidence.  Like cold cases, the truth about what happened can be discovered by examining the statements of eyewitnesses and comparing them with what little additional evidence is accessible to us.  If the eyewitnesses can be evaluated (and their statements can be verified by what we have available), an equally strong circumstantial case can be made for the claims of the New Testament.  But are there any reliable eyewitness statements in existence to corroborate in the first place?  This became the important question I had to answer in my personal investigation of Christianity.  Were the eyewitness narratives eyewitness accounts, or were they only moralistic mythologies?  Were the Gospels reliable, or were they filled with untrustworthy, supernatural absurdities?  The most important question I could ask about Christianity just so happened to fall within my area of expertise.

J. Warner Wallace, experienced cold-case homicide detective and former atheist

Gary:  I believe that Mr. Wallace has asked the critical question when it comes to the reliability of the stories found in the four Gospels of the New Testament:  Were these books written by eyewitnesses (two of them by close associates of eyewitnesses) as conservative Christians claim or were they written by persons who were not eyewitnesses; persons writing down stories which they had heard circulating in oral form in their communities many decades after the alleged events?

I interviewed hundreds (if not thousands) of eyewitnesses and suspects.  …I conducted so many interviews and had such success getting suspects to “cop-out” that my department sent me to a number of investigative schools to refine my skills; I was eventually trained in Forensic Statement Analysis (FSA).  By carefully employing this methodology and scrutinizing a suspect’s choice of pronouns, use of tensed language, compression or expansion of time (along with many other linguistic tendencies), I was typically able to determine if he or she committed the crime, and I could often establish the time of day when the crime actually occurred!  I began to use FSA as I studied the Gospel of Mark.  Within a month, and in spite of my deep skepticism and hesitation, I concluded that Mark’s gospel was the eyewitness account of the Apostle Peter.  p. 18-19

-J. Warner Wallace

Gary:  Wow!  He’s got my attention.  Is it really possible that one crime detective, after just one month of research, has better analytic ability to determine the authorship and source of the Gospel of Mark than the majority of critical New Testament scholars, most of whom have spent decades studying this issue; critical scholars, the majority of whom, do not believe that an eyewitness nor an associate of an eyewitness wrote the Gospel of Mark (or any other gospel)???

I am all ears.

Stay tuned for the next review!

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J. Warner Wallace

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10 thoughts on “A Review of “Cold-Case Christianity”

  1. I’m pretty sure you’ll be covering it in future posts Gary, but one thing that annoys me about Wallace is his advocation for abductive/inductive reasoning to lead us towards the Christian claim that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Just yesterday I listened to an older podcast in which he describes his method:
    1. Take the facts that we’ve established (in this case it was the Minimal Facts that Habermas and Licona put forward)
    2. Come up with many explanations that cover the facts
    3. Examine these explanations to see which one best explain the facts
    4. The one that best explains the facts is the most likely to be correct.

    There are a number of problems with this method. The biggest one that came to mind, and the fact that Wallace, and all of Christianity, completely ignores: Dead people don’t come back from brain death after three days. If they accepted this one little fact they’d realize very quickly that there resurrection hypothesis doesn’t account for all the facts! They’re happy to play along with the facts of their story, but not the facts of reality. Instead, they’d rather pretend that magic happens, and that magic is a good explanation for something. If magic is an acceptable answer, then I can start creating magical explanations for everything we don’t have a natural explanation for. Where’s Jimmy Hoffa? He was teleported to another galaxy by God to teach people to power of corrupt trade unions!

    To me, this looks more like cherry picked facts, and appealing to the imagination. They’ve created a hypothesis that is completely implausible,if not outright impossible, but yet want to suggest that it’s the most likely explanation.

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      1. Do you have any idea what Wallace uses for his theory on how the Gospels were compiled? Does he consider the Two Source hypothesis sound?

        I don’t know how he would deal with details such as the “resurrected saints” in Matthew.

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  2. . Just yesterday I listened to an older podcast in which he describes his method:
    1. Take the facts that we’ve established (in this case it was the Minimal Facts that Habermas and Licona put forward)
    2. Come up with many explanations that cover the facts
    3. Examine these explanations to see which one best explain the facts
    4. The one that best explains the facts is the most likely to be correct.

    I don’t see how this is any different from what Gary does with his hallucination hypothesis. He relies on some facts about what is know about the “appearances” of Jesus, peace be upon him, and human psychology, and argues that a vivid hallucination from one of the disciples, particularly one with leadership and charisma, can start a new religious movement. Gary does not need to find the “best” explanation; he just needs to cast “reasonable doubt” or show that the case for the resurrection is not as strong as conservative Christian apologists claim.

    —-

    I became interested in the hallucination hypothesis by reading this blog. Initially, I wasn’t looking for material to address conservative Christian apologetic claims about the Resurrection and empty tomb; instead, I wanted to see if Gary had some insights to say about the Lutheranism and the Reformation. (He indeed does, and I have found it informative). Nothing Gary has said challenged my position that the Protestant view of sotetiology, monergism and justification through faith, is the best supported theological view based on the Pauline epistles.

    My interest in studying Christianity was largely concentrated in a theological interest concerning its dogma and tenets, to show that its various dogmas such as original sin, soteriology (atonement), and Christology (Christ being of the “same substance” as the Father, and having two natures in one “hypostasis”) are problematic, extraneous, and incoherent philosophically. I was not really interested in the Biblical criticism that much to have a deep understanding about the provenance of the Gospels and Epistles. I tend to take a philosophy of religion route that is strongly rooted in empiricist philosophy, as opposed to a historical approach (that relies on liberal scholarship from men such as Ehrman). After all the works of David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, and al-Ghazali (radiallahu anhu) captivate me.

    My interest in this is to demonstrate that a subset of Muslims can adequately address Christian apologetics. I want to show primarily Muslims are intellectually competent in this domain and can engage Christian doctrine deftly, as opposed to directly converting people.

    I heard a Catholic (who is fairly anti-modernist and Thomian) provide a defense of the Resurrection in the Catholic Newman Club when I was a lapsed Catholic and before I became a non-hijabi Muslim. That man also has a strong interest in Christian apologetics. Since the hallucination hypothesis is simple and does not require that many assumptions, I feel that I have to appropriate it in my counter-Christian apologetics repertoire. It does not require me to learn that much new from the Bible (as I had knowledge of it when I was a Catholic, and I now endeavor to read the New Testament comprehensibly to have a strong working knowledge of their scripture.) [Of course, a Muslim cannot subscribe to the hypothesis, but it is metaphysically simpler to use the hallucination hypothesis to counter Christian apologetics, than to claim that Allah, SWT, deceived Jesus’ persecutors by having them think that they have crucified Jesus. In counterapologetics, I don’t think countering a miracle with another miracle is that effective, and it is not my burden to convince anyone of that scenario. David Hume would be disappointed in me if I tried to do that.]

    I have an interest in what Christian apologists have to say about the Resurrection.

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    1. So if you use the hallucination hypothesis against Christian apologists regarding the Resurrection belief, how do you counter a skeptic of Islam who uses the same strategy against your beliefs: Isn’t it more probable that Mohammad had a vision (vivid dream, illusion, or hallucination) than that he really saw and heard an angel?

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      1. I am not the one presenting that argument. I feel like an American League starting pitcher in the batter’s box in an NL ballpark. Someone else will deal with argument; I thought the DH was to prevent me from doing stuff like this. I am (metaphorically) being paid to take the hill and strike out Christian arguments.

        I personally judge his claim to prophethood based on his message (theologically and morally) and his success as a political and military leader and that of the generation of Arabs afterwards. This happened in a short-period of time, within a generation. I also assess Islam on the legacy of the civilizations influenced by it.

        You may rebut that this has to do with selection bias (i.e. if early Islam was not successful then it would not have been well-known; one tends to know about successful past religions), and it can be countered in other ways too, especially since success in military and political endeavors does not necessarily indicate theological veridicality.

        As for myself, I would say that there is an intellectual component to my belief in God, but I would say that it is 30% intellectual and 70% emotionally. I would say that arguments from the existence of God are compelling but not decisive.

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          1. Gary,

            I.

            I would say that my belief in God is similar to the argument in the Third Meditation in Meditations on the First Philosophy . I feel that I have an intuitive sense of the idea of a unitary God. (Of course, the Islamic God, a unity, best corresponds to it, which is ironic since the man (Rene Descartes) who presented the argument was a Catholic.) Again, the argument is not decisive, and has many criticisms.

            The fine-tuning argument and cosmological argument are tenable, but again, not decisive.

            As for deen (religion), one (and perhaps only) way of differentiating religions (outside of its theological claims) is through its moral and political effects. In the case of Islam, this is highly dependent on the impact of the life of Mohammad, sallahu alayhi wa salaam.

            II.

            I have read Christian propaganda that gives a basic adumbration of Christian belief. They emphasize belief in Jesus. They often quote the Gospel of John, as it emphasize that those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life (John 1:12, John 3:16, John 6:47, John 11:25-26, John 20:30-31). It also quotes Romans to emphasize the effects of Christ’s atonement as liberating one from the effects of sin.

            Mark also says “repent and believe in the Gospel” and also says that those who do not believe are condemned (Mark 16:16), in the dubious longer ending.

            Yes, many forms of Christianity emphasize belief, even without evidence. The appearance to Thomas in John encourages belief without direct sensual experience.

            It seems disingenuous when some Christians believe that their faith is not based on emotional factors.

            III.

            Gary, we have fundamentally different interests. I said that I was interested in analyzing the claims of Christian theology such as the doctrines of atonement (and monergism), the Trinity, and original sin. It seems that you did not have much of a problem with Lutheran soteriology, except perhaps, in the back of your mind at the notion of eternal damnation. You said nothing about the Trinity, particularly the claim that Jesus, SAwS, is “homoousios” with the Father. Original sin seems to be only be problematic for you since it is difficult to reconcile with scientific accounts of human origins.

            Still, you have some nice entries on Pauline theology. And a wonderful blog overall.

            IV.

            I also don’t like conservative Catholics who diss the empiricist philosophers, particularly David Hume.

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