Archive for March, 2008

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Advancing to the other reason for the Bible’s divine authority, Geisler said there’s one sure way to determine whether a prophet is truly a spokesperson for God or a charlatan trying to deceive the masses: can he produce clear-cut miracles? … Even famed skeptic Bertrand Russell conceded that miracles would authenticate a truth claim.

“In the Bible — which, remember, we’ve seen is historically reliable — we have prophets who were challenged but who then performed miracles to establish their credentials,” Geisler said. (p.190-191)

Geisler wants us to believe the Bible is historically accurate, but all he had done previously was show that the authors of the Bible knew about mundane things in the ancient world (like the existence of the Hittites). That’s a far cry from proving that the miracles written into the Bible actually happened as the Bible says.

“For example, Moses said in Exodus 4:1, ‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you?” How does God respond? By telling Moses to throw down his staff to the ground; instantly, it turned into a snake. He told Moses to pick it up by its tail; it turned back into a staff. Then God said in verse 5, ‘This is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God os their fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has appeared to you’ (p.191)

Geisler goes on to talk about Elijah’s miracles, and Jesus performing miracles. I’m unsure what this supposed to prove. Geisler’s argument seems to be: the Bible is “historically accurate”, the Bible says various prophets did miracles, therefore, these miracles prove that the Bible is true because only true prophets can do miracles.

“When you add this up — the historical reliability of the Bible as authenticated by archeology, the miraculous fulfillment of clear predictive prophecies, and the performance of documented miracles — you get a supernaturally confirmed book unlike any other in history.”

I wanted to clarify something. “What you’re not saying is, ‘I believe the Bible is divinely inspired because it says it is.”

“That’s right. That’s a circular argument. No, the argument goes like this: the Bible claims to be the Word of God and the Bible proves to be the Word of God.” (p.192)

I understand that argument is he’s saying that “prophecies prove the Bible true”. (Something I dealt with in the last post.) I’m unclear on how miracles fit into this since the only evidence that miracles happened are the words written down in the book. Further, when Bertrand Russell conceded that miracles would authenticate a truth claim, I’m pretty sure he’s talking about contemporary miracles — not “this book says that miracles happened, so there’s your miracle”. A video I recently linked to talks about a verse in Mark 16 that says Christians will be able to handle snakes and drink poison without being harmed. It says that will be a sign that they are true believers. That would be a contemporary miracle. Unfortunately, those miracles don’t actually happen. Most Christians think snake-handling is crazy stuff. Yet, it’s written in the Bible. They say you shouldn’t “test God”, but if snake-handling and immunity to poison are supposed to be signs of a true Christian, how exactly are these *signs* supposed to be manifest if Christians are always avoiding the handling of snakes, and not drinking poison? Are you supposed to hang around for a few decades until a true Christian accidentally gets bitten by a snake or drinks poison? It seems that this would be a verifiable miracle — if it actually ever happened.

Further, if “miracles were written down” is good evidence for the divine, then we need to include a whole bunch of other claimed miracles from other religions. I’ve seen hindu books claim that people can live to a hundred and fifty years through proper diet and yoga. Scientologists are told that high-level scientologists can perform various miracles (including the healing of broken bones, correction of bad eyesight, curing psychiatric disorders). L Ron Hubbard actually claimed to do some of these miracles. Lots of TV evangelists claim to be doing miracles. The leader of Falun Gong claims to be able to perform miracles (no doubt, his followers will write down his claimed miracles after he dies as “proof” that Falun Gong is the true religion). He claims that Falun Gong practitioners never get sick, and people can be cured if they practice the religion:

“It was Falun Gong that cured her. Falun Gong can cure the incurable.” (Link)

I could go on and on with examples of claimed miracles in other religions. Of course, I don’t believe any of it is true. I also don’t believe the miracles of the Bible.

Coping with Contradictions

When I asked about alleged contradictions in the Bible, Geisler leaned back in his chair and smiled … All I can tell you is that in my experience when critics raise these objections, they invariably violate one of seventeen principles for interpreting Scripture… For example, assuming the unexplained is unexplainable.” (p.193)

Okay, I’ll accept that “assuming the unexplained is unexplainable” is a bad principle – but I don’t think that’s the nature of critics complaints (we’ll have to see once Geisler brings up some examples of the unexplainable). Geisler goes on to say that scientists don’t give-up on science because they find an anomaly that doesn’t fit with the current science. Similarly, Christians should not give up on Christianity because of apparent contradictions in scripture. There’s a problem with this analogy, however: first of all, scientists don’t believe that the current scientific knowledge is perfect. Science allows for overturning, updating, or superseding existing ideas. It allows for changes, and sometimes “that’s a weird result” is a precursor to a new scientific discovery. This contrasts with Geisler’s ideas about the Bible: “the Bible is … without error” (p.195) Additionally, science has repeatedly shown its accuracy. The Bible has not (though Strobel and Geisler would dispute this). If you have a system that has repeatedly shown it’s accuracy and it allows for updates and changes, then an anomaly is not devastating. On the other hand, if you have a book which is (supposedly) completely infallible and doesn’t have a strong track record, then a contradiction is more problematic. Admittedly, one contradiction probably isn’t enough to reject the Bible. A more liberal Christian might say that the Bible was written by men, and therefore has certain inaccuracies, but that the basic theology is sound. That position could deal with contradictions, but it’s a position Geisler does not subscribe to.

“[The Bible] has proven over and over to be accurate, even when I initially thought it wasn’t. Why shouldn’t I give it the benefit of the doubt now? We need to approach the Bible the say an American is treated in court: presumed innocent until proven guilty (p.194)

I don’t believe that the Bible has been “proven over and over to be accurate”, but that idea allows him to shifting the burden of proof – a pretty common tactic. I assume that by “presumed innocent until proven guilty”, Geisler is saying that we should assume the Bible is divine unless proven otherwise. I doubt Christians would offer the “presumed innocent until proven guilty” principle to the books of other religions. I also have to wonder what “proving” the Bible wrong means exactly. If we take Geisler’s position, we would continually say that any apparent contradictions in scripture must have an explanation, even if we don’t know what it is. If that’s his position, then I’m unclear on what could constitute “proving” that a contradiction is really a contradiction.

“Critics do the opposite [of presumed innocent until proven guilty]. They denied the Hittites of the Old Testament ever existed. Now archeologists have found the Hittite library. Critics say, ‘Well, I guess the Bible was right in that verse, but I don’t accept the rest.’ Wait a minute — when it has been proven to be accurate over and over again in hundreds of details, the burden of proof is on the critic, not on the Bible.” (p.195)

You have to understand that religion colors the world, it doesn’t totally mask it. For example, the Old Testament talks about Israel’s battles with its neighbors. There were times when the Jews won, and times when the Jews lost. The passages in the Old Testament usually blame some sin or immorality for the Jews’ loss in battle. It’s not hard to think, “Maybe the battles were happening, but the explanation for losing in battle is fiction”. That’s the problem, Geisler wants to say something like, ‘Look, the Bible is right – these battles actually happened’, and then jump to the conclusion that ‘therefore, the Bible must also be right about the explanation for losses in battle’. Of course, that’s ridiculous. Every ancient culture could explain their poor fortune on the gods intervening or not intervening for whatever reason. The Pacific Islanders could probably find some wrongdoing that “explains” why the local volcano erupted, too. Just because some islanders have accurate records of volcanic eruptions doesn’t mean “the volcano god is angry” is also true.

“Matthew says there was one angel at Jesus’ tomb; John says there were two. The gospels say Judas hung himself; Acts says his bowels gushed out.”

Concerning the angels, have you ever noticed that whenever you have two of anything, you also have one? It never fails. Matthew didn’t say there was only one. John was providing more detail by saying there were two. (p.195)

I don’t really buy that explanation. It seems rather clear in Matthew that there’s just one angel in the story:

And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead [men]. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. (Matthew 28)

Contrast that with John 20:

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping [over the missing body of Jesus]: and as she wept, she stooped down, [and looked] into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

As you can see, the problems in reconciling the gospel accounts are deeper than “was there one or two angels?” For example, they disagree on who was at the tomb, whether an earthquake happened, whether an angel rolled away the stone (versus arriving at the tomb and finding it empty), whether the guards were still there, etc. The book of Mark doesn’t even mention any angels at all, but it talks about a mysterious stranger dressed in white (an angel? maybe, but not like Matthew’s description). In Mark, this mysterious stranger is discovered inside the tomb – where the stone is already rolled away when the women arrive, and the guards are already missing:

And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. (Mark 16)

Regarding Judas’ death:

“The gospels say Judas hung himself; Acts says his bowels gushed out.” (p.195) “As for Judas suicide, you hang yourself in a tree or over the edge of a cliff. It was against the law to touch a dead body in those days. So somebody came along later, found his body, cut the rope, and the bloated body fell onto the rocks. What happens? The bowels gush out, just as the Bible says. They’re not contradictory, they’re complimentary. (p.196)

I don’t really buy that explanation as being very plausible. It doesn’t make much sense to say that his guts burst open without saying that his body was already several days dead. Here’s the passage – see if you can work Geisler’s explanation into it:

Now [Judas] purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. (Acts 1:18)

That sounds an awful lot like an accident.

“One more thing before we go,” I said as I read him the colorful words of a frustrated spiritual seeker:

So if I want to avoid hell, I presumably have to believe that a snake talked to Eve, that a virgin got pregnant from God, that a whale swallowed a prophet, that the Red Sea was parted, and all sorts of other crazy things. Well, if God wants me so bad … why does He make believing in Him so … impossible? … It seems to me that an all-powerful God could do a much better job of convincing people of His existence than any evangelist ever does … Just write it in the sky, nice and big: “Here’s your proof, Ed. Believe in Me or go to hell! Sincerely, the Almighty.”

Looking up at Geisler, I said, “What would you say to him?”

Geisler was a bit bemused. “My answer would be that God did do something like that,” he replied. “Psalm 19:1 says, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.’ In fact, it’s written across the heavens so vividly that more and more scientists who search the stars are becoming Christians.

[Geisler then goes on to name a number of astronomers that are theists or Christians.]

And I like what mathematical physicist Robert Griffiths said: ‘If we need an atheist for a debate, I go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn’t much use.’ The evidence, Lee, is so clear.” (p.196-198)

This seems like a pretty ridiculous argument to me. He’s saying that the stars in the sky are equivalent to God writing a message in the sky with actual words. Further, he doesn’t explain why this universe-creating God points us to the God of the Bible. Thus, we’re supposed to believe that seeing the stars in the sky will lead us to believe in a book that says “a snake talked to Eve, that a virgin got pregnant from God, that a whale swallowed a prophet, that the Red Sea was parted”. Neither see a problem with that.

“[Bertrand Russell] said if he someday stands before God and is asked why he never put his faith in him, he’ll say he hadn’t been given enough evidence,” I reminded him.

Geisler, one of whose hobbies is collecting quotes from atheists and agnostics, pointed out something else Russell said. “He was asked in a Look magazine interview, ‘Under what condition would you believe in God,’ and he essentially said, “Well, if I heard a voice from heaven and it predicted a series of things and they came to pass, then I guess I’d have to believe there’s some kind of supernatural being”‘

In light of our discussion about the miraculous fulfillment of predictive prophecies in the Bible, the irony in Russell’s statement was obvious.

“I’d say, ‘Mr. Russell, there has been a voice from heaven; it has predicted many things; and we’ve seen them undeniably come to pass,'” Geisler declared. (p.198)

Except that when I tracked down these Old Testament prophecies (in part 2), they were vague and didn’t seem to be fulfilled.

“Then you don’t think God is making it hard for people to believe?”

“On the contrary, the evidence is there if people will be willing to see it. It’s not for a lack of evidence that people turn from God; it’s from their pride or their will. God is not going to force anyone into the fold. Love never works coercively. It only works persuasively. And there’s plenty of persuasive evidence there.” (p.198)

So much to disagree with in one paragraph. (1) He asserts that the evidence for the Biblical God is far better than it actually is. (2) He claims that people don’t believe because of “their pride or their will”. Apparently, there are no non-Christians who, through ignorance or any other reason, rejected Christianity. It’s always the personal flaws of “their pride or their will” that is their downfall, apparently. Since God isn’t going to “force anyone into the fold”, the only reason they deny God is willful denial of the “persuasive evidence” (which is absurd). There are no innocent non-believers, it seems. No matter how nice and sweet that hindu, buddhist, muslim, atheist, or agnostic is – they are rejecting the Christian God because of “their pride or their will”.

Update: For a slightly different view than Geisler’s idea that ‘archeology is always confirming the Biblical history’, you can listen to Hector Avalos talk “How Archaeology Killed Biblical History” (Part 1, Part 2). I have to admit that he doesn’t give as many details as I would like. I also didn’t much care for his idea that Christian Biblical scholars are lying about archeology to preserve their jobs (sounds a bit like ‘climatologists are lying about global warming to preserve their jobs’). But, he does talk about how Christian scholars jump to conclusions when they say this or that archaeological find validates Biblical history. He says that scholars a hundred years ago saw the Bible as a reliable record of history, but that view is no longer widely believed by scholars. He says that many scholars think that only a few (of the 40) books of the Old Testament accurately record history. There is also an interesting part where he talks about the lack of evidence for the existence of King David and Solomon. According to the Bible, Solomon controlled an empire from Egypt to the Euphrates (1 Kings 4:21, 2 Chronicles 9:26). We should find evidence of such an empire – at least in the letters of the contemporary Kings in the area (like we do for other large nations), but we don’t. Avalos suggests that King David and Solomon were like King Arthur, and that the Jews were constructing a glorious fake history for themselves.

Up next: “Objection #5: It’s offensive to claim Jesus is the only way to God”

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By the way, this is the same verse that the Penecostal snake handlers‘ use to justify snake handling.

Hensley, the founder of modern snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains, died from snakebite in 1955. In 1998, snake-handling evangelist John Wayne “Punkin” Brown died after being bitten by a timber rattler at the Rock House Holiness Church in rural northeastern Alabama. Members of his family contend that his death was likely due to a heart attack, although his wife had died three years earlier after a snake bite while in Kentucky. Another follower died in 2006 at a church in Kentucky.

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I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. Her friend Karen recently returned from teaching in Japan over the past few years. But, Karen doesn’t go out on the weekends, despite the fact that she wants to find a boyfriend/husband. Why doesn’t she get out and meet people? Because a psychic told her that she’d meet the man she’d marry in the next year. Now Karen doesn’t feel the need to even try to meet anyone – it’s already “guaranteed” by a psychic. (Who says psychics are all just harmless fun?)

In other news, my dad sent me an email the other day. They’re driving thorough Ohio, so they thought they’d make a visit to the Creation Museum. No, this isn’t a “what are these wacky creationists claiming” kind of a trip. My parents actually believe in a six-day creation and a six-thousand year-old universe. I just wish my parents weren’t paying these charlatans.

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From the “WTF?” files

[Via BoingBoing]

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Okay. I stole the title from another article: Bad Science Journalism and the Myth of the Oppressed Underdog

There is a particular narrative about science that science journalists love to write about, and Americans love to hear. I call it the ‘oppressed underdog’ narrative, and it would be great except for the fact that it’s usually wrong.

The narrative goes like this:

1. The famous, brilliant scientist So-and-so hypothesized that X was true.

2. X, forever after, became dogma among scientists, simply by virtue of the brilliance and fame of Dr. So-and-so.

3. This dogmatic assent continues unchallenged until an intrepid, underdog scientist comes forward with a dramatic new theory, completely overturning X, in spite of sustained, hostile opposition by the dogmatic scientific establishment.

We love stories like this; in our culture we love the underdog, who sticks to his or her guns, in spite of heavy opposition. In this narrative, we have heroes, villains, and a famous, brilliant scientist proven wrong.


I’m amazed he wrote the whole article didn’t mention (or even hint at) the fact that this is the strategy of Intelligent Design and the movie Expelled.

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The BadAstronomer takes VoxDay to task for this ridiculous argument. Personally, I think VoxDay’s argument is so stupid, it doesn’t even deserve a rebuttal. It’s just that stupid. Stand back in marvel in awe of the innanity:

The Bad Astronomer doesn’t realize that science is undermining the basis for materialism:

(The Bad Astronomer wrote:)
The energy budget of the Universe is the total amount of energy and matter in the whole cosmos added up. Together with some other observations, WMAP has been able to determine just how much of that budget is occupied by dark energy, dark matter, and normal matter. What they got was: the Universe is 72.1% dark energy, 23.3% dark matter, and 4.62% normal matter. You read that right: everything you can see, taste, hear, touch, just sense in any way… is less than 5% of the whole Universe.

In other words, even by its own lights, science and rational materialist philosophy is only relevant to five percent of what we currently consider to be all known Creation. Combined with its complete inapplicability to abstract concepts such as justice, equality and freedom, this shows that even attempting to build a social order on a secular basis is not only doomed to failure, but is quite arguably insane.

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