Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mike Licona says: “I want it to be true”

I would really like to know how Christians react to this candid admission by a rather high-profile Christian apologist, Mike Licona. (His website is RisenJesus.com, and he even has an entry on Wikipedia.org.)

In a discussion between Licona, Gary Habermas and Robert Price, Licona makes a fascinating autobiographical revelation – really a confession.The discussion is available on YouTube and has been sliced rather sloppily into four sections. Those who are interested in the debate over what if anything is historically reliable in the New Testament might enjoy listening to this discussion, so here are the links to the different installments:

Licona’s damning admission comes in the final segment, Part 4, near the end of the discussion when he was responding to a question about his schoolwork at the time. Here is my transcription of Licona’s statement (7:36 – 8:29):
”…to be honest with you, I know I’m the only one could really verify this. But I’ve tried my best to realize that I have a very real bias. Having been brought up in a Christian family, gone to a Christian university, involved in Christian ministry, that I have a bias, I want it to be true. Is that even possible to overcome? I don’t think so. But how do you minimize it? Everybody has biases, it doesn’t matter what you believe. Everybody has their bias, everybody is plagued by that or hindered by it? How do you in a sense transcend that to the point that you can some sort of, although not complete, at least you can have some sort of workable objectivity to come and look at these kinds of texts, to look at the data? That’s been hard for me to do, it’s been something I’ve really really wrestled with…”
Notice that statement right there: “I want it to be true.” – Mike Licona

The next thing you hear at this point is the host of the show agreeing with Licona, saying “that’s a tough question.” But if it’s such a tough question, as Licona’s own statement indicates, it seems that Christians should first wonder what guidance the bible gives on it. But it seems one would search in vain for guidance on such matters as this – guarding oneself against one’s own wants and desires, protecting one’s views from his own biases – in the pages in the bible. Then again, if the biblical message to believers is that they should “die to self,” as Paul Washer tells us, then Mike Licona, in the interest of obeying the Christian god’s commandments, should renounce his wants – such as his wanting that the bible be true – and work to apply the objective approach that he’s had such a hard time obtaining.

Of course, if he did that, he would certainly discover that Christianity is false. Then upon returning to life from the Christian undead, his wants would be restored, and perhaps one of them would be the want that Christianity is true. And back into the unending cycle he goes. Poor guy! I almost feel sorry for him.

I’m sure glad this is not my problem!

But seriously, it’s good that Licona confesses that he “want[s] it to be true.” And here he indicates some of the motivation behind wanting such an outcome to all his efforts (there’s more coming below): his whole life has been invested in the premise that Christianity is true, quite likely since he was a toddler (“Having been brought up in a Christian family”). I would suppose that the more effort and energy that an individual invests in his hope (cf. Heb. 11:1) that the Christian faith is true, the harder it will be for him to allow himself to acknowledge that in fact it is not true. The choice to continue feeding the hope that the Christian faith is true, will naturally foster an attitude conducive to evasion and suspension of belief when confronted with challenges to that faith. Thus we can reasonably expect such an individual to ignore facts which conflict with his religious beliefs, reaffirm the storybook elements of the faith in an insistent manner, suppress psychological friction caused by attempting to affirm both horns of a contradiction, maintain an exterior that suggests all is well and good with one’s faith while beneath the fears, doubts, anxieties, etc. Such anxieties can only fester like a never-closing wound.

Now, I know of no reason to suppose that Licona is unique amongst apologists in this regard. Some might hasten to point out that Licona is not a presuppositionalist as an attempt to put some distance between themselves and Licona. But the major brunt of what he confesses has everything to do with motivation and zeal for defending his faith and really nothing to do with the methods one chooses to inform that defense. I do not think this is easy to explain away. In fact, now that Mike Licona – a regular on the professional debate circuit – has made such an admission (this is probably several years old now), it needs to be out there, it needs to broadcast, and Christians of all stripes need to own up to their own bias, which Licona says everyone has (as though he knows this, and as though this is sufficient excuse – it’s not!).

But there’s more to this. In the moments after Licona makes this confession, Price suggests that Licona’s internal struggles with his bias – that he wants the gospel accounts to be true – is a more interesting topic for his research. Licona agrees (9:00 – 9:12):
I agree with you, Bob. It’s tough. I mean, one thing I look at, well, what if I came to the conclusion in the studies that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Then I lose my good job. [chuckles] It’s tough!
Licona indicates another motivation – one that I would hazard is very powerful for him – for finding an explicitly pro-Christian outcome to his research, and that is keeping his job in the ministry. Naturally if he were to be honest and make an about face on his faith, and renounce it entirely because he found that it is rationally untenable, he would need to find another way to make a living. Moreover, this is on top of pursuing a doctoral degree in a specifically religious field of study, which has pretty much zero marketability outside of Christian academia. Licona does try to cover this up with a chuckle, but this nervousness seems to suggest that the strength of this factor is more than he wants even to admit to himself.

The host then piped in, saying (9:12 – 9:20):
Wouldn’t it just be that you were losing the ability to claim on historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead while you would still obviously be able to believe in it by faith?
Licona did not hear this question entirely, so he asked the host to repeat it. So the host repeated it (9:23 – 9:30)
At most it would seem that you would lose the ability to claim on historic grounds that Jesus rose from the dead, but you would still maintain the ability to believe so by faith.
In response to this, Licona immediately states “That’s a good point,” which indicates that he accepts the question’s premise that one can continue to believe something “by faith” if he so desires, even if objective evidence is lacking. But he goes on to say that “unless there was an alternative hypothesis that seemed better,” then hems and haws, and then makes a statement to the effect that he has not yet finished his dissertation research, thus giving the impression that his personal jury is still out to lunch on the matter. But I find this difficult to swallow since he’s been out so many times in public debates taking a stand for “the Lord.” A good example is a 2004 debate with Richard Carrier at UCLA (which is available for viewing here). He has apparently done a more recent debate with Carrier (2010), which I have not listened to (it is available for viewing here). So far as I can tell, Licona still wants it to be true, and he’s still out there stumping for Jesus.

Anyway, I found it quite noteworthy and wondered Christians – and anyone else for that matter – might think in reaction to it.

by Dawson Bethrick

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13 Comments:

Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

I know it's been mentioned before, but can you envision the uproar from Christians if we were to say that we think evolution is true because we "want it to be"?

Ydemoc

October 22, 2013 10:31 AM  
Blogger NAL said...

Lose "the ability to claim on historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead" isn't possible. There is no historical evidence. Accepting it on faith is the only option for believers.

I'm guessing that WLC makes a lot of money on the Christian Debate circuit. Christianity needs good debaters.

Thanks for the links to the Richard Carrier videos. Can't watch them tonight, too busy. His new book, On the Historicity of Jesus, should be out shortly, maybe by Christmas.

October 22, 2013 11:33 AM  
Blogger photosynthesis said...

Presuppositionalism is indeed predicated under the envelope of personal bias (among many other envelopes). The whole idea is that you should start by imagining a worldview, like the Christian one, then keep it if you think that it does not collapse in itself. Funny thing is that they admit that their worldview is based on imagination (which some of them call "accept by faith," rather than "based on imagination"), but then they say that their worldview "allows" them to "know" things with "certainty." (Yes, that's what Hodge said.) How the hell would that be so if your worldview is based on your fucking imagination in the first place!?

October 22, 2013 11:35 AM  
Blogger DawsonsNightmare said...

And the alternative is Objectivism.

Hysterical.

October 22, 2013 1:54 PM  
Blogger DawsonsNightmare said...

And the alternative is Objectivism.

Hysterical.

October 22, 2013 1:55 PM  
Blogger photosynthesis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

October 22, 2013 2:06 PM  
Blogger DawsonsNightmare said...

Photo,

Still can't get over it the beating that MDR gave ya?

October 22, 2013 6:23 PM  
Blogger photosynthesis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

October 22, 2013 6:38 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Nidiot,

I want you to go away. As the owner of this blog, I am informing you right here and now publicly that you are not welcome to post your comments here. When comment moderation turns on after 24 hours of publishing a new blog, any comments you submit here will not be published. You have had more than sufficient opportunity to demonstrate maturity and decency here, and the record shows that your are not capable of doing so.

Now demonstrate some decency and maturity by honoring my instruction.

Regards,
Daswon

October 22, 2013 6:42 PM  
Blogger DawsonsNightmare said...

Photo,

Listen to Dawson. You are not welcome here. You have an indecent mouth. But I know that Dawson is only playing favorites. Anyway, this blog is old and boring just like Dawson.

See ya.

October 22, 2013 7:12 PM  
Blogger photosynthesis said...

Since Nidiot's comments will disappear I erased those of mine referring to him to avoid confusion.

October 23, 2013 10:11 AM  
Blogger FightingOkra said...

Just found your site and I'm interested.

But help me understand something. You write, "Licona still wants it to be true, and he’s still out there stumping for Jesus." It seems that what you are saying is that if a person wants something they believe in to be true, then that fact casts doubt on the truthfulness of their belief? Am I understanding correctly? If so, does the same thing apply to atheists? If a person does not believe in God and doesn't want there to be a God (e.g., she thinks Christians are weird and stupid, and she doesn't want to be one; or she dislikes the idea of a God who is a holy judge and doesn't approve of her immorality), does that cast doubt on the truthfulness of her belief that there is no God?

October 23, 2013 7:54 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

FightingOkra asked: “It seems that what you are saying is that if a person wants something they believe in to be true, then that fact casts doubt on the truthfulness of their belief? Am I understanding correctly?”

I did not make that argument. Rather, I think that Licona’s admission raises strong suspicions about his *methods* of what he claims to know in the context he specified. An individual making the kind of admission that Licona makes here strongly suggests that he is acknowledging that his methods are not objective.

FightingOkra asked: “If so, does the same thing apply to atheists?”

Since this is a matter of principle, it applies across the board. So of course, it applies to atheists as well.

FightingOkra asked: “If a person does not believe in God and doesn't want there to be a God (e.g., she thinks Christians are weird and stupid, and she doesn't want to be one; or she dislikes the idea of a God who is a holy judge and doesn't approve of her immorality), does that cast doubt on the truthfulness of her belief that there is no God?”

As I stated above, I think this would raise suspicions about the person’s methods of coming to what he or she says he knows to be the case. If a person says “there are no gods *because* I don’t want any gods to exist,” then obviously he is not approaching the matter objectively.

Them’s my views.

Regards,
Dawson

October 24, 2013 12:01 AM  

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