Most common errors skeptics sometimes make in anti-Christian arguments:

[Note: I intend to develop these fully, and then go through the various major sections of the anti-Christian web sites and classify the various arguments there, under the following error-categories. I will probably start with the "Jury is In" one, since 1) I get a lot of requests to do that; and 2) its excellent organization by Lowder makes it easier to do, on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis.]

"Only X gospel writers refer to it, so the event is questionable"

Point: This typically takes the form of "this event is only MENTIONED by ONE (or TWO or THREE or 'ONLY PAUL') of the NT writers, so it is questionable". The apparent intent of the remark is to discount the truthfulness of an account and/or relevance of the event. The overall goal seems to be to 'dismiss' the account from having to be explained.

Spoof: "Only X people recorded the voyage of Columbus, so it is questionable that he actually sailed".

Structure (without assumptions):

Questionable Assumptions in the argument:


There is a variant of this that applies mostly to gospel accounts: "since it was only recorded by TWO authors, it MUST NOT HAVE been a widely-held, widely-known, or important event/issue". Most of you will recognize this as an argument from silence. Arguments from Silence are notoriously useless, for they can be used to support OPPOSITE positions! Consider:

A: Since it wasn't mentioned but once, it must not have been widely known.
~A: Since it wasn't mentioned but once, it must have been so widely known as to not need repeating.

This AMBIGUITY is what renders the Argument from Silence impotent (generally, but there ARE exceptions).

Element of Truth: We know that the credibility of an account IS strengthened by the presence of multiple witnesses (as long as the witnesses don't lead us to suspect 'conspiracy' or 'collusion'). But the OPPOSITE is not necessarily true--that only one witness CANNOT be trusted. Also, there are certain contexts in which MULTIPLE witnesses were required under God's law in the OT. Specifically, capital offenses required the presence of two witnesses (Num 35.30: "Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness."), and this is generalized to other criminal acts (Deut 19.15). [This was an issue in Jesus' trials-cf. Mark 14-but it COULD be overridden (apparently) in the case of a confession of guilt under oath-as in that passage and in Matt 26.] But this is explicitly for LEGAL contexts, which do not apply in most skeptic-believer arguments.

"No outside confirmation exists, therefore we don't have to take the report seriously"

Point: This normally attempts to 'throw out' a piece of data by forcing an arbitrary requirement on it. "Outside confirmation" is required to 'validate' inside witness. (You can probably see the resemblance to the above argument.) There is often an implicit 'accusation of bias' hiding in this argument--'insiders' cannot be trusted; but outside observers can.

Spoof: "Since there was no outside confirmation of the birth of Julius Caesar, then we can't be sure he was born".

Structure of the Argument (without assumptions):

Questionable assumptions: Problems:

Element of Truth: As in the above, the presence of an outside witness might ADD to the credibility of an account (especially if it's not dependent on it), but the ABSENCE of such a witness is NOT correlated to the truth or falsity of an account (nor the consequent truthfulness of a solitary report). It can be especially useful in situations where there is SOME evidence to doubt the trustworthiness of the account, and in situations were there are adequate grounds to suspect 'conspiracy'.

"No contemporary confirmation"--"surely something THAT important would have been recorded"

Point: This attempts to make the requirements EVEN tighter than the above. Not only do we have to have multiple witnesses (with at least one 'outside'), but now they have to be "contemporaries". This is generally coupled with the phrase "surely something THAT important would have been recorded". This is slightly different than the above cases, since its argument has a different structure than the others:

Structure (without assumptions):

Questionable Assumptions in the Argument: Problems:

"One dissenter in early witnesses" implies "no agreement" which implies " not true"! (especially used with Church Fathers)

"Some textual variants exist", therefore, throw the passage out!

"They felt strongly about what they believed"--therefore, throw their writings out!

"Other earlier people believed similar things", therefore the biblical writers must have plagiarized!

"They should be judged by today's standards of precision, science, etc."

"We must use MY criteria of what counts as proof or speculation..."

Rampant, unfounded speculation

"Some ambiguity exists", therefore throw the data out!

Domino theory: "One error means you throw it ALL out as untrustworthy"

Improper weighting of the data! (which data points 'relativise' the others? The Cross or Midian?)

Sources hopelessly out of date! (Kersey Graves, for goodness sake!)

Differences in gospel accounts MUST BE contradictions (e.g. no real evaluation of potential explanations)

"Since there are alternative possible explanations for the phenomena, we should not accept the most plausible!"

The Infinite regress problem of "extraordinary evidence"

"You should not use personal experience of God as evidence for His existence--even to yourself." (It is not verifiable by non-believers).

General lack of familiarity with the Biblical world--its history, customs, language, politics.



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