I was meandering through the internets and came across Dan Grossenbach's blog, in which he had posted a review of Mike Licona's newest book The Resurrection of Jesus. I would highly recommend visiting the gentleman's blog and reading the review, it was well written and is imminently relevant to this post. I have seen Licona in a few debates, and read some of his print around the web, so I was interested in a review by a fellow apologist. My preconceived notions about the possible tone of the review did not come away disappointed, and I noticed a point brought up that I had heard many times before, and not just from Licona. I posted a comment at the aforementioned blog, and since I'm pretty proud of what I managed to throw together, I have posted it here as well. If, for some unknown and obviously technical reason, the comment moderation process gets muddled and my post vanishes, my mind will be at ease with the knowledge that my thoughts have not gone into the same black hole. The quoted portion at the top comes from the review I cited, so, without further adieu....
"..such skepticism would force us to dismiss much of Western Civilization..."
If we "dismiss" the existence of Socrates, for example, does the socratic method fall to the wayside? If we dismiss the existence of Caesar, or the banals of the Roman senate, do the lessons learned about that form of government and the many pitfalls of civil society fail to be compelling?
What about Epicurus, Aristotle, Pascal, Voltaire, Leibniz, Darwin, Euclid, Nietzsche, and a myriad others? Even if they are rendered completely unhistorical, and proven to have not existed in even the philosophical sense, their ideas remain. Their works, like those of Shakespeare, do not depend on the existence of the man, but on the value of the idea.
Applying that maxim to your quoted statement, and what appears to be Licona's thesis about skepticism, you must admit that "much of Western Civilization, and even our present knowledge" is built on ideas, not people. Evolution is not contingent upon darwin existing, being a nice person, or what color shoes he wore, it is based upon repeat experimentation and observation. It is built upon ideas.
The fact is, no matter where an idea comes from, it stands or falls upon it's own merits, and any knowledge, be it scientific, philosophical, or mathematic, which builds it's foundation upon ideas has only the failure of those ideas to be concerned about. Hitler could have given us Euclid's geometry, Darwin's evolution, Socrates' methodology, or Kant's imperative, and regardless of our opinion of the man, or his "historicity", the ideas would stand separate and upon firm foundation.
This hypothesis of over-skepticism is simply a category error on Licona's part. He is equating ideas, which are self-justifying in that they require no authority but themselves to be valid, with a form of testimony, which depends heavily upon the nature of the person presenting them.
In the matter of the resurrection, and much of what Jesus taught, it really does matter whether he existed, whether he actually said what the bible claims, and whether the miracles he supposedly performed actually happened. It really does matter whether he actually rose from the dead, and is the son of the creator of the universe, or whether these claims qualify as something we can have reasonable doubts about. Honest skepticism about the stories surrounding Jesus really is a deal breaker when it comes to the claims of christianity.
That is not to say that some of what he presents in his Sermon on the Mount is not compelling, ethically, but these statements stand upon their own merits, entirely independent of Jesus. Some can be shown to pre-date Jesus, but I think that is irrelevant: they are worthy based upon nothing but their own merit. Others, however, like his talk of the end of the world in short order, his claims to divinity, and his followers claims of his resurrection and visitations, really do depend on the man. Testimony cannot be extricated from the witness in the way that ideas can be extricated from the thinker.
I have reasonable, honest doubts about the claims attributed to this character, Jesus, and can therefore not take anything on his word or the word of his followers. As far as I am concerned, his ideas must be worth it for their own sake, and while some of them most certainly are, his extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Thank you for stopping by, I would love to hear what you think!