Dr Mike Licona, in Repose
Dr Mike Licona is a well-respected, tenured professor, in New Testament studies. Due to my interest in theology, I have followed his work and enlivened my day by watching videos where he is involved in vigorous debates with other scholars. Though I often disagree with Dr Licona's theological stance, he is undoubtedly an erudite gentleman with a passion for his work. For context: Dr Licona, besides his academic credentials, is also a committed Christian. He sincerely believes Jesus' resurrection is provable based on sound historical methodology. This places him as an academic outlier. The consensus amongst historians is that the resurrection cannot be understood using the tools available to the historian and the matter is only intelligible in the context of faith.
Today, I came across a short video of Dr Licona addressing an audience of young Christians. A member of the audience asked Dr Licona a question concerning the problem of evil. In essence, it revolves around the following: how can a loving god permit evil. To my mind this problem is one of the most fundamental and important questions that need to be addressed by thoughtful Christians, and, in my opinion, the failure to obtain a satisfactory answer is a serious impediment to a belief in the Christian god. Dr Licona's reply was both illuminating and distressing. Indeed, his answer was rather bizarre and frankly, odd. First off, he effectively states that a belief in a deity is a prerequisite for the basis of objective morality. Does he really believe that atheists can't have a sound grasp of morality? Clearly, you don't have to believe in a supernatural agency to understand that killing and stealing are bad. These moral precepts form the basis for the formation of any civilised society. Surely we are not to follow the morals of Jahweh of the Old Testament, whereby he indiscriminately destroys whole populations of Caanaites using Joshua and the Israelite armies as an instrument of death. The citizens of Jericho are put to death because god wants the land for his 'Chosen People'. This is hardly a morally edifying tale for us to emulate.
Dr Licona goes on to expand/expound his thesis by using the Holocaust as an example. He argues, that the event happened on the 'cusp of the nuclear age' and the evil of Hitler forced the Allied nations to wage war and defeat him. He goes on to say, that had the Allies intervened later, Hitler may have had the time to develop nuclear weapons. And if that was the case he may well have succeeded in becoming the master of the world. I find the whole argument specious reasoning in the extreme. He treats a very serious theological issue in a simplistic, superficial manner. This is not the answer I would expect from a scholar of his calibre. No doubt the problem of moral evil is an issue that is difficult for serious theologians to tackle. It is a debate that stretches back to the ancient Greeks and subsequently, there have been many sophisticated attempts to explain the disparity between god's supposed 'goodness' and the manifest evil in this world. Dr Licona should know better than present the problem in such a facile way.
Dr Licona's sincere faith blinds him and I suspect supersedes his academic rigour when it comes to Christian theology. He starts from the premise that the bible elicits literal truth and proceeds to fit the evidence into his own agenda and belief system. This is not how historians work in the modern intellectual arena. Like scientists, they should follow the evidence and then formulate their conclusions accordingly. Often, with limited data to hand, historians, if they are to be intellectually honest, must admit that many of their conclusions are tentative at best. This is not how Dr Licona presents his case and conclusions. His glib and trite response does him no service at all and indeed makes him appear rather shallow, naive and straight-out, silly.
Am I being overly harsh in my assessment? Listen and weep, and let me know what you think in the comments.