1/22/09

The Apostle Thomas : Patron Saint of Scientists?

In his article Is Science a Religion?, Professor Richard Dawkins wrote:

To read/Or not to read


“Well, science is not religion and it doesn’t just come down to faith. Although it has many of religion’s virtues, it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops. Why else would Christians wax critical of doubting Thomas? The other apostles are held up to us as exemplars of virtue because faith was enough for them. Doubting Thomas, on the other hand, required evidence. Perhaps he should be the patron saint of scientists.”

Elsewhere, we have pointed out that when asked to present the “most persuasive” argument in favor of Darwinian-atheistic-evolution Prof. Richard Dawkins did, in fact, appeal to his own faith. Now that he “got religion” is he going so far as to bestow sainthood?

Gregg Easterbrook wrote a review of Prof. Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion.” What is interesting is how succinctly his article’s subtitle captures a sentiment that has been expressed with regards to the New Atheists as a whole: “In ‘The God Delusion,’ a vocal atheist ignores more sophisticated concepts of God in favor of fundamentalist stereotypes.” It may be that when Prof. Richard Dawkins elucidates evolutionary theory in technical terms, he is speaking above the common man’s head. Although, Richard Lewontin who is the Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at Harvard University an evolutionary biologist and geneticist has categorized Prof. Richard Dawkins amongst a group of science-popularizers who has “put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market.”[1] It may be that when Sam Harris expounds upon neuron-scientific breakthroughs, he is referring to a field with which many of us are not the least bit acquainted. It may be that when Daniel Dennett is philosophizing, he engages in mental maneuvering beyond our scope. However, it has become extremely common, and simple, to note that when these, and others, expound their opinions regarding religion, theism, the Bible, etc., they are attempting to elucidate a topic of which they are less than erudite.

The issue at hand is actually multifaceted and perhaps we aught to be somewhat empathetic towards Prof. Richard Dawkins. He makes reference to some Christians who are critical of the Apostle Thomas. He is, after all, known as “doubting Thomas.” Here we may have to differentiate what the text of the Bible actually states as, perhaps, opposed to what individual Christians make of it. Yes, he did do what may be referred to as doubt, but the issue is how was this doubt taken and what was its significance? Another, issue is Prof. Richard Dawkins’ statement regarding the difference in reactions between Thomas and the other apostles for whom it is claimed that “faith was enough for them.”

We will present various quotations from the New Testament that will make it exceedingly clear that Prof. Richard Dawkins is not only mistaken but even missed making a point about how Christians should stick closer to the text of scripture than they sometimes do. He could have expounded the actual text and made an informed and well rounded statement. Yet, perhaps due to his ignorance of that which he is so vehemently opposed to, he was unable, or unwilling, to do so.


Simply stated, the New Testament knows nothing about faith being enough for all of the apostles except Thomas. Here we use Prof. Richard Dawkins’ derogatory definition of “faith” as referring to believing in something while lacking any evidence and taking pride in that fact. Ironically, this meaning of faith is precisely descriptive of Prof. Dawkin’s own faith, as referred to in the second part of our essay The Gap Filler. The New Testament also knows nothing of anyone looking down on Thomas for his doubt. The bottom line of that which follows is that not one of the apostles relied on faith for their belief in Jesus’ physical resurrection from the grave in which He was placed after He died. Rather, they each relied upon various experiences of which they were eyewitnesses. Mover, Jesus went to great lengths to prove that it was He, that He was literally present, and that He was in the flesh.

Let us now survey the relevant New Testament texts:

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1st Corinthians 15:2-6).
Note the specificity: Jesus died, was buried and then appeared. He appeared to the “brothers”: apostles, disciples and lay believers. Note that at the time of the writing it was stated that “most of whom are still living” which contemporaneously meant: go and ask the eyewitnesses for yourself.

“Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias…This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead” (John 21:1, 14).
He “showed Himself” and did so “again”: at this point not once, not twice, but thrice.

“they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread. Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence” (Luke 24:33-43).
The text is so clear that it needs no explanation but let us review: the believers, who previously had their faith shattered, gather and retell that the Lord has “risen” and “appeared.” Then Jesus appeared—“stood in the midst of them.” They were terrified and frightened because they did in fact see someone but “supposed they had seen a spirit.” Jesus asks why they are troubled and proceeds to prove to them in various ways that what they are actually looking at is not a spirit but Jesus Himself, in the flesh. He does this by asking them to “behold” (to perceive through sight or to gaze upon) His hands and feet, parts of His physical body. He asks them to “handle” Him, to touch His physical body. He explains that while a spirit does not have “flesh and bones” Jesus obviously does. He proceeds to “showed them” His hands and feet, displaying parts of His physical body. Lastly, we learn that they were in such a state of joyful shock that Jesus asked them for food and He “ate in their presence”, this consists of wrapping a physical hand around a physical piece of food, placing said food in a physical mouth, chewing it with physical teeth, swallowing it, etc., etc.

Please pardon the extensively detailed retelling but we attempting to drive three points home:
One—the New Testament is extremely clear on this subject.
Two—orthodox Christianity understands the text as is.
Three—Prof. Richard Dawkins simply has not provided adequate or viable explanations for this and the various other likewise texts of the Bible that speak of physical resurrection.

“Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly” (Acts 10:40).

“God raised Him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people” (Acts 13:30-31).

Jesus, “whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15).

“For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9).
Clearly the brothers believed due to their eyewitness observation of what may be termed a reproducible experiment. This was not blind faith, this was not one person’s imagination, this was not even symbolic for the rising of Jesus as a spirit. This was the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Luke 24 referred to “the eleven.” Thomas was not there at the time and so was told of the physical appearance of Jesus but would not believe by faith, none of them did. Finally, when Jesus appeared to Thomas:
“He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord…Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach you hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing. And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:20 & 24-29).
Why was he urged to believe and not to be an unbeliever? Because he was presented with the same evidence to which the rest had been exposed. They, in turn, demonstrate no ill will towards Thomas, there is no indication that they belittled him at all for his doubt. But what about Jesus’ statement “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? Surely this is nothing but a call to blind faith. The fact that we experience the passage of time in a linear manner means that the very moment that something occurs it is instantly relegated to the past where it is no longer directly accessible. If you drop something and someone in the next room asks you, “What was that?” They have to rely on your word, your retelling of what happened. Secondarily, they may be able to see some evidence, for instance: spilled milk and a broken glass. Once Jesus ascended what we have is the historical accounts of those who were eyewitnesses and those who interviewed eyewitnesses. This is the same way that we “know” ninety-nine percent of everything that we say that we “know.”

If events such as the resurrection had not occurred the disciples would have never encouraged skeptics, seekers, or even other believers, to check out the facts and ensure the truth of their teachings. There are many examples in the New Testament of the disciples not only proclaiming that they themselves are eyewitnesses but they appeal to the knowledge of their audience in saying, “you yourselves know of this,” or “you yourselves have seen this” (For some examples see, 2nd Peter 1:16; 1st John 1:3; John 19:35; Acts 2:22, 26:24-28).

Far from preaching blind faith, the New Testament challenges and encourages detective work. A Greek doctor name Luke did just that and he wrote the following:
“Dear Theophilos: Concerning the matters that have taken place among us, many people have undertaken to draw up accounts based on what was handed down to us by those who from the start were eyewitnesses and proclaimers of the message. Therefore, your Excellency, since I have carefully investigated all these things from the beginning, it seemed good to me that I too should write you an accurate and ordered narrative, so that you might know how well-founded are the things about which you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
In the New Testament we find praise for the Bereans who did not just believe by faith but conducted their own research:
“the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded [or more noble] than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11).

“He [Jesus] through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days” (Acts 1:2-3).
Think on these things anytime that the New Atheists expound upon the text of the Bible, or rather, their dogmatic interpretations/perceptions of what the text of the Bible states.

[1] Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” New York Times Book Reviews, Volume 44, Number 1 (January 9, 1997) - find full text here

5 comments:

  1. “In ‘The God Delusion,’ a vocal atheist ignores more sophisticated concepts of God in favor of fundamentalist stereotypes.”

    If you believe in a more sophisticated concept of God, why call yourself a Christian?

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  2. So hold on.

    You: "Here we use Prof. Richard Dawkins’ derogatory definition of “faith” as referring to believing in something while lacking any evidence and taking pride in that fact."

    Jesus: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed"

    Jesus is obviously endorsing the kind of faith you're describing as "derogatory." Why else would he bless those who believe solely on faith?

    And since you seem to be defending Thomas's skepticism, I'm surprised you haven't picked up on the this irony: Since Thomas didn't believe the testimonial evidence from his closest friends, how on earth can you justify you're belief in testimonial evidence written 2000 years ago from people you don't know?

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  3. I'd just point out, Jump, that I don't think that faith and belief are the same notions in the Bible. I see the Bible's use of "faith" as being more in line with "trust" which is much different than "blind belief" or what have you. Also, you are assuming in your quotation of Jesus that what Jesus meant was "blessed are those who believe in something while lacking any evidence and take pride in that fact." But I don't see that as a proper interpretation. To quote the ESV Study Bible commentary on 2 Cor. 5:7 - "This is not a reference to believing the unbelievable but to living all one's life based on confident trust in God's promises for the future, even when one cannot yet see the fullness of the coming glory." (emphasis mine)

    Of course I'm sure you still think it's bull; fair enough, but I just think it's worthwhile to be fair to the claim.

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  4. Shalom aleikhem.
    Jump Tees;
    Great point. I think that after some dissection you will see that there is not a problem here.
    Let me repeat the juxtaposition:
    "…derogatory definition of “faith” as referring to believing in something while lacking any evidence and taking pride in that fact."

    "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed"


    You comment on this contains a very important qualifier which is faulty and solves the prolem, “Jesus is obviously endorsing the kind of faith you're describing as ‘derogatory.’ Why else would he bless those who believe solely on faith?”

    Note that my reference derogatory is in relation to “believing in something while lacking any evidence” (and taking pride in that fact, which we can drop for now or forever).

    Jesus referred to “those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
    Seeing is one form of evidence. History is based upon another form that grows from it. History grows from eyewitnesses who retell what they saw or it grows form people who recorded what other people saw (or hear, etc.).
    Thus, we have historical evidence and this is what can count as evidence even though we have not seen. I am sure that the overwhelming majority, by a long stretch, of everything that you claim to believe are things that you have not seen, not heard, not experienced, etc.
    Skeptical Thomas was being told that the visual evidence was still available and so he requested it. That evidence is no longer available and so we have to consider the historical evidence.

    aDios,
    Mariano

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  5. The word christian means to believe in christ, so even if you dont call yourself a christian, as long as you believe in christ,you are a christian. Now if you believe in God with out christ then you dont trully believe in a God. You may ofcourse believe in a god the does not exist such as a statue made by man's hands but thats just rediculous and infact its rediculous enough to laugh at. No effense but this is the truth. Also true christians, and I do mean "true christians" do have evidence of Christ from his Spirit and His Spirits works. Those that dont know God cannot possibly understand this because God is not comprehendable. Sry, I may have spelled that wrong, lol! This is the Truth because the Holy Spirit revealed this to me!

    ReplyDelete