Gary Habermas vs. Tim Callahan “the Disappearing Atheist”

I emphasize that Atheist Tim Callahan is “the Disappearing” since Gary Habermas seems to have knocked him out of the field of pop-historical Jesus research—and you are about to find out why. 

I emphasize that Atheist Tim Callahan is “the Disappearing” since Gary Habermas seems to have knocked him out of the field of pop-historical Jesus research—and you are about to find out why. 

That which follows is a transcript of a discussion they had in 2005 on Lee Strobel’s TV show Faith Under Fire, you will see that it amounts to evidence vs. Atheist talking points de jour. 

Strobel introduces the topic thusly:

 

 

Virtually all scholars agree that Jesus of Nazareth lived in the first century, preached about the kingdom of God and was crucified. But what happened next is the most controversial issue of history: did Jesus rise from the dead and thus, authenticate His claim to being the Son of God or is this the stuff of legend and mythology?

 

For Christians, everything hinges on the resurrection and today we’re going to debate whether there’s sufficient evidence to back it up.

 

Joining me is Tim Callahan, religion editor of Skeptic magazine and author of Secret Origins of the Bible and Dr. Gary Habermas, who’s considered one of the world’s leading authorities on the resurrection: he chairs the philosophy and theology department at Liberty University, has written several books on the resurrection his most recent being The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

 

Well Tim, let me start with you in your book you suggest that the resurrection of Jesus isn’t original at all but it’s merely a story that was recycled from earlier mythology and mystery religions.

You specifically in your book mentioned the stories of Osiris Adonis and Addis could you explain what all this means?

 

Callahan:

…there were death and resurrection stories going all way back as he said to Isis and Osiris and usually in Dionysus in in out of the Greek mythology became at his own separate cult and on all these they died an excruciating death of some sort. Dionysus is torn to pieces and eaten by the Titans and then they arise physically from the dead.

 

Before getting to the back and forth regarding sources and details, note that this can already be said to be a post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.

 

 

Strobel:

So you’re saying that the Jesus story then is just a recapitulation of this earlier mythology.

 

Callahan:

Well, not exactly a recapitulation but I think that basically, the evidence for it is lacking

 

Strobel:

Okay Dr. Habermas, what your response to that.

 

Habermas:

Let’s take Adonis, Adonis is probably the ancient god for which we have the clearest data that he was raised from the dead. We have four accounts that Adonis was raised the earliest one is the second century AD, the other ones are between the 2nd and 4th century AD. The earliest account we have four.

Addis is a third century AD, and while Isis and Osiris as a religion was definitely pre-Christian: there is no resurrection in Isis and Osiris. Osiris in particular is not raised.

 

Callahan:

Okay Tim, how do you respond to that?

 

Callahan:

I would point out that oftentimes the only cop is the myths we have are quite late as far as writings go. But quite often we have some evidence of the myths in the form of pictures on vases of the various mythic characters in the situation’s in the myths so,  we can be pretty sure that they were being told or lay a lot earlier.

 

Habermas:

If we’re talking about stories on vases or other reliefs there are still no resurrection there are no resurrected gods for which we have influence, for which we have data, prior to the 2nd century.

 

Strobel:

Is this an objection, Gary, that you get a lot from scholars, that this is the origin of the resurrection of Jesus is somehow based on or influenced by these earlier mythologies.

 

Habermas:

I’ve done a count recently of about 1,200 sources on the resurrection, everything published since 1975 in German French and English, and I went back and I look how many of these scholars who hold university chairs, for example, how many of them who are not Christians who do not hold to the resurrection, how many of them would say that in any way the mystery gods are our potential inspiration for Christianity, and I can count the number of skeptics on one hand I can count them on one hand out of 1,200 scholars.

It’s a real minority view.

 

Callahan (ignoring what Habermas just noted and getting back to his talking points):

Not entirely, I would still say that that it was a common idea of a dying and rising God was around before Jesus.

 

[Crosstalk and then] Habermas:

The point is, Tim, if you’re gonna, if you’re going to hold to a dying arising God before Jesus: I want to say “Where’s the evidence?”

 

Callahan:

Well, I would say that first of all that the myth of Dionysus probably does ante-date Jesus and yes, there isn’t specifically resurrection, specifically crucifixion, but I don’t see if that’s really that important to point that they all undergo a horrible excruciating death.

 

Habermas:

You’re gonna have to give me a date for the earliest inscription because Dionysus, I don’t know anybody who thinks Dionysus is pre-Christian: not the resurrection portion.

 

Callahan:

Okay well, all I can tell you is that the myth is that he is torn apart by the Titans eating and he is raised from the dead…I don’t know the date of the, as I said, of the original as far as any writings we have [note that the date is the point]. With the myths, the Greek myths, most of our Greek myths we do have from later collections except we know they’re from they were told earlier because we have the vase paintings depicting them going way back in time.

 

Habermas:

But the point, the question is, is there a resurrection and since we don’t have any resurrection predating the 2nd century all the way to the 4th century: are the earliest ones second to fourth. We can say well maybe there’s a resurrection there but there’s no data, there’s absolutely no evidence for that position.

 

Strobel:

Gary what do you see as being the affirmative case for the resurrection.

 

Habermas:

Well Lee, let me say it this way: I do not assume that the Bible is inspired or even that the Bible is reliable as a text. I think we can get to those conclusions. But I like to take the data that critical scholars allow, even non-Christians critical scholars allow, and just say: look, I think we’ve got a good start in a case for the resurrection.

Well, virtually all skeptics makes no difference if you’re a believer and unbeliever they put first Corinthians, a book that Tim acceptances as reliable, they put Paul’s Creed, this early statement that Tim summarized on page 427, Paul says: I gave you listeners from Corinth, I gave you the text the story of the gospel which I received.

Now, he’s writing this in 55 AD…the crucifixion, give or take a year or two, is about 30 AD, that’s a nice round year.

Critics are willing to say that Paul probably got this material about 35AD, but Peter and John and James had it before Paul did: so we’re right on top of the events.

Geral E. Collins, a moderate Roman Catholic scholar, said that this material goes back to 30 AD and from this we get a very early account, thirtyish, right on top of the events.

We get eyewitnesses: Paul, at least, as an eyewitness then we get Paul: the eyewitness telling us that James, Peter and John agree. And then, thirdly, we have what I might call, if I want to keep up with the “e”s, here enthusiasm: their lives are transformed by their belief that they saw the risen Jesus, people get transformed for a lot of things but these guys claim they saw the risen Jesus.

And fourthly, a fourth “e,” I believe that Paul implies an empty tomb in first Corinthians 15:3 and follow us we have early eyewitnesses who are enthusiastic and willing to die for their message that Jesus appeared to them with an empty tomb.

 

Strobel:

Okay Tim, there is a minimalistic case but a case being made for the resurrection: how do you respond?

 

Callahan [side stepping all of the historical problem which he cannot overcome]:

Well, you’ve mentioned the life-transformation aspect, there are people who have had their lives transformed by converting to Islam: I don’t think Dr. Habermas would say that proves that Islam is divinely inspired.

 

Habermas:

I totally agree with him that anything can cause a life change. Usually, a religious or political commitment but anything can cause a transformation. That wasn’t my point: my point was that the disciples just weren’t changed, they were changed because they believed they saw the risen Jesus. Now, transformations cannot prove what somebody’s saying but transformation can prove that somebody believes what they’re teaching and if we have the earliest Apostles teaching that they saw the risen Jesus, we can say they’re wrong but we have their sincere belief that they believe in the risen Jesus so sincere they’re willing to die—I think that’s very valuable

When a Muslim dies because he believes in Islam, that’s his belief, centuries later, that Islam is true but if you go back to the original disciples they died because they believed they saw the risen Jesus.

 

Callahan:

If you start out with Mark’s resurrection appearances. There aren’t any: basically the women, Mary Magdalene Mary the mother of James and Salome, go to the tomb, they find an empty young man and white sitting inside, presumably an angel, says Jesus is risen and he’ll meet the Apostles in Galilee and go tell them. The women are terrified and they don’t tell anybody: that’s the end of the account.

 

Habermas:

There’s a supposition here that I want to mention that almost, that the idea is that the Gospel of Mark is the earliest and since there are no appearances were in trouble if that’s, Tim’s not necessarily saying that but others have said that. First of all, I want to say that Mark does have an appearance, maybe more, he says “go tell the disciples and Peter.”

Some scholars think that that’s an intimation of the appearance to Peter earlier but, be that as it may, Mark specifically says he’s been raised.

But the additional point I’d like to make here, and then I’ll see what he says, is his point that Paul predates Mark by 15 or 20 years and Paul has the longest list of appearances.

 

Callahan:

Except that Paul’s is just basically, it’s a kind of a summary, he doesn’t give a blow-by-blow appearances.

 

Habermas:

First of all Tim, if Paul has a summary here, as you just said you said, all we have is a summary in Paul, I want to know what’s wrong with the summary? He gives a long list of appearances and he gives more appearances than any other disciple.

I want to know: what’s wrong with a good list from right on top of the events if he received this material in 35 AD.

 

Callahan:

I he did.

 

Habermas:

Well, I’m using the dating of the critics, I’ll give you a list of them but these are people who are Atheists and people who do not agree with evangelicals and they put it in the 30s AD.

So if Paul only quote has a summary, I’ll take that summary because we can make a case based on that summary alone it’s excellent evidence.

 

Strobel:

You know, we’re running a bit out of time here so Tim, you know, we summarize if you were to make a closing statement in over 30 seconds to a jury.

 

Callahan:

Well basically, the statement is that his appearance to the Apostles, Dr. Habermas says there’s one in Jerusalem in Matthew and I say the only one that in Matthew or appears as to the women, and He appears the Apostles on a mountaintop and if He, there were other appearances, you would think that a book purporting to argue for the divinity of Jesus would put all the men and not leave some out.

 

Strobel:

Okay yeah, Gary a little bit of a closing statement from you.

 

Habermas:

Sure, if Paul’s the earliest and Paul’s the best and we can build a resurrection cased on Paul alone: we’ve got it.

If we can base the resurrection alone on Paul, we don’t even need to talk about the Gospels. If Paul can do it, we’ve got the data and I think he does.

 

And in the end, Callahan clearly retreated to his preaching to his Skeptic magazine audience where he can serve up undercooked red herring to eager mouths. And, actually, the magazine ought to be called Pseudo Skeptic due, at the very least, to Callahan’s performance vs. Habermas as well as due to times when the reality cat was let out of the bag of mere claims and self-identification.

 

 

For example, Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of the magazine and once asserted that various academicians were not, as it has been claimed and evidenced, fired due to expressing views favorable to Intelligent Design.

 

However, one single question by Ben Stein, “How do you know?” resulted in Shermer having to admit, “I don’t know” (within an interview from the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed).

 

Think about that the next time you hear Shermer claiming anything at all (especially if within his own publication where he goes unchallenged).

 

 

 

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A plea: I have to pay for server usage and have made all content on this website free and always will. I support my family on one income and do research, writing, videos, etc. as a hobby. If you can even spare $1.00 as a donation, please do so: it may not seem like much but if each person reading this would do so, even every now and then, it would add up and really, really help. Here is my donate page.

 

Due to robo-spaming, I had to close the comment sections. However, you can comment on my Facebook page and/or on my Google+ page. You can also use the “Share / Save” button below this post.