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Habermas is Distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy and chairman of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Habermas holds two degrees;
- Ph.D. (1976) from Michigan State University in the area of History and Philosophy of Religion
- M.A. (1973) from the University of Detroit in Philosophical Theology.
In 1985, Dr. Gary Habermas and Antony Flew debated the question of Jesus' resurrection as a literal and historical/physical event, before a crowd of 3000 people. The judges ruled that Habermas won the debate. In 2004, Habermas conducted an interview with Antony Flew in which Flew told that he had changed his views from atheism to deistic theism. Often touted as a sort of triumph by Habermas's co-religionists it's worth noting that Flew did not endorse any kind of Christianity, let alone the brand promoted by Habermas.
Habermas is a staunch defender of the resurrection of Jesus. His arguments are based on the prerequisite that Jesus of Nazareth existed (ignoring that the evidence leaves much to be desired), and the view that the Bible is self-evident and that its depiction of Jesus' life is an unvarnished historical account. Habermas's case for the resurrection is based on a number of "facts":
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- He was buried.
- His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
- The tomb was empty (the most contested).
- The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
- The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
- The resurrection was the central message.
- They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
- The Church was born and grew.
- Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
- James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
- Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).
Habermas disagrees with the swoon theory and never considers that the accounts may have been less than 100% truthful. Habermas is known for quoting Gary Collins as saying that hallucinations are, by their nature, never a mass phenomena.
Most of Habermas's conclusions and arguments are based on the assumption of the absolute reliability of the stories of the gospels and nothing more. However, the gospels are not history textbooks. The Bible has been revealed many times to be not entirely trustworthy and includes deliberate myths and unhistorical fiction, as well as forgeries and interpolations. There are several instances where Habermas is incorrect or his points really mean nothing, for instance the conversions of Paul and James mean nothing. People change religions every day. The claim that the Disciples were willing to die for their beliefs is a fallacy known as argumentum ad martyrdom.
There are many stories in the life of Jesus that are literally fantastic, or appear to be reinterpretations of older myths.
Habermas's work does not resemble the work of historians. Rather, he is stating that the events in the gospels are basically self-evidently true, which is just as fallacious as stating the events leading up to Mohammad's ascension are true by citing Islamic scripture. He provides no external verification. Here is a walk through of Habermas's "facts" to show that the are not historical facts or are unknowns.
- As far as we know, Jesus (if he existed) is told to have been crucified only by the gospels and Paul, some time after Jesus died. No contemporary eye-witness reports this execution --- since neither Paul nor the gospels are eye-witness testimony. The claim that Jesus was crucified is unhistorical in of itself. Torah Law states any blasphemer should be put to death and then hung for display. This law is confirmed and elaborated in the Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin: people could be executed either by stoning, burning, decapitation, or strangulation, but whichever it was, when the crime was blasphemy the corpse was then hung on a pole for display, apparently like a slab of meat, which resembled a crucifixion. And whether executed or not, a body had to be taken down by sunset. Nowhere in the law does it state that the punishment was by crucifixion.
- Again, this is only mentioned in the gospels way after Jesus supposedly died. If Jesus did exist and was executed as a blasphemer, the Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin goes on to explain the law regarding the burial of condemned men: they did not bury the condemned in the burial grounds of his ancestors, but there were two graveyards made ready for the use of the court, one for those who were beheaded or strangled, and one for those who were stoned or burned.(6.5e-f) This is confirmed in three other sources: the Talmud, the Tosefta, and the Midrash Rabbah. Jesus, as a blasphemer, would be ear-marked for stoning and thus for the Graveyard of the Stoned and Burned. The Mishnah itself goes on to explain that only "when the flesh was completely decomposed were the bones gathered and buried in their proper place," i.e. only then could the family rebury the condemned man in their ancestral tomb. There were no apparent exceptions made for execution by a Gentile government (Talmud, Sanhedrin 47b).
- We have no records of the disciples' emotions or personal feelings. The gospel authors were not contemporary witnesses, Relying on the gospel authors is not a satisfactory answer.
- As discussed in point 2 above, Jesus was not buried in a tomb. As a blasphemer, to be properly buried by Jewish law, Jesus would have to wait to become bones before buried in a tomb (and that take a lot longer than 3 days).
- Such experiences, if they happened, can be explained without miracles.
- That is assuming they were never doubters, or they merely claim they were never doubters. All we have is the word of some anonymous authors. Perhaps only half the disciples were believers, and the gospel authors reported that they were all believes to give credulity to the resurrection story. Without individual or contemporary testimony, we cannot be sure that they all became believers.
- Rather, the atonement was the more appropriate central message. Resurrection means nothing without the atonement.
- Jerusalem was the center of education and religious diversion. Followers of various beliefs all testify as to their experiences and faith, such as Apollonius of Tyana raising the dead.
- This can be achieved without a historical figure, such as with cargo cults. The sudden rise of the Mormon Church does not prove that God lives on a planet or an angel visited Joseph Smith. Also, Habermas would likely reject a Muslim using this argument in favor of the validity of Islam.
- Setting a date of worship does not require an historical figure to exist. You might as well point to the Muslim choice of Friday as their day of worship as some sort argument for the validity of Islam.
- Again, this is assuming James existed, was a doubter and did not lie. Habermas's only reason for assuming this is biblical inerrancy.
- Paul himself is emphatic about never having witnessed Jesus or his resurrection, and claims to have changed his views on the road to Damascus after having a vision. Also, compare Paul's claims of skepticism and dis-/unbelief with those made by Lee Strobel...
The Oz analogy
Using the same logic and type of "evidence" employed by Gary Habermas for the historicity of Jesus, we can make a solid case for the historicity of the Wizard of Oz (by assuming the inerrancy of The Wizard of Oz, of course):
- Fact 1: Independent Testimony: The oldest account comes from Frank with subsequent expansion and collaborative evidence supplied by Noel, Florence, Edgar, and John. For instance, Frank simply describes the twister hitting the Mid-West, but from the other four we can deduce that it specifically hit Kansas. We can verify that tornadoes hit Kansas and have done so for many centuries. This knowledge of local geography and climate further supports that all five authors were eye witnesses intimately familiar with the course of events.
- Fact 2: The Wicked Witch of the East Actually Died: This has been confirmed by five chiropractors, who all agree that a house falling from the sky at great heights could kill her. The fifth chiropractor, unlike the previous four, did not state unequivocally that the Wicked Witch would necessarily die, but is sure that the most likely scenario would result in her death.
- Fact 3: The Radical Change in the Munchkin Behavior: The Munchkins were terrified on the Wicked Witch of the East. However, after the house fell on the Wicked Witch, the Munchkins were happy, singing and proclaiming that she did in fact die. They would not do any of this unless the Wicked Witch of the East had actually died, otherwise she would hurt them. No other scenario can plausibly explain a paradigm shift of this magnitude.
- Fact 4: The Ruby Slippers[note 1]: Dorothy possessed the Ruby Slippers, which would be impossible unless the Wicked Witch of the East was actually dead. Dorothy having the Ruby Slippers has been independently verified by both the Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West. These two are constantly at odds with each other, and thus they would not agree on Dorothy having the Slippers if it wasn't true.
- Fact 5: The Yellow Brick Road: If the Yellow Brick Road did not exist, there would be no way for Dorothy to get to the Emerald City from Munchkin Land. Since we know that she did make it to the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road must logically (have) exist(ed). Furthermore, the existence of the Yellow Brick Road has been verified through the independent eye witness testimonies of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion who also traveled it.
- Bonus: The Munchkin Land Factor: If the Wicked Witch of the East was not dead, the flying monkeys could easily have verified that by coming in to investigate it at any time. Since they didn't and believed she was in fact dead, there is no reason to believe that they would have lied or been mistaken about it.
Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present: What are Critical Scholars Saying?
One of Habermas's most widely cited articles is a survey he did of thousands of "sources", concluding that almost all scholars, "critical" or otherwise, believe that the disciples of Jesus had a real experience of Jesus after his death.
There are several problems with this article, not least that there appears to be fewer than 4 non-Christians in his entire survey, none of which apparently disagree with this slightly implausible statement.
See Essay: Comment on Resurrection Research by Gary Habermas for a criticism of this work.
- There are four popular versions of The Wizard of Oz. In the oldest version, Dorothy has "silver shoes" and in the other three she has "ruby slippers". Note that some fundamentalists who rely solely on Frank's text will insist that the ruby slippers were actually silver shoes. Since slippers are a type of shoe, this is not actually a contradiction. The (supposed!) difference can easily be explained by the shoes being made of rubies and having silver buckles. The four versions of The Wizard of Oz certainly compliment each other, but they do not contradict each other. Frank simply neglected to mention the ruby bits and Noel/Florence/Edgar/John omitted the silver bits.