Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Gary Habermas's Critique of G.A. Wells

In 1985, Antony Flew debated Gary Habermas on the resurrection of Jesus; that debate was later published as a book in 1987. G.A. Wells felt that Flew did so poorly in the debate, on a topic outside of Flew's area of expertise, that Wells felt compelled to write a commentary on the debate on the Habermas-Flew debate. I have just discovered that Habermas has, in turn, written a response to Wells's case for the nonexistence of Jesus, which includes a very brief reference to Wells's commentary on the Habermas-Flew debate.

It has been so long since I skimmed the books by Wells in question I can't really comment on the legitimacy of Habermas's specific criticisms, but it wouldn't surprise (or offend) me if those criticisms were correct. What I do remember, however, is thinking the following. If someone were going to argue for the non-historicity of Jesus, one would expect a detailed, almost comprehensive discussion of the extrabiblical sources, but that isn't what one finds in his earliest books. After reading Wells' earlier books (such as Did Jesus Exist? and The Historical Evidence for Jesus), I thought to myself, "There doesn't seem to be a lot of 'meat' to his discussion of the extra-biblical evidence for Jesus' existence." And then, when I read his later books (such as The Jesus Legend and The Jesus Myth), I remember reading his rebuttal to responses to his earlier discussions the extrabiblical evidence for Jesus, asking myself, "Why didn't he just discuss all of these objections the first time?"

I have consistently granted that the Jesus described in the gospels is based upon a real, historical individual, so I am living proof that one does not need to deny the historicity of Jesus in order to reject the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, despite the huge philosophical differences between Habermas and I, I have no problem accepting the conclusions of Habermas's article. (Of course, to be fair to Jesus mythers, it is also possible that there is a better case against the historicity of Jesus than the one made by Wells.) In any case, I encourage readers interested in arguments for and against the historicity of Jesus to read Habermas's critique of Wells.


John W. Loftus said...

As a former Christian apologist I first read G.A. Wells' books and thought to myself this is rubbish that didn't demand a response. Perhaps the reason why is because of what you just stated. Of course, his argument has caught on and is being defended better than he originally did. Now that I'm an atheist I still think Jesus was an actual human being who existed in the past.

bbowen737 said...

Wells admits that there may well have been an historical Jesus, but that we don't know much about this person. The key issue is: How much of the Gospel picture of Jesus is historical and how much of it is legend or fiction? Wells would say 90% is fiction. The Jesus Seminar would say about 75% is fiction. Mainstream NT scholars would say about 50% is fictional. I think Wells makes some good points on this issue. I'm probably closer to the Jesus Seminar postion than Wells, but the difference is one of degree, not kind.

Sophia's Lover said...

You are a breath of fresh air in the world of online nontheism, Mr. Lazarus!

-Pito (my nickname), weak agnostic and ''Catholic sympathizer''

andy.scicluna said...

Personally, I'm with the "50%" historical section. But seriously- even if a quarter of it were fabricated, we'd still have a major problem- that these people did not have any problems with fabricating material!