My ten-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.
Chapter 4: Test Your Witnesses: Don’t Get Fooled by Your Witnesses!
Chapter Four! Six months after I started this, we are actually onto Chapter Four! Storming along here! It felt pretty exciting to slide that Kindle page across, I can tell you. And, hey! We may have solved the skateboard mystery! I know you must be all on the edges of your seats.
Daniel has a sister called Lacey who is ten years older than him, which immediately makes me wonder what the backstory to that one was. Large family? Fertility difficulties? Accidental late pregnancy? Whatever the reason, it means that Lacey might have been at their school at the right time to have known the skateboard owner. Daniel realises this and asks her, and she was! And she thinks she can remember him! That’s impressive – I sure as hell wouldn’t remember seeing a particular skateboard with a particular person, ten years later. Or ten minutes later, for that matter, so probably it’s just that I’m not very observant about skateboards, but… seriously, would someone remember this? Oh, well, maybe Lacey loves skateboards and so it stuck with her.
Anyway, Lacey tells Daniel that she thinks the owner was a boy called Lincoln Singleton, who was three years older than her, moved away about five years ago, and always wore what I initially read as ‘blackboard shorts’ but was actually ‘black board shorts’. Which was not much less confusing to me as I’d never heard of board shorts, but my daughter figured out they must be something you wear to go skateboarding, which sounds logical. Daniel and Insert Character go back to the skateboard shop (‘back’ because they went there in the last chapter; it was so boring I don’t think I bothered writing about it) and the owner thinks he remembers seeing a boy who fits Lacey’s description.
But! We have a discrepancy! Lacey remembers this boy as being very tall, but the shop owner doesn’t! Fear not, readers; when they report back to Jeffries, he assures them that eyewitnesses never agree entirely. He also points out a logical answer for the discrepancy here; a boy who looks very tall to a short child three years younger than him is not necessarily going to look tall to an adult. More generally, of course, the point is that we don’t expect eyewitnesses to agree on every point.
You know where this is leading, don’t you? If your answer was “To an assurance that it’s quite all right that the gospel writers disagree with one another” then well done; you are quite correct. We get another of those grey insert boxes, reiterating the point about witnesses disagreeing and then giving us this gem:
So, when you see that two gospels describe something in a slightly different way, don’t panic.
Because, of course, panicking is exactly what a child is going to do when seeing a contradiction in the gospels. Thank goodness we have Wallace to reassure us, is all I can say.
Meanwhile, before we get to discussing the gospels, Jeffries lists four questions we need to ask to find out whether a witness can be trusted.
“The first question,” Katie declared, “is if they are evil. Because if they are evil, I don’t think they can be trusted!” Not a bad question, actually, but the actual four questions were:
- Were they actually there?
- Can we verify what they say in some way?
- Have they changed their story over time?
- Do they have some reason to lie?
I’m looking forward to seeing what Jeffries has to say about the gospels as far as those last two items are concerned. I’m also curious as to whether this is based on any sort of official list of police or legal guidelines, or whether Wallace made it up. It does seem to be missing a couple of important points; how accurate were the witness’s observations in the first place (i.e., was this event something they spotted in passing and had a vague impression of, or did they check lots of details, or what) and how well does the witness remember them (including the question of how long a time period elapsed between the event and the witness’s report)?
There is a brief discussion of the two witnesses of the elusive Lincoln Singleton, in which Jeffries and the cadets agree that it is fair to conclude that these reports of memories of something unimportant to the witnesses that they saw approximately ten years ago can indeed be counted as trustworthy. It’s at times like this that I feel really reassured as to the quality of the investigative efforts going on in the US police forces.
Back to ‘the case for Jesus’; Jeffries apparently asked Jason to do some research last week, and Jason read the gospels. (All of them? That’s pretty impressive, especially for a child to manage in one week’s worth of spare time.)
“I read the four Gospels and I see there are places where the stories don’t seem to be entirely the same. But now that I understand what eyewitnesses are like, I guess that’s not all that surprising.”
I wonder what he thought about the places where they’re entirely different? Or the places where one of them mentions something so amazing (a man being raised from the dead after four days, a nationwide darkness with the dead rising out of their graves and walking) that you’d expect all four gospels to put that one in, and yet none of the rest do?
Jeffries, of course, agrees with Jason, and then says:
“Now let’s ask our four questions to see if the witnesses mentioned in the Gospels pass the test.[…]”
…except that we have absolutely no direct reports from any of the ‘witnesses mentioned in the Gospels’. (In fact, when it comes to the resurrection accounts the Gospels can’t even agree on who exactly the witnesses were.)
So this situation is simply not equivalent to assessing the validity of a witness statement. All we know here is that four (unknown) people have reported that various people witnessed Jesus do various things, including getting killed and turning up again a day and a half later, and that one of them (Luke) assured his readers that he has ‘carefully investigated everything from the beginning‘ (Luke 1:3) but without giving us any further details of what reports he received from whom, what measures he took to check their accuracy, and what ‘carefully investigated’ actually means to him here in terms of how much care, and more importantly how much impartiality and analytical thought, he brought to the investigation. With this sort of knowledge base, asking these kinds of questions about the witnesses’ trustworthiness is meaningless.
This seems like a good place to split this chapter. Back soon with more!