Sunday, November 1, 2009

Thoughts on Ahmed's Introduction - Habermas vs. Ahmed

So after posting about Gary Habermas and the evidence for Jesus' bodily resurrection, I set out to watch more of Habermas' debates. The one I found was between Dr. Habermas and Dr. Arif Ahmed. Dr. Ahmed is an atheist and apparently quite a deep thinker.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

I believe Dr. Ahmed won this debate, simply because an atheist posted the video. Typically debates are posted by individuals supporting the side that won. Thus far, I have only seen the first 20 minutes, during which Dr. Ahmed gives his introduction.

He makes a fairly strong case against the resurrection - or so it seems. Much like a toddler can win an argument with its much more logical and rational mother simply by having a more domineering attitude, I think here Dr. Ahmed does such a good job because his personality is just so electric, warm and commanding.

I have given Dr. Ahmed's points a great deal of thought and I think I have discovered some logical flaws in what he has been saying. I have not seen Dr. Habermas' response to these points yet, but here goes mine.

Dr. Ahmed points out that Christian scholars scoff at the mass-hallucination theory because it is simply too improbable. But he says that once we bring things into the realm of the supernatural, why should we prefer a resurrection to a mass hallucination?

I would like to pick apart his logic using an example of his from earlier in his presentation. He supposed that he had 30 thermometers and a bucket of water and gave several different examples of combinations of error. I would like to build off of this.

Suppose that we have 30 thermometers that we have shipped in from different parts of the country and different manufacturers. We stick all 30 of these thermometers into a boiling bucket of water, putting one in here and there every couple of weeks, yet the thermometers all read zero degrees celsius. We have analyzed every possibility and (somehow) conclusively proven that there is no possibility that this is happening from naturalistic causes. We conclusively prove (again, somehow) that supernatural forces are affecting our experiment.

Essentially, Dr. Ahmed assumes that it is equally reasonable for these 30 thermometers (shipped in from all over the place and tested one at a time over a period of weeks) to all be malfunctioning at once as a result of supernatural tampering, as it is for the single bucket of water to be malfunctioning as a result of supernatural tampering. The fact is, there were many witnesses who testified to the truth of the resurrection very shortly after it happened. They were from various places and they were very different (Thomas was a doubter, while others were not), yet Dr. Ahmed would like us to believe that it is equally probable for supernatural forces to be acting on all of them over a period of many weeks in various different places, than for a supernatural force to be acting in one place, on one man, during one period of time. This is just like assuming all 30 thermometers were corrupt as opposed to the bucket of water being corrupt.

Additionally, though he says that theoretically the hallucination theory should not be considered less preferable to the resurrection theory, the hallucination theory doesn't properly get rid of the body. The Jews of the time admitted that the body had vanished from the tomb, although they said that the disciples had stolen the body. Unless they (and everyone else visiting the tomb) were having hallucinations, too (how many thermometers do we have now?), it would make no sense for the Jews to admit the body's disappearance. The age-old principle applies: what your enemies admit is usually true.

The other idea he offered (although he was just throwing it out there) is that Satan removed the body and placed in a new duplicate. He rationalized that if we're going to accept a supernatural theory, we might as well just throw in any theory. At this point, how believable is Dr. Ahmed? The question is, why would God allow Satan to create such a massive shockwave of deception involving His own Son? Sure, God puts up with Satan's activities, but how realistic is this? I will ask the question why Jesus went willingly, as the Gospels portray Him going, to the cross, if it was really just a ploy of Satan. Sure, Satan has gained control of certain people here and there, but I defy you to find me one biblical example where Satan led someone willingly, in such a sane manner, to the slaughter, while simultaneously convinced that His death would bring salvation for many people.

When Satan's minions took hold of the man living in the tombs, there was a "legion" of demons inside of him. Going by the Roman legion, this was probably about 7000. Yet, the demons only made the man cut himself on the rocks. I don't believe they could take his life, otherwise they might have. When Judas Iscariot died, he was certainly under Satan's influence, and Satan was described at one point as having entered him, directly before he betrayed Jesus. But when Satan led him to hang himself (assuming that Satan was still with him at that point and that Judas' will was not going along with the idea in any way, rather generous assumptions) Judas went in the most insane, haphazardly manner possible, showing clear signs of a demented, tormented mind - nowhere near the calm, focused way Jesus went toward His death.

I must ask - why are these theories equal to the resurrection theory? If we're going to go with a supernatural theory (which I think we should) the resurrection theory is frankly the most sober one out there. If we're going supernatural, let's just go for a nice tame little resurrection. It's better than other wild ideas, like mass hallucinations and Satanic body-swapping. And if you're not accepting the supernatural you've really got to come up with some ridiculous mass conspiracy theory far more complicated than any heist ever pulled off in history.

Another error Dr. Ahmed makes is an a priori assumption that I see among all atheists. Dr. Ahmed first states that we have no documented cases of people rising from the dead except the case in question, that of Jesus of Nazareth. How wrong he is. Usually filed as "near death experiences", there are all sorts of claims of people dying and coming back to life. For instance, the Near Death Experience Research Foundation claims over 1800 such accounts. But, of course, being a secular scholar Dr. Ahmed would never have heard of these cases.

But the meat of Dr. Ahmed's a priori assumption comes when he makes a few statements that are reducible to a tautology. He points out that before it was discovered how the pyramids were built, some assumed that the supernatural was involved. Then, we figured out the naturalistic explanation for how the pyramids were built, and the supernatural aspect was out. Maybe, he reasons, Jesus' resurrection was a case like this, and we just need to humbly wait for the solution.

This is where the crème de la crème of his poor assumptions comes into play. He assumes that once we have figured out how something works, we will have discovered its naturalistic (i.e. materialistic and non-supernatural) explanation. But his other assumption is of course that once we have found a naturalistic explanation for something, we have figured it out. Thus, he makes "figuring it out" and "finding a naturalistic explanation" synonymns. A tautology indeed.

He starts with the assumption that everything has a naturalistic (read: materialistic and non-supernatural) cause, and therefore, even if we don't know the explanation for something right away, we should assume that there is a perfectly natural cause.

He assumes, therefore, that all demon possessions (which are quite well documented, actually) really do have a naturalistic cause, we just haven't "figured it out" yet. And once we "figure it out", we will have found the naturalistic cause.

Do you think that ancient Greek philosopher looking at the sand on the beach (I can't remember his name) really didn't figure out the concept of atomic structure? He had no way to test it whatsoever! But his theory turned out to be correct. Why, then, does Dr. Ahmed assume that those who attribute demon possession to real demons have somehow less valid of a theory than the Greek's? Because his theory involved a naturalistic (read: non-paranormal and much more comforting to scientists in lab coats) explanation.

It's kind of hard to explain what I want to say here. But basically Dr. Ahmed is assuming that we haven't "figured something out" until we have found a naturalistic explanation for it. Until we have a cushy materialistic non-supernatural explanation, it's just a mystery we can dismiss.

Also, I suggest that the line between the supernatural and the naturalistic is much finer than we usually expect. If you've ever watched someone die... it's very natural, yet very supernatural. Something leaves.

Oh, and if you think science is 100% reliable and all we have to go on... think again. Watch William Lane Craig in this video. I'm not sure if he actually humiliates Dr. Atkins as the title says, but it's still hilarious and intriguing.

These are just a few thoughts. If I have more while watching the rest of the debate, I'll try to post them.

In the end, Dr. Ahmed, although claiming to be an objective, non-committed atheist, really starts out with the same assumptions every other atheist does. He did an excellent job presenting his ideas in such a way that they take center stage and look good. But in the end I think he made it a scientific/philosophical debate where he basically says, "look, people don't rise from the dead", instead of saying, "so, what best fits the historical facts?" In which case, you get the resurrection.


  1. They were from various places and they were very different (Thomas was a doubter, while others were not), yet Dr. Ahmed would like us to believe that it is equally probable for supernatural forces to be acting on all of them over a period of many weeks in various different places, than for a supernatural force to be acting in one place, on one man, during one period of time.

    Of course. Once you introduce the possibility of forces that do not obey the laws of nature, you cannot claim that one supernatural event is more or less probable than any other. Once you introduce the supernatural, notions of probability go out the window.

  2. Not necessarily, since I would expect that supernatural forces work according to patterns and natural orders, too. Therefore, they would have probabilities. Most atheists tend to think that if paranormal forces exist, they would be sporadic, unscientific and unpredictible, which is why they, as logical types, don't like the idea.

  3. They wouldn't be supernatural forces if they worked according to natural orders.

  4. So what is a supernatural force, then? A force that does not work according to natural orders?
    I suggest that the very term "force" implies some sort of order. The "force" is understood to be an entity that acts upon another entity.
    If you object, I would gladly drop the terms "supernatural" and "paranormal". Unlike many, I don't see the difference between angels and gravity, apart from one being a force and the other a being. I suggest that there is as little use calling angels and demons supernatural as there is calling a rare bird supernatural just because we know little about it.

  5. I see a big difference between gravity and angels. I can see the effects of gravity by picking up a pencil off my desk and dropping. Moreover, I can demonstrate the effects of gravity to another person by dropping the pencil in front of them. While there are people who insist that the effects of angels are observable, there is no one who can demonstrate there existence in the way that I can demonstrate the existence of gravity.

    As far as the rare bird goes, even though I may know little about it, I know how to learn about it. I think I know how an ornithologist might use empirical methodology to go about verifying its existence and documenting its characteristics. With angels and demons, I don't.

  6. My main point, though, was that "supernatural" (read: little-observed and difficult to examine) beings would still have an order and thus would still be subject to probability.

    As far as the verification of angels and demons, I'll remind you that it is a culturally transcendent motif to affirm that there are warring spiritual beings out there. Western culture is one of the first cultures that cumulatively denies this. For more info, Greg Boyd's God at War covers this, in chapter four I think.

    Secondly, remember the Greek from this post. He came up with the theory of atoms to explain what he observed. He had absolutely zero way of testing this. It just seemed like a pretty decent shot at explaining things. He turned out to be correct. Why couldn't those who affirm the existence of "supernatural" beings fall into the same category?

    As I pointed out, demon possessions and exorcisms are quite common. Likewise, near death experiences suggest something beyond our normal level of consciousness.

  7. But supernatural is not read as "little-observed and difficult to examine." That is not what the word means.

  8. True; which is why I indicated that it should be read otherwise.