Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review: Challenging the Verdict

Doherty, Earl. Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ”. Ottawa Canada: Age of Reason Publications, 2001.

After opening the front cover of Challenging the Verdict, one finds an advanced review of the book written by Lee Salisbury, a former evangelical church pastor; now writer and speaker for atheist groups. In his advanced review, Salisbury claims that Strobel and his “expert witnesses” in The Case for Christ sacrifice intellectual integrity, speak half-truths and misrepresentations in defense of Christian doctrine. On the other hand, Doherty is praised by Salisbury for his reasoned refutation and maintenance of intellectual integrity. If Salisbury’s review is accurate then Doherty will have proved with reasoned refutations, truthful representations, and intellectual integrity that the Gospels are not history and that Christianity is a myth. Challenging the Verdict will have, as is claimed on the back cover, demonstrated the deficiencies, the fallacies, and the selective and misleading use of the evidence inherent in The Case for Christ.

Enough of the “atta boy” awards until the claim of Doherty’s superior reasoning powers are validated. Doherty has claimed that he will “expose the fallacy, distortion of evidence and extensive misinterpretation of the record inherent in the ‘case’ for Christian orthodoxy . . .” (2). He has claimed that Strobel’s “overall case has been marked by shallow argument and deficient reasoning; special pleading (meaning a selective adoption and interpretation of evidence); and techniques that can be said to be fundamentally misleading, in that a particular conclusion has been established ahead of time, and evidence and argumentation is often selected and applied in light of this desired conclusion” (6). It is only fair that the reader hold Doherty to the same standards of logic, honesty, and integrity that he claims Strobel violates.

Did Doherty achieve his purpose? No! Instead of reasoned refutations, truthful representations, and intellectual integrity, Doherty used shallow argument and deficient reasoning; special pleading; and techniques that are fundamentally misleading and violate intellectual integrity.

However, before establishing these failures of Doherty, his accomplishment in his book needs to be verbalized. Doherty unknowingly revealed the inability of evidential apologetics to answer his deep rooted and real problem with Christianity, namely, that the God of Christianity is unjust and His method of atonement is both illogical and immoral. Doherty said, “Should we not expect a just Deity to fashion a punishment fitting the crime? . . . What, after all, was Adam and Eve’s purported ‘sin’? Eating fruit, even a forbidden one, hardly sinks to the depth of depravity” (124). A few pages later Doherty said, “But why did he require such an ultimate sacrifice in order to forgive humanity its sins? Is there not, indeed, some logical if not moral contradiction in ‘redeeming’ men of sins like murder through an act of murder on their part? Why did he not embody the act of redemption in something more exemplary, perhaps by having Jesus perform a few thousand hours of community service? What a moral example that would have set” (126). No amount of external evidence can give an answer to these objections. God’s revelation of the meaning of these facts is needed to answer Doherty’s deep rooted and real problem with Christianity.

The failures of Doherty are threefold: (1) he failed to provide reasoned refutations, (2) he failed to provide truthful representations, and (3) he failed to provide intellectual integrity.

Instead of reasoned refutation, Doherty resorted to shallow argument and deficient reasoning. Doherty attempted to prove that changes have been made to the original text (also called by Doherty both original eyewitness accounts and source material) of which he admits we do not possess (7) through the postulated source document known as Q (12) of which he admits that we do not actually possess a copy of it (85). We do have copies of the Gospels; we do not have a copy of Q; and Doherty expects us to believe that he is demonstrating through reasoned refutation that the evangelists made wholesale changes to their source material (7). No thanks! I am not into myths.

Instead of truthful representations, Doherty resorted to special pleading. Here Doherty attempted to prove that the Scriptures are inconsistent and contradictory (145). Doherty presumed from the outset a fixed interpretation of the Gospels (146) to show them inconsistent and contradictory. He especially pitted the Gospel of John against the synoptic Gospels. Here is one of Doherty’s representations of inconsistency and contradiction in the Scriptures: the synoptic Gospels record that Jesus stumbled while carrying His cross to Calvary because of His weakened condition and had to receive help by Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross. Yet John’s Gospel says, “He went out, bearing his own cross” (John 19:17). Because of this Doherty said, “Yet another indicator, by the way, that John is fashioning his Jesus character the way he wants him, and not the way any tradition said” (151). ROFL – that means that I am “rolling on floor laughing.” Does “he went out bearing his own cross” contradict the other Gospels that record he began the journey carrying his own cross?

However, that is not the thrust of Doherty’s argument to truthfully represent the inconsistencies and contradictions in the Scriptures. To make his case, Doherty attempted to show that the Gospel of John is inconsistent with and contradicts the synoptic Gospels by claiming that the Gospel of John does not portray Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for sin (17). Doherty’s argument rests on the assumption that the Lord’s Supper in John 13 is not the same as the Lord’s Supper in the synoptic Gospels because it lacks the Eucharist elements (229). But wait! The Gospel of John establishes that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system beginning with Him as the tabernacle (John 1:14), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and proceeds to Him making atonement on the Mercy Seat (John 20:12 compare to Exodus 25:18).

Doherty is under no illusion as to the significance of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). He knows that it portrays Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for sin and that it declares him to be that very thing (p. 17). Doherty even went so far as to say, “In fact, there are elements within the Gospels that are decidedly un-Jewish, such as the Eucharist, which involves the eating and drinking of Jesus’ flesh and blood” (p. 169). One wonders how Doherty can then say, “The establishment of the Eucharist…is notably missing in John and elsewhere” (p. 233), since John 6:54 says, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” This oversight by Doherty is so astonishing that one must conclude he is guilty of special pleading.

Instead of intellectual integrity, Doherty resorted to misleading techniques. Doherty completely ignores the literary genre of the epistles (that these are letters to churches or Christians) and treats them as though they should be the Gospels (Christological biography). This is a misleading technique that confuses categories for the sake of making arguments and marshalling evidence in ones favor. In so doing, Doherty is able to make the claim that the epistles do not speak of Jesus Christ as a historical, human figure but as a cosmic Son of God who shares in God’s nature. As an example, Doherty said, “The death and resurrection of their Christ is never placed in an historical, earthly setting. A crucifixion on Calvary and the empty tomb story, the rising from the grave outside Jerusalem, are not to be found outside the Gospels” (55). In this way, Doherty can postulate a mythical Christ in the epistles with a contradictory historical, human Christ in the Gospels as an “evolution in Christian traditions within the first few generations of the faith” (39).

Having conveniently confused categories, Doherty is then able to demand evidence from the epistles that does not belong in the epistles. The mantra in Challenging the Verdict becomes the Jesus of the Gospels is not the Jesus of the epistles because the epistles do not repeat the Christological biography of Christ (21, 24, 28, 29, 39, 55, 64, 66, 83, 94, 99, 101,103, 104, 105, 135, 139, 159, 162, 170, 171, 176, 200, 210, 218, 225, 231, 235).

Not only does Doherty violate intellectual integrity by conveniently confusing categories, treating the epistles as though they should be the Gospels, he also violates intellectual integrity by conveniently creating categories in which to put any opposing evidence so that it can be declared inadmissible. For instance, coherence becomes either reading the content of one set of documents into another (104) or “the evangelists constructed their story by drawing on scriptural elements in the process known as midrash” (134). Midrash is the practice of copying and reworking passages from the Old Testament in order to build up a new story based on old material (112).

Another conveniently created category by Doherty is close correspondences become plagiarisms. Speaking of the close correspondences between the Gospels, Doherty said, “Most scholars have concluded that the close correspondences between Mark and the later evangelists, overall and in many small ways, does indeed make them technically plagiarisms” (173). What happens when there seems to be no correspondences? No correspondences become radical revisions and contradictions (17).

Confusing categories by treating the epistles as though they should be the Gospels and creating categories by which to declare as inadmissible any evidence to the contrary, is an exercise in misleading techniques and is not intellectual integrity. Doherty has failed to provide reasoned refutations, truthful representations, and intellectual integrity. Naturalism will have to continue its search for its hero – Doherty has failed.

I have not forgotten Doherty’s deep rooted and real problem with Christianity. I will address that problem in the next post.

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