Monday 5 December 2011

Circular logic is circular in Evidence for God

Michael R. Licona, one of the editors of Evidence for God (the other being William A. Dembski) contributes Chapter 33, "Can We Be Certain That Jesus Died on a Cross? — A Look at the Ancient Practice of Crucifixion". Certainty in this matter is apparently important because if Jesus didn't die on a cross he couldn't have been resurrected, and "without a resurrection, Christianity is falsified." So Licona presents "four reasons that support the credibility of the claim that Jesus died as a result of being crucified."

First, he mentions reports about Jesus's execution, some by non-Christians, and he goes on to say:
The fact that these non-Christians mentioned Jesus in their writings shows that Jesus' death was known outside of Christian circles and was not something the Christians invented.
That's stretching it a bit. Licona himself states that the reports were late first century, early second century, early to mid-second century, and second to third century. Even the earliest would presumably have been decades after the event reported, so it's unlikely they were reliable eye-witness accounts. They could even have been second-hand reports based on the same source — but how reliable was that source itself? Maybe the story of Jesus's death was known outside of Christian circles, but the existence of those reports is hardly proof that they are all true.

Second, Licona goes into gory detail about crucifixion and concludes that people who were crucified were highly unlikely to survive it. I'm not sure why this needs to be stated — execution isn't something one is expected to survive.

Then we get this:
Third, professional medical opinions are unanimous in concluding that Jesus certainly died as a result of being crucified.7
Licona gives the following reference for the above statement:
7A number of these are mentioned in Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Volume 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 1088ff.
Now, I'm not disputing that Jesus probably died as a result of his crucifixion, but I have to point out Licona's appallingly shoddy logic in the above claim. What, precisely, does he mean by "unanimous"? Has he consulted every professional medical opinion? Apparently not — he says "a number" are mentioned in his cited reference. It seems therefore that he's using "unanimous" in the sense that all of the professional medical opinions that conclude Jesus died from crucifixion are unanimous in that opinion — which is at best tautologous.

Licona may have been perilously close to the edge of logic with that last "reason", but with his fourth he steps right off the cliff. He attempts to use Jesus's post-mortem appearances as evidence for him dying on the cross. This is begging the question. What Licona is trying to establish in this chapter is that Jesus died on the cross, because if Jesus didn't die on the cross he couldn't have been resurrected. Licona can't use the resurrection as proof of the crucifixion and then use the crucifixion to prove the resurrection, because — this is elementary stuff — that's a circular argument.

Argumentation of such low calibre is fatal to Licona's credibility here. Dembski should have spiked it.