Everything I now believe is relevant and correct is included below. But anyone with gobs of time on their hands who wants to read my original entry and the discussion that followed can download the text of the whole thread by clicking here. That is only a temporary location, but when it goes down, anyone who is still interested can email me a request to send it by attachment.
I was tapped for this show by its producer James Lazarus, due to my online writings at the Secular Web and my contributions to the book The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (in addition to which one should now consult my Empty Tomb FAQs). The show aired October 27, 2006, and is or will be available for purchase on Reggie's website. After the crash and burn, Christian hatemonger David Wood wrote a really long and bitter critique of the one hour event that I found rude and frequently off-base. James Lazarus, who set up the interview, also wrote on why he was disappointed with the event and again in response to my original blog entry, and though I still disagree with him on some things (but not those in his final thoughts), he has convinced me I was wrong to disagree with him as much as I originally did.
For the show I had submitted five questions I wanted to ask in advance, although we only got to three, and spent too much time on one. Reggie, the host, did not object to any of my questions before the event, and I took this to mean he approved that for the show. It was, after all, his show. However, I had told Reggie I wanted to keep the questions between us, but I should not have said that. On the one hand, I assumed "us" would include James, his producer, but I realize Reggie probably didn't assume that. I can now see James would have objected in advance, and the course of the show could have been changed from the start, to conform more to what James originally wanted, since this was his concept and he worked hard to set it up. More importantly, though, I think the interview would have gone off far better had Gary and Mike been given my questions and allowed to prepare answers. I originally wanted to know if they had thought about these things or whether these issues hadn't even occurred to them, but I now don't think that should matter, and it was unfair of me not to put them in the loop from the start, especially given what I really wanted to accomplish, which was to hear them out.
This was supposed to be an interview, not a debate, and I was prepared to take that seriously, and said so to James on the phone when he called me to set it up. I told him then that I genuinely wanted to understand why they believed what they did and that I wanted them assured that I wasn't going to turn the show into a debate. Everyone was supposed to know that and be on the same page about it, and as far as I can tell, everyone was, although some in the audience attacked the interview for failing to become a debate, suggesting I was supposed to hit Gary and Mike with my counter-arguments, they were then supposed to respond, and so on. That's not an interview. That's a debate. I was told this was to be an interview, so I tried to behave accordingly and did everything I could to prevent it devolving into a debate, with mixed success. Hence when I tried to set aside issues and not "debate" them I was trying to keep the show in format. I was subsequently attacked for doing that, mainly by David, who even accused me of "dodging" the arguments or somehow sinisterly conceding them, although that is a typical fallacious diatribe from him. Obviously I couldn't win with an audience like that, so I should just ignore blowhards like him. Everyone who only wanted a throw-down, hard-ball debate, can complain all they want. Since that's like going to a U2 concert and complaining it's not Judas Priest, I should have ignored them, and so I shall.
I was originally frustrated because I was completely up front about what I wanted to accomplish in the interview, yet everyone seemed to ignore what I said I wanted to accomplish, including the post-game critics David and James, as well as guests Gary and Mike. In the show I said I wanted to understand why they believed what they did and that to understand that I needed to hear them answer some questions that don't usually get asked. I already knew all their answers to all the standard questions about Gary's "minimal facts," for example. In fact, I am fairly certain so does David and James and Reggie and most audience members who listened to the show. And for those who don't, they were directed to all our books so they could find out.
I was hoping this show would have been more probing and less shallow, more a sincere attempt to understand, than a showcase for apologetic rhetoric (mine or theirs). But it didn't turn out that way, and this was partly my fault. I misunderstood what James wanted, I didn't prepare Gary or Mike as I should have, and I was so thrown when things started to go awry that I didn't know how to bring things back around, and I failed. From subsequent comments I still get the impression a lot of people wanted this to become a shallow, typical, rehashed throw-down match. If that's what they wanted, I would not have signed on to the show. To me that's boring and futile, and would teach me nothing about Gary or Mike or their beliefs. But I now think James, at least, would have been happy with something more substantial and less combative, had the direction of the conversation gone differently.
Like everyone, I was disappointed and frustrated with this interview. I sincerely wanted to understand some things about what Gary and Mike believed, instead of rehashing the same things everyone has already heard round and round a thousand times. I was ready to listen. But since everyone, especially our guests and I, all had different ideas about what the show was supposed to be about, we all worked at cross purposes. I originally felt that Gary and Mike ignored my sincere request to learn something and just ignored my questions, and I was annoyed after the show by monday quarterbacks who badgered me for not debating them. I came to the hasty and incorrect conclusion that Christians were genuinely incapable of an honest exchange or a sincere desire to help us understand them and where they are coming from. Though Gary and Mike only seemed interested in repeating the party line, making an idol out of the resurrection, ultimately telling me to "hang" the rest of the Bible (literally), I see now they were trying to get the show back onto the track they were told and expected the show to roll along, while I was trying to get the show onto the track I thought and expected the show to roll along, and the result was miscommunication, confusion, and little in the way of fruitful progress toward what any of us wanted to accomplish.
Hence I mistakenly took their refusal to answer my first question as an apologetic dodge, as if they were trying to control the conversation, instead of actually teaching me some things about their beliefs and helping me understand them, which was what I said I wanted. Instead, they went into standard old arguments that had nothing to do with what I wanted to know. They weren't listening to me, but I was wrong about why. Though it felt like they weren't talking to me, but instead talking to potential converts in the audience, and treating me like an obstacle to that goal rather than as a person who really wanted to know something and was giving them the opportunity to talk about it, I think they were only confused by what I was doing and unsure about where I was trying to go. That was my fault. I wrongly assumed everyone was on the same page.
I had five questions in all, but I spent so much time trying to get them to answer the first one, that we ran out of time, and I had but minutes to try and get through the rest, and ultimately got to only two more of the five. This wasn't entirely my fault, but I still made bad calls, and I should have been more disciplined with our time. Certainly, had they actually answered the first question, we could have spent more time on the others, and they did fairly quickly answer the second question, but by then the show was basically over, and they didn't have sufficient time to answer my third. All five of my questions were supposed to build up toward a broader understanding of the presuppositions their resurrection belief is based on. In each case, I thought, if my question had no answer, the resurrection would not be credible from a Christian point of view no matter what evidence there was. I now agree that wasn't uniformly true, but at the time that's why I felt these were the questions we should be asking first.
To be clear, I did assume Gary and Mike had answers to my questions. I just wanted to know what they were. That's why I wanted to ask those questions: these were the things I didn't know about their reasons for believing and thus those were the things I wanted to learn from them. But they never told me the answer to the first question, and spent so much time not answering the first question that we never got to explore their answer to the others or even hear the last two. Although I was frustrated and disappointed with Gary and Mike for not answering my questions, and in David and James for not recognizing the fact that I wasn't being treated as an honest inquirer on the show, but like an obstacle to everyone's ulterior wishes, several observers have convinced me I ought to share the blame for this.
I see now that I was just as frustrating and disappointing to James, Gary and Mike, and my misunderstanding and lack of clarity only made things worse. I've apologized personally, and I do again here, to James, Gary, and Mike for my role in botching the show. After long and careful consideration of the whole affair and everyone's remarks afterward, I have learned a lot from my errors and mistakes, and I'll put what I've learned to good use.
I shall next discuss the five questions I wanted to ask. Those who aren't interested in the nitty gritty of this affair can skip past all this and go right to the conclusion at the end.
1. "In the Book of Acts the Apostles are having vivid and powerful visions and dream communications from God all the time. We hear of similar experiences reported in that era from Jews and pagans, who were also having vivid and powerful visions and dream communications from a variety of gods and angels. Why isn't this happening now? And why was that happening back then, even to pagans and Jews, who weren't seeing or hearing what the Christians were seeing and hearing?"
I still think this was and is an important and relevant question, even for the direction James wanted the show to take. So I have not changed my remarks much here, and present in color below exactly what I originally wrote, with a few small corrections that I already suggested in the original thread:
If we cannot answer this question, then we haven't thought through the contextual issues enough to make an informed decision about what the first Christians actually claimed to have seen. I made the specific point on the show that the Gospels add details that are not added by Paul, and therefore we cannot argue from the Gospels that the original "appearances" differed substantially from all these other visionary experiences, without presupposing the historical reliability of all the details in the Gospels. Perhaps we could have gotten eventually to a discussion about that, but I couldn't do that until I heard their answer to my question.That is why I kept telling them to set aside for a moment all the questions of whether the resurrection appearances can be historically established as categorically different (since I wasn't asking if they thought that--I already knew they did), and just answer my actual question. Then we could move on to comparing and contrasting the evidence for what the first Christians actually saw with what Gary and Mike believed was going on in all those other visionary experiences. I couldn't do that without knowing what they actually did think was going on in those other cases. This is a fundamental presupposition behind their interpretation of the resurrection evidence, and it cannot be set aside. In effect, Gary and Mike wanted to argue about how the Christian experiences of the risen Jesus were categorically different from all other appearance events, without giving me any idea of what they thought the actual properties were of those other events. How can we compare and contrast one thing, with another that hasn't even been defined or discussed yet? No one got this. Not David, not James, and evidently not Gary or Mike.
I still do not know what it is that Gary and Mike think was going on in all those other cases, or what properties those experiences had that differed from the resurrection appearances, or why they believe they are justified in claiming those other events had those properties and not others. For instance, it does no good to say "the resurrection appearances had properties a, b, and c, while none of those other experiences did" when you can't even prove from extant evidence that none of those other experiences had properties a, b, and c. It is therefore entirely relevant how and why they answer my first question, and how they would answer it is exactly what I didn't know and what I sincerely wanted to learn from them. I thought this would considerably advance the debate by getting at some of their underlying presuppositions and the validity of those suppositions.
This even would have had a tie in to my published arguments, which some were annoyed I never got to. I argue in The Empty Tomb that claiming to have seen a God was far more common then than now and I give several biological and cultural reasons why. Therefore, the prior probability that any given "I saw God" claim was just like all the others, rather than categorically different, is very, very high. This is an unavoidable statistical fact: prior probability equals, in effect, the probability of putting all like cases into a hat and drawing one at random that conforms to one category or another. "Genuine" appearances of God are in such a case always going to be rarely drawn from the hat, even if some are in there. But this argument depends on certain assumptions about what Gary and Mike believe about all the other "I saw God" events, assumptions I am not sure are true, and so it would have been improper of me to "slam" them with such an argument (even if this was a debate) without sincerely giving them a chance to correct or confirm by assumptions. They never got around to telling me. But had they done, then we could have gotten into the issue of whether my argument stands up, which is apparently what many wanted, even though this wasn't supposed to be a debate.
Incidentally, much of this became embroiled in a pointless debate (again, so much for "interview") about what Herodotus said about Zalmoxis. I was appalled at Gary's abuse and misrepresentation of the evidence, and as a result the teacher and historian in me grabbed the microphone and tried to correct him. If you want to hear the truth, see my addition on Zalmoxis to Chapter 19 (Responses to Critics) of Was Christianity Too Improbable to be False? (2006). I should have said, again, "This isn't supposed to be a debate, so let's set that aside and move on," even though David attacked me for doing exactly that on all the other issues in the show, while also attacking me for not doing it on this issue, but as I said I couldn't win with him no matter what I did.
2. "This might sound like a frivolous question, but it really isn't. I mean it quite seriously. Why does God give me more evidence that smoking cigarettes is harmful than he gives me that Jesus lives?"
Everyone thought this was an irrelevant question. Though I don't think it's irrelevant to what I told James I wanted to accomplish on the show--to understand why they believe what they do--it was a bad question anyway. I worded it poorly and provided no adequate foundation for asking it. James is right in his remarks about this. Even so, Mike did answer the question, saying that God doesn't need to give me as much evidence, because he has given me enough, and I just refuse to accept it. This is a fairly straightforward answer and thus the only question I asked that they actually answered. Although their answer is problematic, for a variety of complex reasons that were discussed in the original thread here, we didn't have time to explore it on the show, and I am now convinced I shouldn't have bothered asking it in the first place. It didn't belong in this context, and I didn't explain what it was I wanted to understand, so it was a bad question all around.
In his reply, I did get the impression that Mike was implying a "there's something wrong with you" argument, which is exactly what I heard from William Lane Craig on Faith Under Fire, who told me much more clearly that my cognitive faculties were not functioning properly, and that is why I wasn't convinced by the evidence. I don't know if that's what Mike believes, because we didn't have time to find out, but after being so shocked by Craig accusing me on national television of being insane, I really wanted to address this issue this time around. But I didn't go about it correctly, and it wasn't in line with what James wanted for the show. Still, for those who still want to hear more about why I think this sort of question is relevant to the general issue of why Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead, see my introduction to Why I Am Not a Christian (2006).
3. "The Gospel according to Matthew says (27:52-54) 'the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who slept rose up and came out of their graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City and appeared to many'. Do you believe this happened? If Yes: How could this amazing event have escaped everyone else's notice, even the other evangelists? If No: How could the author of Matthew get away with such a lie?"
As I originally wrote about this:
I was going to ask this question next, but we had but minutes left, and we had gotten nowhere toward setting my expected foundation for moving on to this more direct question about the evidence, which especially pertains to the reliability of the Gospels or (conversely) the nature of their overall beliefs about what happened nearly two thousand years ago. The next (and originally fourth) question seemed closer to expanding on Mike's answer to the second question, so I tried to skip to that, thinking that in but a few minutes we could get further on that question, with what we had actually discussed for nearly a whole hour, than if I just changed course into more technical issues of textual evidence. I'm not sure if this was the best decision, but the clock was ticking and I had to make a call. It was obvious we weren't going to get to any more questions beyond at most one, and then only if I ditched the discussion I wanted to have about Mike's answer to my second question, so I made a judgment call--one that apparently disappointed everyone.
I won't elaborate on my planned third question, since I expect everyone will agree it was (apparently) the sort of question everyone really wanted me to ask (though no one told me this beforehand). I had expected to have discussed their answer to my first question, which would have laid the foundation for this third question by addressing the role and reliability of the gospels, but since they never answered my first question and I tried in frustration for half an hour trying to get them to answer it, the expected foundation was never laid, thus this question had no context in the interview as-it-was. I had also planned to use their answers to the second question to probe their answer to this third question, since their answers to the second question would relate directly to what I would have to do to see things their way regarding their answer to the third question, whatever that answer would be, which I never got to find out. I still have no idea what their answer would have been.
4. "The following three questions are all closely related and really amount to one question. Why did the risen Jesus only appear to his followers, and to only one previously obscure enemy among the thousands opposing his Gospel? Why didn't he appear to Pilate or Herod or Caiaphas or the Roman Senate? Why didn't he also appear to deliver the Gospel to China--or to the Americas, as the Mormons claim he did?"
I believe this was a relevant and important question, certainly in seeking to understand why Gary and Mike believe as they do, but I still think it is important to what James wanted as well, since it relates directly to whether Gary and Mike have a defensible theory to explain the evidence. Hence, the following is what I originally said about this (minus some incorrect attributions to James), and I stand by it:
This was most suited to follow the third question above, which would have addressed the problem of public evidence vs. parochiality. But the interview had become such a disaster by then that the only relevant foundation we had laid was their belief as to why I don't believe. That was, again, the only question they ever even answered. So I thought it would only make sense to probe their reasons for why I don't believe by presenting them with what would convince me, and asking why they believe God doesn't present such evidence to me. We ran out of time, so I never got to explore the relevance of this. David and a few others seemed to think I was trying some other argument--though again, only by presuming this was a debate and that the only motive I had for asking any questions at all was to somehow "win." That's completely wrong, and represents their failure to understand what this show was supposed to be and what I tried so hard and yet utterly failed to accomplish on it.
I sincerely wanted to know what Gary and Mike believed about this. It wasn't some sort of trick. I honestly don't know what their answer is, and my objective was to understand, so I asked them. I can't blame them for not adequately answering it, since no time remained to try and get them back on track. But it's relevance should have been clear, especially in the obvious sense that if God wants all to be saved, he would do what was necessary to save each, but God did not provide the kind of public evidence that would save all (or the most that could ever be saved), therefore either there is no God who wants all to be saved, or he has some other way of doing it unknown to me. Had Gary and Mike answered "God doesn't want all to be saved, and doesn't give you the evidence that would convince you because he doesn't want to," then I would have simply moved on, since the discussion that would proceed from there really would have nothing to do with the resurrection but with their theological presuppositions about what God wants. But had their answer been "God has some other way of doing it," I would have asked them what that is and how they know it is true, since that is what I sincerely don't know about their belief, and thus what I most wanted to understand.
The latter discussion would be directly relevant to their resurrection belief, because in the planned discussion of the second question I would have said the evidence is insufficient to convince me, but the evidence proposed in my fourth question would have convinced me at least that Jesus had transcended life and death and appeared supernaturally. That would not be sufficient to convince me that the Christian interpretation of that event was correct, but it would convince me that something supernatural happened to Jesus. As Gary noted, and as N.T. Wright has argued, even if Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to many, it does not follow that Christianity is true--but it would follow, for example, that naturalism is false, and likewise, the bare fact of the resurrection of Jesus would then be as credible as his death (however credible that turns out to be--in the interview, I simply granted it to our guests).
In my debate with Mike Licona at UCLA, the feedback I received repeated many times the observation that the one point most damning to his case was the question asked near the end (submitted by someone in the audience), "Why was the death of Jesus so public, but his resurrection so private?" Mike said he had no answer. That, to me, is devastating to his case, and it was seen to be by many in the audience. This came on the heels of my concluding point that an appearance to a few believers and only one real enemy looks more like a natural event, since such poor numbers and such parochial targets and such geographically and chronologically limited appearances are more in line with what we would expect from a natural vision (hence my first question), whereas a global, non-parochial appearance event is more in line with a supernatural event, and in fact would have far readier and more plausible explanations in the supernatural.
In other words, a God of all the Universe could and (I honestly expect) would appear to the whole population of the world, whereas a natural and culturally dictated vision would be experienced only by a small set of believers in only one short period and in only one small place, and at best by no more than one or two others likewise influenced by them. Thus, to me, belief in the resurrection crucially hinges on what you believe about why the resurrection appearances of Jesus were so private, parochial, and limited. A credible explanation of the evidence must also explain that.
You cannot say "I don't know why the event looked more like a natural, culturally dictated event than a supernatural act of a universal god" and still claim to have a properly grounded belief in the resurrection of Jesus. I suspect, but don't know for sure, that Mike would have answered that he didn't agree it looked more natural than supernatural, but whether his disagreement on this point was based on sound evidence and reason is exactly what I wanted to explore, since I cannot at present think of how it could be. That's why I wanted to give him the chance to tell me what he believes about the resurrection that justifies his belief in the resurrection, particularly in light of how things seemed to me: that a real resurrection would entail things that did not transpire (such as a global God making a global appearance), and a failed prediction implies a failed theory. I can anticipate some of his response to this, but that is still an assumption about what he would say, and assumptions aren't knowledge. I wanted to know. But I still don't. The clock ran out and the show was done.
My final question was more elaborate. Had I known what James really wanted from this interview, I would have started with this question instead of leaving it for last:
5. You seem to trust what the Gospels say is what actually happened. I want to understand why. I have an analogy that I think might help. Suppose I hauled you into court on a murder charge, and the only evidence I had against you was a bunch of letters that described you murdering the victim in vivid detail. Of course you would ask who wrote those letters. I answer, "Joe, Mike, Bob, and Dan." You then ask, "Who are they?" And I answer, "I don't know for sure." That's a dead end, so you would ask, "How do they know any of the things they claim in those letters?" And I answer, "I don't know. They never say exactly where they are getting any of their information." Okay. Imagine that happened to you. Would you conclude that I had a convincing case against you? Do you believe the jury should conclude that you committed the murder those letters describe you committing?"
Now, I honestly have no idea how Gary or Mike would have answered this question. I did and do believe they have an answer. I just don't know what it is. And I sincerely wanted to know. I also think this is the sort of question James wanted to hear them answer as well. Hopefully either Gary or Mike will answer these questions some day on their respective websites and inform me when they do.
If I had it to do over again, I would have worked closely with James, Reggie, Gary and Mike before the show on what questions we would ask over the hour to start and structure our conversation. I would also have recommended only three questions, since I now think it's unreasonable to expect to get more in during an hour, especially in a four-way conversation. Finally, I should have made sure James was happy with all three questions. That would have established the theme and direction of the show, and prevented the disaster it became.
Moreover, this approach would have helped Gary and Mike make more thoughtful remarks. Although I never expect it, had I been the subject of the interview, I certainly would have appreciated being told in advance the leading questions that would be the focus of the show. Hence I failed to think of what would be kind to Gary and Mike and act accordingly, as I've done before, when Mike and I shared our opening statements before our UCLA debate. It was my failure this time, and I now agree that is what ultimately precipitated the whole disaster. I do apologize for that and I'll strive to do better in future. I also apologize to all those I wronged in my original entry with my hasty and incorrect remarks.