Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ignorance begets apostasy

Dagood is like a bulldog who unfortunately mistakes a firecracker for a stick. He hangs on to that firecracker for dear life. Even after it blows up in his face, he runs off to fetch another firecracker.

“In my last blog I discussed David’s census.”

Yes, we remember.

“Once we concede that the manuscripts we have contain errors that were not in the original, it is difficult to be persuasive that the originals were either inerrant, or even inspired. How can we determine what we have now is error or not?”

There’s a word for this: lower criticism.

“If the believer agrees that the numbers we see conflict were due to error, is it not equally as likely that numbers that stand alone may also contain copyist error? Is it persuasive that the ONLY numbers that ever had any copyist error are the ones that we just happen to catch by two differing accounts? Could a copyist, for example, bolstered some numbers, to make a story sound more dramatic? Have David killing 10’s of thousands?”

This is simplistic. For one thing, the probability of numerical mistranscription depends on whether there are any contextual clues regarding the right or wrong number. If a number standards in isolation, then a mistranscription may be difficult to catch.

But if a number is part of a numerical sequence or part of a numerical sum, then an error is easy to catch.

“And why should it be limited to numbers? We also see names that conflict. Certainly if a copyist can introduce error in a number, they equally can introduce error in names. Or what about geography?”

Yes, names can also be miscopied. Indeed, anything can be miscopied.

However, many errors are obvious. If a scribe uses the wrong noun or verb form, the sentence will be unintelligible.

Likewise, place names are not the same thing as numbers. If people live in the same region that Scripture is writing about, then they will know the geography; they will know what a town or region is called. So errors like that are easily correctible except in the case of archaic place names.

“You see, once we concede there are any copyist errors, without the originals to compare, the best we can do is extrapolate back to the closest copy to the original, and even that becomes a matter of speculation.”

Once again, this is simplistic. Certain textual phenomena are more prone to mistranscription than others, such as the interchange of similar letters in Hebrew. And certain errors are more detectable than others.

“All of which is well and fine, if we were talking about a human book. But Christians proclaim that the Bible is unique. Different. Divine. I thought the idea was to propel its divinity, not indicate it is comparable to human efforts. The worst arguments that the Bible is unique are the ones that say it is like everything else.”

This is a straw man argument. The uniqueness of Scripture was never indexed to the process of textual transmission.

“It is not until the Early Third Century that we begin to have large portions of scripture to begin to compare textually for these copyist errors.”

Note the abrupt shift from OT textual criticism to NT textual criticism, as if these were interchangeable. Clearly Dagood doesn’t know what he’s talking about. What else is new?

“We lose any ability to determine what is inspired and what is not. God did not leave any distinguishing marks on those original inspired books. Nothing by which a human could say, “Hey, that’s God’s signature, so we know it was inspired.” The Wisdom of Solomon could be inspired. The Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement, the Shepard of Hermas all qualify. 2 Peter may not be. Revelation is up for grabs.”

Notice the sudden shift from evidence of textual integrity to evidence of divine inspiration. These are separate issues, with separate lines of evidence.

“And this method must include areas besides numbers. However God treated numbers, the method must either make an exception, for some reason, for numbers, OR it must equally treat other areas, such as names, places and events as to how God chose to preserve them or not.”

No, we don’t need a method for divining God’s providence. All we need are text-critical methods.

“Seriously, by what means can we possibly come up with any way in which to determine where God was involved in the preservation or not? I cannot fathom, nor have I seen any such system proposed. How can we account for the variations in every single manuscript?”

A straw man argument.

“What I see is a method by fatigue. To avoid the hard work of actually coming up with a method, one throws up one’s hands, and says, “God is involved with what we have today.” What we see is what God was involved in. If there is an error, then God was not involved. If there is not, God was. What we have comes from the inspired. If we don’t have it, it wasn’t inspired.”

From a Reformed perspective, God is involved in everything that happens. But maybe Dagood was an open theist before he became an atheist—assuming there’s a difference.

So a Calvinist doesn’t need to devise a method of distinguishing between divine involvement and divine noninvolvement. We reject the underlying assumption.

“Same thing with the Bible. After the fact we have it, it is defined as unique for its properties.”

True, we judge the Bible after the fact. We don’t judge the Bible before it was written. Only a brain-donor like Dagood would have a problem with this.

“One of the claims that the Bible is unique is how various writers all agreed on the same principles. O.K. Then why not add 1 Clement (another writer) and make it even MORE unique because there are even MORE writers? Or add the Gospel of Peter? Or the Gospel of Thomas? Seems to me, if agreement among various writers is the qualifier, we can find a whole bunch more to REALLY make the Bible stand out. The only reason this is used as an indicator of the uniqueness of the Bible is that it already has a number of different writers.”

Fails to distinguish between a necessary and a sufficient condition.

“This is the same act performed with inspiration. An ad hoc determination that what we have stems from the inspired originals, when we have no clue what the originals stated, nor any method to determine original inspiration, nor any method to determine how God was involved in maintaining accurate copies.”

We have “no clue” what the originals statement? What Bruce Metzger or Emanuel Tov do for a living is purely ad hoc?

Hey, it’s fine with me if Dagood wants to advertise his elementary ignorance of lower criticism.

“What I see is a defendant, scratching their head and coming up with the same excuse that millions of other human endeavors have stated.”

What I see in Dagood is a slick lawyer trying to get a guilty defendant off the hook by using the Twinkie defense.

BTW, why is Dagood once again using a plural possessive (“their”) with a singular noun (“a defendant”)? Is this a transgender defendant?

“I would agree that the “hands-off God” or the “spell-check” God are strawmen. I have never met a Christian that held to either proposition. (Having said that, watch one pop out!) What I was trying to figure out, if it is not Black, nor is it White, what shade of gray is it, and how do we determine it? Where, in the middle, can we come up with a system?”

We aren’t looking for a mediating position. The evidence of inspiration is one thing, while the evidence of textual integrity is another.

“Where did God indicate that you will have “reasonable confidence” that the teaching you receive are apostolic?”

It doesn’t have to be apostolic. It can also be prophetic.

“Why is apostolic a requirement?”

It isn’t.

“Couldn’t the Spirit teach non-apostles?”

Yes, he could.

“The entire Tanakh is written by non-apostles. Can you explain the sudden shift?”

Shift in what? Inspiration is the common denominator.

“This is one of those after-the-fact definitions.”

Yes, we define evidence after the fact, which is easier than defining evidence in advance of the fact, unless you happy to be the Red Queen.

Apparently, Dagood takes his rules of evidence from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, which would explain a lot about Dagood’s state of confusion.

“Because early authors attributed writings to apostles, Christians later defined “apostolic authorship” as a basis for canonicity.”

External attestation is not the only basis for such an attribution. There is the internal evidence or self-witness as well. Dagood is such a klutz.

“Yet nowhere is that requirement spelled out.”

Maybe because it was never a requirement. Duh.

“ Is every teaching that appears “apostolic” a basis for entering the Bible? 1 Clement, and the Epistle of Barnabas qualify.”

Other issues aside, Clement and Barnabas were not apostles—not in the technical sense. And the “Epistle of Barnabas” is apocryphal.

“The Gospel of Thomas purports to be from an apostle. Or are we going to limit which apostles the teaching must come from?”

For the Gospel of Thomas to be authentic, it would have to date to the 1C. That’s just for starters.

“Let’s see if we can stay consistent in this methodology. Mark was not an apostle. He got his information from Peter, according to Papias.”

Actually, Mark had two sources of information available to him. Since Jerusalem was his hometown, he could have been an eyewitness to the preaching and healing ministry of Christ whenever Jesus was in town. And since his home was also a founding house-church, frequented by the Apostles, for the nascent church of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), he could also have interviewed Peter, James, John, and so on.

“Scholarship is veering away from Mark as either being an apostle (no one has claimed he was) or that he got his information from an apostle.”

i) Since scholarship never said that Mark was an apostle, it can hardly veer away from that nonexistent proposition.

ii) Notice that Dagood doesn’t cite his sources. Presumably he’s alluding to some liberal source.

“We know Luke was not an apostle.”

Yes, everyone knows that.

“Nor do we know where he obtained his information (other than Mark).”

It’s clear from the Book of Acts alone that Luke was a well-connected historian who had a wide circle of contacts from all the early churches, including informants from the mother church of Jerusalem.

“It should get the axe.”

Putting an ax to a straw man.

“The fact that Matthew relies upon Mark demonstrates this author was not an apostle.”

Even assuming Markan priority, which is just one theory for resolving the synoptic problem, how does this literary dependence disprove apostolic authorship?

Mark is hardly Matthew’s only source of information. There’s a tradition of later Bible writers using earlier Bible writers. If the Chronicler can use Samuel-Kings, why can’t Matthew use Mark? Jews respected literary precedent.

“Hebrews has always had an unknown author. Can an unknown, as long as it follows apostolic authority, be inspired?”

Yes. But while he’s unknown, we also know where to place him since he’s a friend of Timothy (Heb 13:23).

“Recent study demonstrates that Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastorals, and 2 Thess. were not written by Paul.”

i) Once again, Dagood doesn’t cite his sources.

ii) How would recentness be relevant? Have we made some stunning new discovery which overturns traditional authorship? Is Dagood getting his information from Dan Brown?

iii) Actually, recent study reaffirms traditional authorship. Read O’Brien on Colossians. Read Hoehner on Ephesians. Read Mounce on the Pastorals. Read Beale on Thessalonians. Read Guthrie’s NT introduction. Read the second edition of the Carson-Moo NT introduction.

iv) Incidentally, one doesn’t need to be a conservative to affirm traditional authorship. For example, G. B. Caird defended the Pauline authorship of Ephesians.

“Do they get the “grandfather” clause because we always thought they were? Even Eusebius determine Revelation was not written by John the Apostle.”

Really? Is that what Eusebius determined? I thought Dionysius was the one to deny its traditional authorship.

In any event, read Beale and Smalley on Revelation, as well as Guthrie and Carson-Moo.

“2 Peter is a copy of Jude, an unknown, but presumed apostle.”

i) The order of literary dependence between 2 Peter and Jude is an open question.

ii) Jude was hardly an unknown figure, and he was not an apostle, presumed or otherwise. Rather, he was a half-brother of our Lord.

Read Charles and Schreiner on 2 Peter-Jude.

“1-3 John are unknown authors.”

Sheer assertion in the teeth of contrary evidence.

Why I'm too sceptical to be a sceptic

Among the living, Paul Kurtz may be the world’s leading humanist philosopher. So what’s his cumulative case against theism in general and Christianity in particular?

“Why do skeptics doubt the existence of God? First, because the skeptical inquirer does not find the traditional concept of God as "transcendent," "omnipotent," "omnipresent," or "omnibeneficent" to be coherent, intelligible, or meaningful. To postulate a transcendent being who is incomprehensible to the human mind (as theologians maintain) does not explain the world that we encounter. How can we say that such an indefinable being exists, if we do not know in what sense that being is said to exist? How are we to understand a God that exists outside space and time and that transcends our capacity to comprehend his essence? Theists have postulated an unknowable "X." But if his content is unfathomable, then he is little more than an empty, speculative abstraction. Thus, the skeptic in religion presents semantic objections to God language, charging that it is unintelligible and lacks any clear referent.”

i) This would be an impressive objection if only it didn’t suffer from the minor liability of being wrong. Theologians do not generally maintain that God is unknowable or indefinable. That’s merely the extreme apophatic tradition.

ii) How is something that subsists outside of space and time not an object of knowledge? Are abstract objects unknowable or indefinable?

If he’s going to deny the existence of abstract objects, he will need a supporting argument.

“A popular argument adduced for the existence of this unknowable entity is that he is the first cause, but we can ask of anyone who postulates this, "What is the cause of this first cause?" To say that he is uncaused only pushes our ignorance back one step.”

i) Kurtz is treating the first cause as if it were the first member of a temporal series. That is not what Aquinas had in mind.

ii) There is more than one version of the cosmological argument. This is not about a linear series of cause-and-effect. The depiction of a causal series as “chain” of events with sequential links is just a picturesque metaphor, especially in connection to the cosmological argument.

The true relation is not one of temporal priority. Rather, cause is to exemplar as effect is to exemplum. God actualizes a concrete property-instance of an abstract universal.

“To step outside the physical universe is to assume an answer by a leap of faith.”

This is an assertion, not an argument. It assumes that the physical universe is all there is. There’s nothing outside the box.

What’s that if not a leap of faith?

“Nor does the claim that the universe manifests Intelligent Design (ID) explain the facts of conflict, the struggle for survival, and the inescapable tragedy, evil, pain, and suffering that is encountered in the world of sentient beings.”

i) This is a very dense objection. Dysteleology presupposes teleology. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the items in question are natural (or even moral) evils, they are only evil in relation to some ideal standard.

But once you deny design, there can be no declension from an ideal state of affairs. Kurtz is denying in his conclusion what he must affirm in his premise.

Also, how is “pain” or the “struggle for survival” inconsistent with teleology? Doesn’t pain serve a biological purpose? Doesn’t the predatory/prey cycle represent a balancing act in the ecosystem? How are these features dysteleological?

“Regularities and chaos do not necessarily indicate design.”

By definition, “chaos” does not indicate design. But about “regularities”?

“The argument from design is reminiscent of Aristotle's teleological argument that there are purposes or ends in nature. But we can find no evidence for purpose in nature.”

Another orphaned assertion.

“Even if we were to find what appears to be design in the universe, this does not imply a designer for whose existence there is insufficient evidence.”

An odd statement for a couple of reasons:

i)”If we can find no evidence for purpose in nature,” then why does Kurtz feel the need to bring in this backup argument to take up the rear? Sounds like he not so confident of his original claim after all.

ii) How would the evidence for a designer’s existence be insufficient if he were to find what appeared to be evidence?

Wouldn’t that be, of itself, evidence for a designer?

Is Kurtz saying that since there is insufficient evidence for the existence of God, apparent evidence of design would be insufficient to overcome this insufficiency?

But if there is apparent evidence of design, then what we took to be insufficient evidence of God’s existence would be less insufficient than we took it to be apart from such additional evidence.

And how does inevidence negate evidence? The only evidence for something is evidence.

Inevidence is not a bar to evidence. Kurtz is acting as if inevidence were the same thing as contrary evidence, so that any new evidence would have to overcome counter-evidence.

But inevidence is just that—the lack of evidence. All you need to counter the negative, to counter the absence of evidence, is evidence.

If I have no evidence for the existence of four-leaf clovers, and I discover a four-leaf clover, that’s all the evidence I need.

I wouldn’t say that even if a found a four-leaf clover, this does not imply a four-leaf clover for whose existence there is insufficient evidence, would I?

Or does it all turn on the distinction between evidence and “apparent” evidence?

But that distinction is equally unclear. The only evidence of evidence is apparent evidence.

What’s the alternative to apparent evidence? Inevident evidence?

Or does he mean that the evidence is only “apparent” evidence because it could be deceptively evidentiary when, in fact, it is not real evidence after all?

But couldn’t we say that about any kind of evidence—such as scientific or historical evidence?

Real evidence is apparently real, but deceptive evidence is apparently real as well.

It looks like Kurtz is trying to arbitrarily cordon off evidence of natural design, as if it were in a class apart from other types of evidence.

“The evolutionary hypothesis provides a more parsimonious explanation of the origins of species.”

There are two or three basic problems with this appeal:

i) There is frequently a tradeoff between a simple explanation and a simple ontology. The reason that a scientist or logician or metaphysician may postulate hypothetical entities is that a more complex ontology will simplify his explanation, just as a more Spartan ontology may complicate the explanation. So there’s often an inverse ratio between one type of parsimony and another.

ii) In addition, if you knew what reality was like, you wouldn’t need Occam’s razor, for you’d already know how simple or complex the world is.

If you need Occam’s razor, then you don’t know what reality is like, in which case you don’t know if it’s simple or complex, or to what degree, in which case the principle of parsimony is either prejudicial or otiose.

iii) Why should parsimony enjoy any ontological presumption over plenitude?

“The changes in species through time are better accounted for by chance mutations, differential reproduction, natural selection, and adaptation, rather than by design.”

Yet another wailing assertion left on the doorstep. We will have to open a foundling hospital to feed and house all of Kurtz’s deserted assertions.

“Moreover, vestigial features such as the human appendix, tailbone, and male breasts and nipples hardly suggest adequate design; the same is true for vestigial organs in other species. Thus, the doctrine of creation is hardly supported in empirical terms.”

Are male beasts and nipples vestigial features? What is Kurtz saying, here? That hominids were originally female, and males evolved out of female hominids, which is why they retain these vestigial secondary sexual characteristics?

i) One little question: in the absence of male hominids, how did the females reproduce? How were they impregnated?

ii) Actually, the male breast is more than vestigial. It is potentially functional, and, in some situations, men are able to lactate.

Why treat this as an evolutionary relic rather than an adaptable survival mechanism or inbuilt backup system in the event of environmental situations where the female cannot nurse enough of the offspring?

“Another version of the Intelligent Design argument is the so-called fine-tuning argument. Its proponents maintain that there is a unique combination of "physical constants" in the universe that possess the only values capable of sustaining life, especially sentient organic systems. This they attribute to a designer God. But this, too, is inadequate. First because millions of species are extinct; the alleged "fine-tuning" did nothing to ensure their survival. Second, great numbers of human beings have been extinguished by natural causes such as diseases and disasters. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 that suddenly killed over two hundred thousand innocent men, women, and children was due to a shift in tectonic plates. This hardly indicates fine tuning-after all, this tragedy could have been avoided had a supposed fine tuner troubled to correct defects in the surface strata of the planet.”

This is a non sequitur. The fine-tuning argument is an argument for the possibility of life. Having the preconditions in place. It is not an argument for the actual existence of life, much less the survival of any particular species or individual members thereof.

“A close variant of the fine-tuning argument is the so-called anthropic principle, which is simply a form of anthropomorphism; that is, it reads into nature the fondest hopes and wishes of believers, which are then imposed upon the universe. But if we are to do this, should we not also attribute the errors and mistakes encountered in nature to the designer?”

That is not the anthropic principle:

i) To begin with, there is more than one version of the anthropic principle.

ii) Far from being “anthropomorphic,” critics object to the principle, not because it isn’t true, but because it’s a truism or tautology.

iii) Of itself, the anthropic principle is not a theistic proof.

“Related to this, of course, is the classical problem of evil. If an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibeneficent God is responsible for the world as we know it, then how to explain evil? Surely, humans cannot be held responsible for a massive flood or plague, for example; we can explain such calamities only by inferring that God is malevolent, because he knew of, yet permitted, terrible destructive events to occur-or by suggesting that God is impotent to prevent evil. This would also suggest an unintelligent, deficient, or faulty designer.”

i) Other issues aside, natural disasters are natural goods which only seem like natural evils when human beings get in the way. There is nothing dysteleological about a hydrological system or bacteria. These have a natural function in the ecosystem.

ii) In addition, how does Kurtz define a human being? Does he agree with the secular scientific definition of Richard Dawkins? If so, what’s so bad about blindly programmed survival machines perishing in a flood or dying from a plague?

Does he agree with the secular scientific definition of Paul Churchland, according to which “pain” and “suffering” are folk psychological archaisms which ought to be expunged from the materialistic lexicon? If so, then the problem of pain is an illusion. We don’t suffer.

“The historic religions maintain that God has revealed himself in history and that he has manifested his presence to selected humans. These revelations are not corroborated by independent, objective observers.”

How does he define “independent” or “objective”? If an observer were to corroborate a revelation, he would presumably believe in it. How could he corroborate a revelation he didn’t believe in?

“They are disclosed, rather, to privileged prophets or mystics, whose claims have not been adequately verified: there is insufficient circumstantial evidence to confirm their authenticity.”

i) Another stranded assertion.

ii) In addition, one cannot intelligently evaluate religion in general. Rather, this must be done on a case-by-case basis.

“To attribute inexplicable events to miracles performed by God, as declared in the so-called sacred literature, is often a substitute for finding their true causes scientifically. Scientific inquiry is generally able to explain alleged "miracles" by discovering natural causes.”

A straw man argument. In Scripture, a miracle is not a stopgap to explain an otherwise inexplicable event. Bible writers are not attributing otherwise inexplicable events to divine agency, as if they were floating a theory or postulating a hypothetical entity.

“The Bible, Qur'an, and other classical documents are full of contradictions and factual errors. They were written by human beings in ancient civilizations, expressing the scientific and moral speculations of their day. They do not convey the eternal word of God, but rather the yearnings of ancient tribes based on oral legends and received doctrines; as such, they are hardly relevant to all cultures and times.”

i) Another lonely assertion in search of a warm-bodied supporting argument.

ii) Notice how he jumbles together very different “scriptures,” as if he could dispatch all revelatory claimants with one stroke. This is simple-minded and anti-intellectual. A mental short-cut.

“The Old and New Testaments are not accurate accounts of historical events.”

Another groundless assertion.

“The reliability of the Old Testament is highly questionable in the events and personages it depicts; Moses, Abraham, Joseph, etc. are largely uncorroborated by historical evidence.”

i) Lack of corroboration doesn’t imply either inaccuracy or unreliability. For that you would need contrary evidence, not the absence of evidence.

ii) Given the fact so little evidence has survived, or been excavated, even partial corroboration is mighty impressive—especially when the world at large took so little interest in ancient Israel or 1C Christians.

“As for the New Testament, scholarship has shown that none of its authors knew Jesus directly.”

A one-sided remark which disregards, without benefit of argument, a broad and deep body of conservative scholarship.

“The four Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses but are products of oral tradition and hearsay.”

Why assume they were the products of oral tradition? Didn’t 1C Jews know how to read and write?

“There is but flimsy and contradictory evidence for the virgin birth, the healings of Jesus, and the Resurrection.”

Another naked assertion, shivering in the cold.

“Some claim to believe in God because they say that God has entered into their personal lives and has imbued them with new meaning. This is a psychological or phenomenological account of a person's inner experience. It is hardly adequate evidence for the existence of a divine being independent of human beings' internal soliloquies. Appeals to mystical experiences or private subjective states hardly suffice as evidential support that some external being or force caused such altered states of consciousness; skeptical inquirers have a legitimate basis for doubt, unless or until such claims of interior experience can somehow be independently corroborated. Experiences of God or gods, or angels or demons, talking to one may disturb or entrance those persons who undergo such experiences, but the question is whether these internal subjective states have external veracity. This especially applies to those individuals who claim some sort of special revelation from on high, such as the hearing of commandments.”

Another couple of problems:

i) It’s true that my subjective experience, all by itself, cannot count as evidence for a second-party. That’s a built-in limit to the argument from experience. But it’s a limit, not a defeater, or even an undercutter.

ii) Interior experience is our only port of entry to the external world. The human mind does not enjoy direct access to the world “out there.” We only know the external world via our internal experience of the external world. So subjectivity is the only gateway to objectivity.

iii) Ironically, the only alternative would be divine revelation. Revelation can infuse our private, inner experience with information about the public world.

The only “independent” check on our perception of the sensible world is divine revelation. Apart from that, we have no intersubjectival source or standard of knowledge regarding extramental events.

“Second, is God a person?”

God is personal. Indeed, he’s three persons in one!

“Does he take on human form?”

In theophanies and especially the Incarnation.

“Has he communicated in discernible form, say, as the Holy Spirit, to Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Muhammad, or other prophets?”

Yes, he spoke to Moses, Abraham, and Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is God speaking.

No, he never spoke to Muhammad.

“These claims again are uncorroborated by objective eyewitnesses. They are rather promulgated by propagandists of the various faith traditions that have been inflicted on societies and enforced by entrenched ecclesiastical authorities and political powers.”

i) NT Christians were a persecuted minority group. They had no entrenched ecclesiastical authorities. And the political powers are arrayed against them.

ii) Secular propagandists like Kurtz inflict their faithless traditions on society, enforced by entrenched media and academic authorities as well as political powers.

“They are supported by customs and traditions buried for millennia by the sands of time and institutional inertia. They are simply assumed to be true without question.”

There is a vast body of literature in the field of Christian apologetics, natural theology, and philosophical theology which gives the lie to this sweeping assertion.

“The ancient documents alleging God's existence are preliterate, prephilosophical, and, in any case, unconfirmed by scientific inquiry.”

i) The ANE world in which the OT was revealed was hardly preliterate. The Greco-Roman world in which the NT was revealed was hardly preliterate.

The problem is not with ancient illiteracy, but with Kurtz’ illiteracy.

ii) Science is not the only source of knowledge. Science is suited to empirical objects of knowledge, but unsuited to privileged mental states, abstract objects, and the like.

“They are often eloquent literary expressions of existential moral poetry, but they are unverified by archeological evidence or careful historical investigation.”

He simply disregards Biblical archeology and conservative scholarship.

“Moreover, they contradict each other in their claims for authenticity and legitimacy.”

It’s true that different religions contradict each other. So what?

“The ancient faith that God is a person has not been corroborated by the historical record.”

This is a very vague denial. What would such corroboration look like?

“Such conceptions of God are anthropomorphic and anthropocentric, reading into the universe human predilections and feelings. "If lions had gods they would be lionlike in character," said Xenophon. Thus, human Gods are an extrapolation of human hopes and aspirations, fanciful tales of imaginative fiction.”

i) This is an assumption, not an argument, and the reasoning is reversible. The properties of an artifact in some ways resemble the properties of an artificer. A da Vinci painting is a projection of da Vinci’s genius. But that hardly makes da Vinci a fictitious or imaginary painter.

God’s nature would be the template of what’s possible or actual. So we’d expect the creature to resemble the Creator in certain respects.

ii) Kurtz is contradicting himself. He earlier said the concept of God is “indefinable” and “unintelligible,” an “empty, speculative abstraction.”

Now, however, he says it’s “anthropomorphic” and “anthropocentric,” an “extrapolation” of human hopes, &c.

“Third, the claim that our ultimate moral values are derived from God is likewise highly suspect. The so-called sacred moral codes reflect the socio-historical cultures out of which they emerged. For example, the Old Testament commands that adulterers, blasphemers, disobedient sons, bastards, witches, and homosexuals be stoned to death. It threatens collective guilt: punishment is inflicted by Jehovah on the children's children of unbelievers. It defends patriarchy and the dominion of men over women. It condones slavery and genocide in the name of God.
The New Testament consigns "unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"; it demands that women be obedient to their husbands; it accepts faith healing, exorcisms, and miracles; it exalts obedience over independence, fear and trembling over courage, and piety over self-determination. “

Setting aside his simplistic, acontextual summary of the evidence, all that his comparison amounts to is a contrast between secular ethics, on the one hand, and Biblical ethics, on the other.

But to compare and contrast the two is hardly an argument for the superiority of secular ethics. All that Kurtz has done is to take secular ethics as his presumptive standard. Is begging the question the best he can do?

“From the fatherhood of God, contradictory moral commandments have been derived; theists have often lined up on opposite sides of moral issues. Believers have stood for and against war; for and against slavery; for and against capital punishment, some embracing retribution, others mercy and rehabilitation; for and against the divine right of kings, slavery, and patriarchy; for and against the emancipation of women; for and against the absolute prohibition of contraception, euthanasia, and abortion; for and against sexual and gender equality; for and against freedom of scientific research; for and against the libertarian ideals of a free society.”

i) In general, this fails to distinguish between liberals and conservative.

ii) Moreover, you can also find unbelievers on every conceivable side of an issue. So does that render secular ethics “highly suspect” as well?

“True believers have in the past often found little room for human autonomy, individual freedom, or self-reliance. They have emphasized submission to the word of God instead of self-determination, faith over reason, credulity over doubt. All too often they have had little confidence in the ability of humans to solve problems and create a better future by drawing on their own resources. In the face of tragedy, they supplicate to God through prayer instead of summoning the courage to overcome adversity and build a better future. The skeptic concludes, ‘No deity will save us; if we are to be saved it must be by our own efforts.’"

To cast the alternatives as a choice between faith and reason, credulity and doubt is tendentious. For the rest, all he’s done is to take the moral superiority of his humanistic values for granted.

“The traditional religions have too often waged wars of intolerance not only against other religions or ideologies that dispute the legitimacy of their divine revelations but even against sects that are mere variants of the same religion (e.g., Catholic versus Protestant, Shiite versus Sunni). Religions claim to speak in the name of God, yet bloodshed, tyranny, and untold horrors have often been justified on behalf of holy creeds. True believers have all too often opposed human progress: the abolition of slavery, the liberation of women, the extension of equal rights to transgendered people and gays, the expansion of democracy and human rights.”

Several flaws:

i) Only a shameless partisan like Kurtz would mention all the blood spilt in the name of religion while conveniently failing to mention all the blood spilt in the name of atheism. If this disqualifies religion, it equally disqualifies atheism.

ii) Equally unscrupulous is the lumping together of all religions so that any atrocity committed by any religion is laid at the doorstep of every other.

This comes just a few sentences after Kurtz condemned the principle of collective guilt.

iii) There is no necessary contradiction between bloodshed and a particular religion. It all depends on the creed. Bloodshed is quite consistent with Aztec religion. Bloodshed is quite consistent with Islam.

iv) The civil wars between Catholic and Protestant were instigated by monarchs attempting to impose a uniform faith on their subjects. This doesn’t represent a spontaneous, grass-roots altercation. One faction was conscripted to attack another faction, which was forced to defend itself.

v) Although Kurtz pays lavish lip-service to science, notice how he will instantly sacrifice hard science on the altar of political correctitude.

What is the scientific case for homosexual rights? What is the scientific case for transgender rights? Is there any solid scientific basis for these conditions?

And assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is, why would that not be treated as a genetic defect, subject to eugenic abortion or infanticide? Wouldn’t that be the consistent position for a secular ethicist to take?

“I realize that liberal religionists generally have rejected the absolutist creeds of fundamentalism. Fortunately, they have been influenced by modern democratic and humanistic values, which mitigate fundamentalism's inherent intolerance.”

Actually, covenant theology was invoked by men like Samuel Rutherford as an argument against absolute monarchy (Lex Rex). Under the OT, the king was a constitutional monarch who could be deposed if he proved to be a covenant-breaker. And in that same vein, let us not forget the role played by Presbyterians in the Revolutionary War, which was an extension of this principle.

“We are driven to ask: will those who believe in God actually achieve immortality of the soul and eternal salvation as promised?
The first objection of the skeptic to this claim is that the forms of salvation being offered are highly sectarian. The Hebrew Bible promises salvation for the chosen people; the New Testament, the Rapture to those who have faith in Jesus Christ; the Qur'an, heaven to those who accept the will of Allah as transmitted by Muhammad.
In general, these promises are not universal but apply only to those who acquiesce to a specific creed, as interpreted by priests, ministers, rabbis, or mullahs. Bloody wars have been waged to establish the legitimacy of the papacy (between Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy), the priority of Muhammad and the Qur'an, or the authenticity of the Old Testament.”

He has stated this as an objection without bothering to state what makes it objectionable. How does its sectarian character render it untrue?

“A second objection is that there is insufficient scientific evidence for the claim that the "soul" can exist separate from the body and that it can survive death as a ‘discarnate’ being, and much less for the claim that it can persist throughout eternity. Science points to the fact that the ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ is a function of the brain and nervous system and that with the physical death of the body, the ‘self’ or ‘person’ disappears. Thus, the claim that a person's soul can endure forever is supported by no evidence whatever, only by pious hope.”

Several problems:

i) Once again, Kurtz acts as though science is the only source and standard of truth. If that’s what he thinks, then why is he a philosopher instead of a scientist?

ii) Why not treat the mind/body problem as a metaphysical question rather than a physical question? Why not treat the soul as analogous to an abstract object rather than an empirical object?

iii) Kurtz disregards, without benefit of argument, all of the philosophical and scientific arguments for dualism.

iv) Christians do not maintain that the soul is naturally immortal, but that God preserves the soul through all eternity. As always, Kurtz is too lazy to engage the actual argument.

“Along the same line, believers have never succeeded in demonstrating the existence of the disembodied souls of any of the billions who went before us.”

Even if this were true, we don’t need direct evidence for everything we believe. Somethings we accept on authority as long as we can validate our authority-source.

Kurtz’ appeal to science is, itself, an appeal to authority. He’s not an experimental scientist.

“All efforts to communicate with such discarnate entities have been fruitless. Sightings of alleged ghosts have not been corroborated by reliable eyewitness testimony.”

This disregards, without benefit of argument, the whole of the parapsychological literature. A genuine critical thinker would sift through the case-studies.

“The appeal to near-death experiences simply reports the phenomenological experiences of persons who undergo part of the dying process but ultimately do not die. Of course, we never hear from anyone who has truly died by any clinical standard, gone to "the other side" and returned. In any case, these subjective experiences can be explained in terms of natural, psychological, and physiological causes.”

Are they all explainable in terms of natural, psychological, and physiological causes? Or does the secularist merely postulate some generic, hypothetical explanation as to how there might possibly be a natural mechanism to account for this experience?

“Fifth, theists maintain that one cannot be good unless one believes in God.
Skepticism about God's existence and divine plan does not imply pessimism, nihilism, the collapse of all values, or the implication that ‘anything goes.’ It has been demonstrated time and again, by countless human beings, that it is possible to be morally concerned with the needs of others, to be a good citizen, and to lead a life of nobility and excellence-all without religion. Thus, anyone can be righteous and altruistic, compassionate and benevolent, without belief in a deity. A person can develop the common moral virtues and express a goodwill toward others without devotion to God. It is possible to be empathetic toward others and at the same time be concerned with one's own well-being.”

He is conflating distinct issues:

i) The question is not, in the first instance, whether an unbeliever can exhibit common decency, but whether moral absolutes are consistent with, or implicit in, a secular worldview.

ii) In the nature of the case, what is considered to be moral is indexed to a particular value system, so there comes a point where Christian ethics and secular ethics are incommensurable. For example, in a secular value-system like National Socialism, eugenics and genocide, as well as involuntary medical experimentation, are morally licit.

“Secular ethical principles and values thus can be supported by evidence and reason, the cultivation of moral growth and development, the finding of common ground that brings people together.”

What kind of evidence would count as evidence of moral norms? Empirical evidence? Scientific evidence? Are moral norms tangible properties?

“Our principles and values can be vindicated as we examine the consequences of our choices and modify them in light of experience.”

Two problems:

i) This assumes, without benefit of argument, that teleological ethics is the way to go.

ii) It also assumes, without benefit of argument, that teleological ethics is consistent with, or implicit in, a secular worldview.

“Skeptics who are humanists focus on the good life here and now. They exhort us to live creatively, seeking a life full of happiness, even joyful exuberance. They urge us to face life's tragedies with equanimity, to marshal the courage and stoic forbearance to live meaningfully in spite of adversity, and to take satisfaction in our achievements. Life can be relished and is intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake, without any need for external support.”

How does this hortatory bromide flow from a secular outlook? Sounds more like the pep talk a commander would give to foot soldiers on a suicide mission:

“Even though you sorry, ill-fated grunts are only such much canon fodder in a losing battle, never forget that your futile efforts are for a noble cause, so buck up and make the old man proud!”

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

You know, I’d just love to be a sceptic. Really I would. Cross my heart—unless, of course, that might offend someone.

But I’m too sceptical to be a sceptic. I haven’t the faith to be an unbeliever.

I cannot crucify my intellect to become a blind disciple of eliminative materialism.

I cannot make myself believe that all these nested and interlocking complexities inched their way into existence.

I cannot convince myself that living and dying in the trenches of materialism is a noble cause.

To become an atheist I’d have to commit intellectual suicide, and whatever the fringe benefits of membership in the secular suicide cult, the severance package leaves a mite to be desired.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The SBC and Landmarkism-Part 5

Part 5-The Present Day is now available. This section ties the 19th century to the present day.

See here.

The presumption of piscianity

The fishbowl is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Life beyond the fishbowl is the opiate of the guppies.

A fishbowl is made of water and glass and bubbles—billions upon billions of bubbles.

The bottom of the tank is the shore of the cosmic aquarium. On this shore we’ve learned most of what we know. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can’t, because the aquarium is also within us. We’re "made" of starfishy stuff. We’re a way that a fishbowl can know itself.

The journey for each of us begins here. We’re going to explore the fishbowl in a ship of the imagination, unfettered by ordinary limits on glass and steel, drawn by the music of the cosmic bubbles.

The Prime Mover

Dear Dr. Freddoso,

I had a quick question for you. Today I ran across the following statement by Paul Kurtz:

“A popular argument adduced for the existence of this unknowable entity is that he is the first cause, but we can ask of anyone who postulates this, "What is the cause of this first cause?" To say that he is uncaused only pushes our ignorance back one step.”

Now, other issues aside, I was just wondering about the semantic pedigree of this inference. Isn't "first cause" simply a synonym for "prime mover," which is, in turn, an Anglicized transliteration of the Latin "primum movens," which is, for its part, a Latin equivalent of Aristotelian usage?

The assumption lying behind Kurtz' objection seems to be that "first" is being used in the temporal sense of the first member of a temporal series.

But is that really what Aristotle or Aquinas had in mind by our Latin derivative?

Or are they using it more in the sense of "primary" or "prior" (in a casual rather than temporal sense)?

It seems to me that the English phrases ("first cause," "prime mover") also carry the connotation of a linear series. But isn't the image of a causal chain just a picturesque metaphor, and should we be reading that back into Thomistic and Aristotelian usage?

Isn't the whole objection nothing more than a rhetorical trick?


Steve Hays

>I had a quick question for you. Today I ran across the following statement by Paul Kurtz:
>"A popular argument adduced for the existence of this unknowable entity is that he is the first cause, but we can ask of anyone who postulates this, "What is the cause of this first cause?" To say that he is uncaused only pushes our ignorance back one step."
>Now, other issues aside, I was just wondering about the semantic pedigree of this inference. Isn't "first cause" simply a synonym for "prime mover," which is, in turn, an Anglicized transliteration of the Latin "primum movens," which is, for its part, a Latin equivalent of Aristotelian usage?

If you look at the first two of St. Thomas's five ways, you will find a difference between them. According to the first way, there has to be a first mover in order to account for changes in already existent things, which takes place through the actualization of already existent potentialites. It is true that moving things (i.e., making them change) is a species of efficient causality, but it is not the only such species if there is such a thing as creation ex nihilo. So the concept of a first mover is distinct from the concept of a first efficient cause. And it is the existence of a first efficient cause which is argued for in St. Thomas's second way, with one the key premises being that nothing is a cause of itself. Of course, St. Thomas will later argue that the first mover just is the first efficient cause, and vice versa.

>The assumption lying behind Kurtz' objection seems to be that "first" is being used in the temporal sense of the first member of a temporal series.
>But is that really what Aristotle or Aquinas had in mind by our Latin derivative?
>Or are they using it more in the sense of "primary" or "prior" (in a casual rather than temporal sense)?

You are right on this score. None of these arguments has to do with a temporal series of causes. The claim has to do with a series of contemporaneous causes and movers.

>It seems to me that the English phrases ("first cause," "prime mover") also carry the connotation of a linear series. But isn't the image of a causal chain just a picturesque metaphor, and should we be reading that back into Thomistic and Aristotelian usage?
>Isn't the whole objection nothing more than a rhetorical trick?

Kurz's objection is based on ignorance. Each of the first two ways contains an explicit argument to the effect that an infinite regress or movers/causes is impossible. Maybe Kurz doesn't think the arguments work, but his objection merely begs the question and doesn't even attempt to deal with those arguments.

Alfred J. Freddoso
Professor of Philosophy and
John and Jean Oesterle Professor of Thomistic Studies
100 Malloy Hall
University of Notre Dame

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rambo akimbo

“Rambo” has responded to my reply.

“Notice that I made a very general statement and was not commenting specifically upon the text of the New Testament writings on this instance.”

Notice that, in context, the debate is over the text of the Bible. So what is relevant is the type of textual variants you find in our Bible MSS.


Notice the problematic nature of his statement: Mr. Hays says I quote a “conservative” Muslim scholar on the textual criticism of the Quran. However, I don’t know of any “liberal Muslim” scholars who have said otherwise or something “devastating” regarding the textual integrity of the Quran. Certainly, there are differences of opinion among Muslim scholars over certain points of details, but all of them – and I really do mean ALL – acknowledge the textual integrity of the Quran and state that the Quran goes back to Muhammed (P) in an unbroken chain of transmission.

Terms and descriptions such as “conservative Muslim” and “liberal Muslim” are not current or widely used in this field of study – Quranic studies. Christian polemicists impose terms current in one particular field of scholarship upon an entirely different field, in which such terms and words are alien, meaningless, and view this different field of study from the prism of what they are normally accustomed to in Biblical studies. Prof. Azami is a mainstream Quranic scholar, one of the leading scholars in Quranic and Hadith studies of our times. Therefore, I did not quote some “fringe” view from Quranic studies. Similarly, when we move on to New Testament studies, I again referred to mainstream scholars of the New Testament and did not rely upon some fringe opinion here and there. All of the scholars that I named are authorities in their field of studies, many are practising Christians themselves, though not inerranists, and so it is not very impressive when some Christians dismiss scholarship with the lame excuse, “oh but they are liberals.”

Secondly, I mentioned specifically that John Brogan is an evangelical scholar. Perhaps I should also have added Prof. Metzger to the above list bearing in mind the statements in the latest edition of his introduction of the New Testament. E. P Sanders, not a scholar of textual criticism, is a practising Protestant Christian and, similarly, Parker, Koester, Tuckett, and many others whose writings I am still reading (such as Dunn and Stanton for instance) are also practising Christians.


Several problems with this response:

1.Even if “liberal” were an outsider’s term, an outsider can sometimes bring an objectivity and critical distance to a topic which an insider may lack.

2.Islam has its own version of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, with parallel debates:

3. Of course, in Muslim countries governed by Sharia, dissent is strictly forbidden. Any outspoken liberal or even moderate will soon find his head in one place, and his body in another.

4. On the text of the Koran, here are a couple of online resources:

5.The fact that someone may be a “practicing Christian” doesn’t stop him from being a liberal. John Spong is a “practicing Christian.” Robert Price is a “practicing Christian.” Donald Cupitt is a “practicing Christian.”

There are a number of mainline denominations in which nominal Christians continue to observe a liturgical tradition even though they reject Bible authority, traditional doctrine, and Christian ethics.

Sanders is a liberal. Dunn is a liberal. Koester is a liberal. Ehrman is a liberal. Frederiksen is a liberal.

Vermes was a Jew, not a Christian, whether “practicing” or otherwise.

No, we don’t dismiss them simply because they’re liberal. My point had reference to Rambo’s double standard.

Moving along:


Here are some links which get into the details:

Archaeological/historical evidence confirming the statements within the Quran

Scientific evidence suggesting the Quran is God’s word – a debate between Dr. Zakir Naik and Dr. William Campbell

Also this.

Evidence from prophecy.

Evidence of miracles

The literary evidence


The “literary evidence” is purely subjective, and inaccessible to Muslims who don’t know classical literary Arabic.

By this criterion, Shakespeare was divinely inspired—no, divinely revealed.

Regarding the archeological/historical evidence, if we go to that link it tries to resolve a contradiction between Esther and the Koran by denying the historicity and canonicity of Esther.

i) Even if that were a valid move, it affords no archeological confirmation of the Koran.

ii) It quotes liberal commentators who deny the historicity of Esther. This is simply a one-sided presentation that ignores conservative scholarship in defense of Esther (e.g. Archer, Baldwin, Harrison, Yamauchi).

Regarding its canonicity, Muhammad was a 7C figure, while, as one scholar notes:


It is incredible that Esther was still outside the canon at the end of the 3C, well after its canonicity had been attested by Josephus, by Aquila, by the baraita on the order of the Prophets and Hagiographa, by the inclusion in the Mishna of a tractate on the obligation to read the book (the tractate (Megillah), and b y the citation of the book as authoritative Scripture in the other Tannaitic literature.

R. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans 1986), 290.


Regarding the evidence of miracles, when we go to this link, only three or four miracles are even cited from the Koran in connection with Muhammad: the splitting of the moon, his night journey, and his “ascension.”

This skimpy material is padded with extensive quotes from the Hadith.

i) The wording of all three “miracles” is very vague, which is why it has to be glossed by the Hadith.

But why should we rely on the Hadith to fill in the gaps?

If Rambo is going to reject the Bible unless it is directly revealed from start to finish, how can he lean on the Hadith, which is uninspired, much less divinely revealed?

It is self-defeating to oppose his “revealed” Koran to the Bible when the Hadith has to supplement the Koran.

If Rambo can’t get everything he needs straight from the Koran itself, then his appeal to the revealed word of Allah, as over against the Bible, is futile.

ii) Assuming that these were miracles, where in the text does it say that Muhammad performed them?

iii) And where does it say that these were given to attest his prophetic claims?

iv) Regarding the night journey, it is unclear from the Koranic text if this is an actual case of teleportation, or a vision.

v) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that it’s the former, since the temple in Jerusalem no longer existed in the 7C, I agree with Rambo that it would indeed be a miracle for Muhammad to visit a nonexistent temple.

So how, exactly, did this work? Did Allah miraculously restore the Temple for one night, then miraculously destroy it again after Muhammad had seen it?

If this passage is to be taken literally, then it’s clearly an historical anachronism.

vi) Likewise, was the alleged ascension a real event, or a vision? The Koranic text doesn’t say.

vii) There’s an even emptier statement in surah 3:86, devoid of any specifics.

Regarding the evidence of prophecies, when we go to this link, all we’re treated to are a few hortatory predictions in which Muhammad says he will defeat his enemies.

Of course, the winners always predict victory, and being the winners, what they say is true. That’s true of Muhammad. It’s equally true of Churchill, FDR, and Urban II, to name a few.

Pres. Bush predicted the defeat of the Taliban, followed by the defeat of Saddam Hussein. He was right. Is he a prophet?

This is scarcely comparable to Biblical prophecy, where highly unlikely outcomes are forecast hundreds of years in advance of the fact.

Moving along:

“According to Hays, my statement is ‘muddle’, but according to his Evangelical and conservative friend, Mr. Chris…”

This is a diversionary tactic. My debate is not with Chris, but with Rambo.

If you want a representative spokesman for the conservative Evangelical position, start with Warfield, Works, vol. I. Or read Carl Henry’s six-volume magnum opus: God, Revelation, & Authority. Or read the various installments issued by the International Council for Biblical Inerrancy, or “Inerrancy,” edited by Norman Geisler, or “God’s Inerrant Word,” edited by J. W. Montgomery.

“Mr. Hays says that all of scripture (=the Bible, although we are not told which particular collection of books) is inspired.”

Answer: the Protestant canon of Scripture.

“Fine, but what reason is there to suppose that the New Testament writings are inspired, especially in light of the fact that the earliest Christians did not generally view the New Testament writings – whatever writings they were aware of – as ‘Scripture’?”

Actually, they did view the NT writings as Scripture. That’s why the NT scriptures were copied and collated, why they were woven into the liturgy and lectionary, why they were cited as prooftexts, and so on.

“As Shabir Ally rightly corrected James White in the debate, 2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1:19-21 only refer to the inspiration of the Jewish Bible – the scope of which we don’t know.”

i) We do know the scope of the Jewish canon. Read Beckwith.

ii) What we have in 2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Pet 1:19-21 are categorical statements, of which the NT would be a special case. They lay down the criteria. Inspiration is the criterion of Scripture.

“As for John 14, I don’t see where the author claims to be writing under “inspiration.” Perhaps Mr. Hays can offer the precise passage so we may attempt to study it.”

Jn 14 & 16 promise the coming of the Holy Spirit to inspire the Apostles after Jesus returns to heaven.

“And what so-called ‘authoritarian’ claims of Paul suggest that he believed he was writing ‘Scripture’ or an ‘inerrant inspired’ letter?”

Read Warfield.

“More importantly, just because a New Testament writer claims to be inspired, it does not follow that he is really inspired.”

i) Likewise, just because Muhammad claims to be a prophet, it does not follow that he really is a prophet.

ii) In dialoguing with a Muslim, a Christian is under no burden to prove the inspiration of the Bible. For Muhammad himself bore witness to the revelatory character of the Old and New Testament scriptures.

“Mr Hays does not explain where the New Testament allegedly takes the Jewish Bible as “its model of inspiration and revelation.” He is merely assuming what he needs to demonstrate.”

i) Once again, when in dialogue with a Muslim, the onus is not on the Christian to prove the NT, but on the Muslim to disprove the Bible without disproving Muhammad at the very same time.

ii) Rambo also needs to understand how the apostolate and its deputies function in analogy to the OT prophets.

One starting-point would be R. Laird Harris, Inspiration& Canonicity (A Press 1995).

“Moreover, did Matthew and Luke really deem Mark as inspired sacred and inerrant “Scripture” bearing in mind the way they used Mark during the composition of their own gospels?”

Their use of Mark is analogous to the Chronicler’s use of Samuel-Kings. What’s the problem?

“Why should we begin with the presupposition that such authors were ‘inspired’ and could make no errors whatsoever besides only the linguistic and grammatical ones? Surely, there is nothing to suppose that the authors of these writings were in anyway ‘special’ or ‘extraordinary.’ Thus, it is wrong to begin with the presupposition that these are “inspired” writings.”

i) One reason is that Muhammad himself made this a presupposition for Muslims.

ii) This is also moving into the general case for the inspiration of Scripture, which is a large topic with a large body of apologetic literature.

“My argument is as follows: the types of grammatical errors and confusions I alluded to above do exist within these texts – whether they are the result of later scribes, the original authors, or both, it remains that they do exist within the texts. Thus, why should we suppose that such texts are “inspired” given their very ordinary nature?”

Rambo is still attempting to play both sides of the fence. He needs to argue for the radical corruption of the NT text in order to harmonize the Bible with the Koran—especially given the favorable statements made by Muhammad early in his career.

But if he’s going to make that move, then he cannot impute error to the autographa, for if our copies are as corrupt as he needs to them to be to salvage Muhammad’s claim, then that face-saving expedient will, at the very same time, prevent him from imputing error to the autographa.

“Nothing here [surah 5:45-46] says that the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians are 100% accurate, inspired or textually authentic. The passages are referring to the original revelations only. Yes, we do indeed believe that what was revealed upon Jesus (P) and Moses (P) was the truth.”

The problem with this evasive maneuver is that it cuts Muhammad off at the knees. For unless the original revelation was extant at the time he spoke, there’s no evidence that Muhammad’s message is a confirmation of what went before. Yet that’s an essential feature of his claim. How does a Muslim disprove the claims of Scripture without disproving the claims of Muhammad? That’s the dilemma.

“Nothing here [5:65-66] says that what is in the hands of the Jews and Christians is 100% accurate, inspired or textually authentic. It is only said that the Jews and Christians did not abide by the revelations which were given to them, not that those revelations remained entirely intact. Moreover, despite the corruption, the Jewish and Christian writings still contain elements of truth within them as well.”

i) A nonsensical interpretation, for if the OT and NT were inaccurate, uninspired, or irremediably corrupt by that time, there would be nothing for the Jews and Christians to abide by.

ii) Also, Rambo offers no evidence of such widespread textual corruption.

“We don’t read above [10:94] that the scriptures in the hands of the Jews and Christians are fully accurate or authentic.”

This is special pleading. Among his audience are those who doubted Muhammad’s prophetic claims. He then invites them to consult the Jews and the Christians.

But if their copies of the Bible were inaccurate or inauthentic, then he’d hardly recommend the Jews and Christians to vouch for his message.

Rambo then tries to paraphrase surah 29:46 as follows:

“Yes, we do believe in the revelation that came down to the Jews and Christians through Moses (P) and Jesus (P), but we do not believe that the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians are entirely intact, inspired and authentic.”

He must resort to a paraphrase since the actual wording of 29:46 doesn’t draw the distinctions he’s interposing into the text.

This is the text, in the translation, as Rambo quotes it:

“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, ‘We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).’”

Notice, once again, how this makes nonsense of Rambo’s paraphrase.

For if the text of the Bible in Muhammad’s time was, indeed, uninspired or inauthentic or so corrupt that you couldn’t tell which from which, then obviously a Muslim would have good reason to dispute with the Jews and Christians.

In fact, that’s exactly what Rambo is doing right now. He is disregarding the express command of 29:46. He is disputing with us!

And that’s because his own presupposition is the polar opposite of 29:46.

Since he presumes that the text of Scripture is corrupt, he can’t say “our God is your God.”

Moving along:

“The Quran no where states that what the Jews and Christians have in their hands is 100% authentic or reliable. Instead, the Quran directly deals with the theological beliefs propounded by the Christians and dismisses them. For instance, the divine sonship of Jesus (P) is denied by the Quran; the Trinity is denied; Jesus (P) being God is denied; the crucifixion is denied and other examples can be offered where certain Christian beliefs are denied by the Quran. Logically, if a person proclaims and affirms such beliefs, then he is wrong according to the Quran. Likewise, if a writing proclaims or affirms such beliefs, then it, and its author of course, is also wrong according to the Quran.”

Several problems:

i) The Koran makes conflicting claims about the Jews and the Christians.

ii) If Jesus wasn’t crucified, then he didn’t rise from the dead. So, in order to square the Bible with the Koran, Rambo would have to claim that all references to the Crucifixion and Resurrection were interpolated into the text of the NT sometime thereafter.

What is his text-critical and church-historical evidence for such an immensely ambitious conspiracy theory?

iii) Why couldn’t a Christian just as well allege that the original Koran taught the Crucifixion and Resurrection, deity of Christ, and Trinity, but it was later corrupted beyond all recognition?

iv) Why would the Koran oppose all these Christian dogmas unless they were already attested in the NT during the time of Muhammad?

Or is Rambo going to say that they just so happened to be attested in NT copies belonging to 7C Christians residing in the Hijaz, but were absent in all copies elsewhere?

“I do not know what precise books the Christians of Hijaz had in this period. Based on some of their beliefs, which are not to be found in canonical Christian writings, it seems likely they followed another book, or books. Nothing much can be said in this regard with much certainty.”

Even if, for the sake of argument, they included some apocryphal books in their canon, this hardly means that they also excluded such core documents as the four gospels or the letters of Paul.

Indeed, that’s where they would get the crucifixion, resurrection, Trinity, &c. A Gnostic canon would never have a crucifixion or resurrection.



Nonetheless, I took a moment or two to think about what Mr Hays said. According to him, and quite rightfully so, the Quran disagrees with many of the key Christian doctrines, such as the crucifixion for instance. It is likely that the writings of the Christians of Hijaz, whatever they may have been, affirmed at least the crucifixion. Therefore, ACCORDING TO THE QURAN, their writings were wrong just as the people affirming such beliefs were also wrong. Thus, the Quran does not endorse the textual integrity of any particular writing within the hands of the Jews and Christians. As such, Mr Hays was quite wrong to assert that we need to presuppose the “inspiration” of the New Testament writings because the Quran supposedly affirms it. This assertion is baseless. The Quran deals with the beliefs propounded by the Christians, which they obviously derived from their books and traditions, and rejects many of them outright.


Of course, this oversimplifies the Koranic data. On the one hand, early surahs affirm the Bible. On the other hand, later surahs disaffirm certain central Christian dogmas.

The only consistent explanation is that Muhammad was simply confused.

“Coming to his question, the textual corruption and lack of reliability of the Christian writings is very clearly suggested within the Quran from the fact that many of the doctrines and claims made within these writings are head on dismissed and rejected by the Quran. Therefore, logically speaking, the author would not accept as authentic and reliable any person who affirms his rejected doctrines or any book which affirms his rejected doctrines. I think this is quite logical.”

It’s only logical if Muhammad was consistent. But that is not a logical inference from the totality of the Koranic witness.

What is more logical is that Muhammad made mistaken claims about the Bible based on his garbled, hearsay knowledge of the Bible.

He was originally under the misimpression that what he was preaching was a republication of what the Jews and Christians already believed.

When, however, he began to encounter resistance from the Jews and the Christians, he was forced to backpedal.

And yet he couldn’t admit outright error without losing face.

“I see no such “tension.” What is certainly confirmed in totality within the Quran are the original revelations revealed by God, such as the Torah, Injeel and Zaboor, in their original form. While the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians may very well contain elements of the truth within them, they are no where said to be entirely authentic, correct and fully reliable.”

This is simply an ad hoc compromise. It has no textual basis in the Koran itself.

Rather, Rambo must manufacture extratextual distinctions and read them back into the Koran in order to save the reputation of his prophet.

“Mr. Hays may not like Prof. Ehrman and may even think of him as a very embodiment of Satan on earth…”

No, I don’t regard Bart Ehrman as the devil incarnate. For one thing, such a dramatic promotion would go to his head.

Ehrman is a stoolpigeon for the Old Serpent. On the Devil’s pay scale they come a dime a dozen.

More to the point, his attempt to cast serious doubt on the text of the NT has come in for sustained criticism from many quarters.

The SBC and Landmarkism-Part 4C

This section covers P.H. Mell and B.H. Carroll as examples of principled and public dissent from trustee boards. I chose these because their actions appear remarkably like the actions of Wade Burleson and others with respect to principled dissent on the IMB Board today. Note how very differently they were treated!

The text is here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hollyrock values

Regarding all them mean things said about a certain html-challenged T-blogger, I’ll have you know that I’m a proud citizen of the deep-dyed red state of Bedrock.

We Bedrockers resent your citified ways. We resent the way you treat Bedrock as flyover country while you zip around in your supersonic Pterodactyl.

We saw how your corrupted our cousin Link in Encino Man—what with your uppity, Hollyrock values and blue state bobbles.

We will resist the temptation of all them soul-killing boy-toys and newfangled gizmos you dangle before our deep-set eyes!

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These editing features rely heavily on javascript, and will hopefully work in more browsers as they are developed and enhanced. For example, Dave Hyatt (one of Safari's developers) blogged on July 3rd that an upcoming version of Safari will support rich HTML editing. When this is available, Blogger will support it.

The hyperlink button is only present in Internet Explorer 5.5/Windows and newer, as well as browsers based on Mozilla 1.3 or later(Camino/Firebird/etc.).

Southern Baptists and Landmarkism-Part 4B

This section covers John L. Dagg on Landmarkism.

You can find it here.

This section begins the polemic portion by way of introduction to the material. Part 4C will deal with principled dissent and the way it was handled in that era. Finally, on Friday, Part 5 will tie the historical material together for the modern reader.

Royal Rumble in Godblogdom

I see that Triablogue has hit the big time…sort of.

Well, as Mae West used to say, “it’s better to be looked over than overlooked!”

Now where can I go to cash in my 15 minutes of fame?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Irrational rationalism

This frightful dogma, this infinite lie, made me the implacable enemy of Christianity. The truth is that this belief in eternal pain has been the real persecutor. It founded the Inquisition, forged the chains, and furnished the fagots. It has darkened the lives of many millions. It made the cradle as terrible as the coffin. It enslaved nations and shed the blood of countless thousands. It sacrificed the wisest, the bravest and the best. It subverted the idea of justice, drove mercy from the heart, changed men to fiends and banished reason from the brain.

Like a venomous serpent it crawls and coils and hisses in every orthodox creed.

It makes man an eternal victim and God an eternal fiend. It is the one infinite horror. Every church in which it is taught is a public curse. Every preacher who teaches it is an enemy of mankind. Below this Christian dogma, savagery cannot go. It is the infinite of malice, hatred, and revenge.

Nothing could add to the horror of hell, except the presence of its creator, God.

While I have life, as long as I draw breath, I shall deny with all my strength, and hate with every drop of my blood, this infinite lie.

For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria. Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria.

What are all of us but self-reproducing robots? We have been put together by our genes and what we do is roam the world looking for a way to sustain ourselves and ultimately produce another robot—a child.

The argument of this book is that we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes.

We are survival machines--robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.

There is no spirit-driven life force, no throbbing, heaving, pullulating, protoplasmic, mystic jelly. Life is just bytes and bytes and bytes or digital information.

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.

If Ingersoll was the best-known atheist of the 19C, then Dawkins has inherited the mantle of Bertrand Russell as the best-known atheist of our own century.

Now, I juxtapose these two infidels to pose just one little question:

If Dawkins’ view of human nature is representative of contemporary secularism, then what, exactly, would be wrong with burning automata at the stake or consigning bacterial colonies to the everlasting bonfire?

Can you torture a computer? Can you abuse a bacterium?

Before an unbeliever launches into his latest tirade against whatever offends his delicately-calibrated, politically correct sensibilities in Scripture (e.g. hell, patriarchy, heterosexism), I’d like him to define what a human being is, according to the unsentimental definition of secular science (e.g. bacterial colony, blindly-programmed survival machine), and then explain to me how it's even possible to wrong a human being under that unforgiving definition.

Darwin's Nemesis


One slow afternoon in the late 1970s I [Michael Behe] was hanging out in my lab at the National Institutes of Health near Washington, DC, where I worked as a postdoctoral researcher investigating aspects of DNA structure. A fellow postdoc, Joanne Nickol, and I were chewing the fat about the bit questions: God, life, the universe—that sort of thing.

The course of Joanne’s and my conversation in the lab hit a little snag. Because we were taught biology well in parochial school, we both knew that the evidence for Darwinian evolution by natural selection was ultra strong. But when the topic turned to the origin of life she asked, “Well, what would you need to get the first cell?” “You’d need a membrane for sure,” said I. “And metabolism.” “Can't do without a genetic code,” said she, “and proteins.” At that point we stopped, looked at each other and, in unison, hollered “Naaaahh!” then we laughed and went back to work.

From a distance of years I notice three things about my conversation with Joanne. The first is the notion, widely accepted among scientists, that undirected physical laws started life, struck both of us—both well-trained young scientists who would be happy to accept it—as preposterous because of the many complicated preconditions necessary just to get things underway. Second, we apparently hadn’t given it much thought before then. And third, we both just shrugged it off and went back to work. I suppose we were thinking that even if we didn’t know how life started by natural processes, surely somebody must know. Or that somebody would figure it out before long. Or eventually. Or that it wasn’t important. Or something.


I volunteered to teach a seminar I called “Popular Arguments on Evolution.” After some preliminary pleasantries, one of the first questions I asked [the students] was, who here believes evolution is true? Every hand went up. Next question—what is evolution? Every hand went down.

I smiled to myself. It was then fairly easy to make the point that sometimes we believe in things—even important, fundamental concepts such as evolution—without having a good idea of what they are or what evidence supports and opposes them because we learn them from authority figures.

We would ask how, as was often the case, two authors could point to the exact same examples, such as the structure of the protein hemoglobin or the structure of the vertebrate eye, and use them to argue to completely opposite conclusions, as Denton and Dawkins did.

Darwin’s Nemesis, W. Dembski, ed. (IVP 2006), 40-41,43.


Southern Baptists and Landmarkism-Part 4A

Chapter 4 is quite long. I have therefore begun posting it in parts. Part 4 A is available today.

You may read it here.

Atheism in the balance

What are the major arguments for and against atheism? What are the major arguments for and against Christian theism? How do these arguments and counterarguments measure up? What are the strong points and weak points for each position?

I. Arguments for Atheism



II. Arguments against Atheism

i) Dualism

ii) I.D. theory

III. Arguments for Theism

A. Arguments for God

i) Cosmological

ii) Teleological

iii) Ontological

iv) Alethic

v) Modal

vi) Epistemic

vii) Moral

viii) Existential

B. Arguments for Scripture


i) Prophecy

ii) Typology

iii) Thaumaturgy

iv) Realism


i) Archeology

ii) Modern miracles

IV. Arguments against Theism

A. Arguments against God:


2.The problem of evil

3.Divine silence

4.Incoherence of theism

5. Euthyphro dilemma

6. Psychogenic origins

B. Arguments against Scripture:


i) Contradictions

ii) Immorality


i) Lack of historical evidence

ii) Contrary historical evidence

iii) Contrary scientific evidence

iv) Comparative mythology


There are positive as well as negative arguments for each position, although these overlap. If you only have two alternatives, then any argument against one is potentially an argument for the other.

But some arguments are relatively independent of the alternative(s).

The Christian worldview is dualistic, affirming the existence of two basic domains: mind and matter.

Mental entities include God, angels, demons, abstract objects, and discarnate souls. If materialism is true, then that automatically falsifies the Christian worldview, and vice versa.

In principle, an atheist can be a dualist or an idealist. But the standard paradigm is materialism.

Indeed, one reason that materialism is appealing to a secularist is because it leaves no room for Christian theism.

What are the major arguments for materialism?

i) Occam’s razor.

Materialism is a version of monism, and monism is simpler than dualism.

There are, however, a couple of basic problems with Occam’s razor:

a) The principle of parsimony is an empty norm. We can all agree with it, but to say that nature favors the shortest route, or that we shouldn’t multiply entities beyond necessity, is an otiose principle since you’d have to know what reality is in order to know if an explanation is more intricate than it needs to be.

So Occam’s razor is often wielded in a prejudicial or question-begging manner. If, indeed, matter is all there is, then Occam’s razor will rightly shave away a dualistic explanation. But if dualism is true, then it will cut into the flesh and bone.

Occam’s razor can never tell you what reality is like. It can only be applied to competing explanations of the same putative reality, where one materialistic explanation is more economical than another, or one dualistic explanation is more economical than another.

Occam’s razor can only apply within a given worldview. It cannot be used to choose between one worldview and another.

b) There is also a deceptive simplicity to materialism. A dualist will appeal to certain phenomena, such as abstract objects or mental properties.

A materialist will have to reinterpret this phenomenon consistent with materialism. He will try to internalize the phenomena by domesticating them.

But his explanation will be just as complicated as the dualist. Both sides have the same number of phenomena to account for.

A materialist will have to contrive a parallel explanation for the very same phenomena. So his alternative conceptual scheme will be just as intricate as dualism.

ii) Empiricism

There is, up to a point, a natural fit between science and empiricism. To the extent that science is dependent on observation, if we make sense-knowledge the source and standard of knowledge, then that tends to edge out supersensible objects of knowledge like God, angels, or the soul.

Of course, this result is only as strong as the argument for empiricism.

It is also possible for an empiricist such as Aquinas or Swinburne to argue for the existence of supersensible objects.

iii) The uniformity of nature

By definition, if nature is a uniform in the sense of being a closed system or seamless causal continuum, then that excludes the Christian worldview.

But this appeal assumes what it needs to prove.

It’s surprising how many unbelievers appeal to this principle. The only evidence for the uniformity of nature would be the history of human observation.

But that includes the argument from religious experience, including testimony to the occurrence of miracles, as well as the paranormal.

iv) The law of conservation

It is said that any miracle would introduce new energy into system, thus violating the law of conservation.

Likewise, if the mind causes the body, via the brain, to act in a certain manner, this would also violate the law of conservation, and for the very same reason.

There are several problems with this appeal:

a) Are the laws of nature descriptive or prescriptive and proscriptive?

b) All other things being equal, the law of conservation may hold firm, but to say that God is bound by natural law merely begs the question in favor of naturalism.

c) Since a supernatural agent or agency (God, angels, demons, and the soul) is not a physical force, it does not effect a change by means of any energy transfer.

v) The scientific method

This method privileges predictability. If certain conditions are met, a certain result will obtain. But miracles are unpredictable.

This is true, but beside the point. The scientific method is applicable when and where it’s applicable.

vi) The explanatory scope, power, and progress of science

On this view, phenomena which used to be attributed to supernatural agency have steadily retreated in the face of naturalistic explanations. Thus, any appeal to the supernatural is a stopgap.

This is a valid argument against a naïve form of supernaturalism. But it makes no dent in more astute versions:

a) The Christian worldview doesn’t deny, but generally affirms, an order of second-causes.

b) Science is successful where we’d expect science to succeed, in the manipulation of matter and energy, as well as the regime of ordinary providence.

But its area of success is by no means prejudicial to the supernatural realm.

vii) The correlation between mental and neural events

The naturalist will draw our attention to obvious points of correlation between mental states and neural states. From this he will deduce the causal dependence of the mind on the brain, and further deduce the identity of mental events with neural events. I’ll have more to say about this below.


i) An atheist will argue that evolution eliminates or undercuts the argument from design. Of course, that inference is only as good as the argument for evolution.

A Darwinian appeals to certain phenomena which he regards as evidence for evolution, viz. transitional forms, vestigial organs, suboptimal organs, comparative anatomy (homologies), comparative biochemistry (cognate DNA), atavism, artificial selection, biogeography, the cone of diversity, relative dating (superposition), absolute dating (radiometric dating).

There are many variables in play when sifting this data:

a) There are metascientific assumptions regarding the uniformity of nature which one must postulate to justify a linear extrapolation from the present into the distant past.

This tends to beg the question in favor of evolution at key junctures in the debate.

b) Because the creation/evolution debate is so interdisciplinary, no one man is competent to assess all the evidence.

c) Between (a)-(b), this is a theory with many moving parts. It is, as such, vulnerable to attack on several different fronts.

d) And what, moreover, is a layman to think when the experts disagree? To take a couple of examples, there was a ferocious debate between Gould and Dawkins over the correct model of evolution.

Now, while both sides would vehemently deny that theory of evolution itself was open to debate, yet how do you account for the intensity of the debate unless both sides felt that the theory of evolution was threatened by the competing alternative?

Likewise, Dembski or Behe or Meyer or Wells will write a book in which they appear to poke holes in naturalistic evolution.

A Darwinian will then pen a scathing review in which he appears to poke holes in the book.

Dembski, et al. will then pen a detailed rejoinder in which they appear to poke holes in the review.

And so it goes, round and round. The “winner” is the last writer you read.

There are also gifted critics of evolution who have no alternative theory or religious agenda. They simply think that evolution is bunk, and it’s better to have no answer than to insist on a bad answer. Junk the theory and wait for a better alternative.

ii) An indirect argument for evolution comes from materialism.

If materialism is true, then you need no direct evidence for evolution. Evolution is the default position of materialism, for if materialism is, indeed, true, then something close to evolution had to happen to account for the origin and diversity of life.

Of course, this inference is only as strong as the argument for evolution.

iii) Evolutionary theory can also be deployed to argue against Cartesian dualism. Man is just a higher animal, and consciousness is an emergent property which has a physical origin in a naturalistic process.

Once again, this inference is only as strong as the argument for evolution.

But one ironic consequence of evolutionary epistemology is how quickly it leads to extreme skepticism.

A fine example is eliminative materialism. This is a logical extension of naturalized epistemology.

And yet it’s denial of our mental life amounts to an argument ad impossibile for naturalism and naturalistic evolution.


Arguments for dualism serve as counterarguments to materialism.

a) This would include arguments for the irreducibility of abstract objects to a physicalist framework.

b) This would also include arguments for the irreducibility of some or all mental properties to a physicalist framework, viz. consciousness, qualia, privacy, intentionality, personal identity, self-presenting states.

For some fine online resources, cf.:'sReviewOfKim%20(PC%207.2-463-473).pdf

2.Intelligent Design theory

At present, I.D. theory is the leading challenger and rival to the throne of naturalistic evolution. Some I.D. theorists are opposed to evolution, per se, while others are opposed to naturalistic evolution, while remaining open to theistic evolution.

Obviously, these counterarguments are only as good as the supporting arguments for dualism (see above) and I.D. theory:

3.Theistic Arguments

Over the centuries, many arguments have been devised for the existence of God. I’ve reviewed some of the better arguments here:

4.Arguments for Scripture

In addition to the somewhat generic arguments for the existence of God, there are also arguments for the self-revelation of God in Scripture.

A. These include lines of internal evidence, such as the argument from prophecy and typology. By “typology” I mean the thematic progression and convergence of otherwise disparate theological motifs as we arrive at the NT.

Unbelievers have different ways of responding to this line of argument.

a) One contention is that NT writers quote the OT out of context.

b) Another contention is that OT or NT “prophecies” are really vaticinia ex eventu (prophecies after the fact).

This involves redating a book of the Bible.

Christians will respond to (a) and (b) individually.

But one of the interesting features of the liberal reply is the relation between (a) and (b). For these two arguments cancel each other out.

If an unbeliever is going to redate a book of the Bible so that its “prophecies” are actually vaticinia ex eventu, then there’s no need to say the Bible writer also quoted the prophecy out of context.

If a Bible writer were writing after the fact, then why would he quote a prophecy out of context when he is free to fabricate the context in which it is fulfilled and thereby make the “fulfillment” flawlessly dovetail with the prediction?

So either he’s writing before the outcome, in which case it’s not a vaticinium ex eventu; or else he’s writing after the outcome, in which case he’s has no motive to quote it out of context.

ii) Another argument is the argument from miracles.

a) On this face of it, this may seem to be a weak argument. After all, if an unbeliever disbelieves the Bible, he will disbelieve the Biblical record of miracles. So this appeal seems, at best, circular.

At worst, his chief reason for disbelieving the Bible is its miraculous claims. Many unbelievers regard Hume’s attack as definitive.

At yet the argument is not that simple.

b) It isn’t enough to deny the account. An unbeliever must offer an alternative explanation for why Bible writers and those they write about believed in miracles. After all, this is said to be based on eyewitness observation or eyewitness testimony.

c) Likewise, why should we be prepared to believe people when they tell us about natural events, but be unprepared to believe them when they tell us about supernatural events?

Why does an otherwise reliable eyewitness or reporter suddenly become unreliable as soon as he changes the subject?

iii) Many believers also are also impressed by the psychological realism of Scripture. The saints and sinners of Scripture all act in ways we can relate to were we in their situation.

And these are not stock storybook characters, but have an unmistakable individuality. Clearly we are reading about real people in real situations, saying and doing what we would do under the very same circumstances.

B. In addition to the internal lines of evidence there are external lines of evidence.

i) These include archeological confirmation, as well as:

ii) Modern miracles, such as amazing answers to Christian prayer or other providential events of divine deliverance and healing.

Critics frequently counter the second move by pointing charlatans or cases of unanswered prayer.

However, the existence of a charlatan no more undercuts a miraculous healing that the existence of a quack undercuts medical science.

Likewise, cases of answered and unanswered prayer are not symmetrical, just as a nonevent does nothing to negate an event.

5.Atheistic Arguments.

The unbeliever may parry theistic arguments with atheistic arguments. These include:

i) Ignosticism.

Some unbelievers claim that God-talk is literally meaningless. Talk of discarnate agency is simply a negation of human experience. As such, all God-talk is vacuous. It has no positive content. It merely takes something we know, then empties it of any concrete content. God is said to be “timeless” or “immaterial.”

This objection is only convincing if you subscribe to a form of radical empiricism. So, in order to make good on this objection an unbeliever would have his own burden of proof. He would need to mount a supporting argument for radical empiricism and successfully rebut counterarguments to his theory of knowledge.

For example, one well-known philosopher (Norman Malcolm) denied that we had a dream life since dreams, as private rather than public phenomena, would be unverifiable.

ii) The problem of evil

This may have become the most popular objection to God’s existence.

a) Our theodicy is indexed to our theological tradition. So, for instance, a libertarian will offer the freewill defense.

By contrast, a supralapsarian Calvinist will say that God foreordained the fall as a means to a second-order good.

So it’s not as if the Christian has no answer to the problem of evil.

b) Another problem with this argument is that many unbelievers are amoral inasmuch as deny moral absolutes. Hence, they are in no position to distinguish between good and evil in order to get their argument off the ground.

iii) Divine silence

Another objection which is gaining popularity takes unbelief self-warranting.

If God exists, he should make his existence so evident that there would be no unbelievers.

As with the problem of evil, the answer will turn on your theological tradition.

For a Calvinist, the phenomenon of atheism or idolatry is not only consistent with reprobation and the noetic effects of sin, but an implication of Reformed dogma.

iv) Incoherence of theism

An unbeliever may contend that the divine attributes are mutually incompatible or generate paradoxical consequences.

This objection can only be addressed on a case-by-case basis. But, as a general matter, it’s a straw man argument because the atheist defines in divine attributes in very artificial, unqualified terms.

v) The Euthyphro Dilemma

To paraphrase Socrates: Does God will it because it’s good, or is it good because he wills it?

If the former, then morality is ontologically independent of God; if the latter, then morality is an arbitrary fiat.

One problem with this argument is that it’s rather culture-bound. For the dilemma is generated by the limited conceptual resources of a pagan Greek philosopher. Whether this can be carried over to Christian theism is a very different question.


vi) Psychogenic origins

Since the days of Freud, Feuerbach, Marx, and Durkheim, faith has been explained away as either a psychological projection or else a result of social conditioning.

But there are several problems with this contention:

a) It’s a double-bladed sword, for it can be turned against the atheist with equal ease.

b) It’s a sweeping overgeneralization which cannot do justice to the diversity and particularity of religious faith.

c) The Bible doesn’t deny that there’s such a thing as wishful thinking. Indeed, the Bible regards idolatry as Exhibit A of fallen man’s decadent imagination.

6.Arguments against Scripture.

A. Internal objections

Just as there are internal and external lines of evidence for Scripture, the atheist will mount internal and external objections to Scripture:

i) Contradictions.

The unbeliever will allege that Scripture is self-contradictory.

As with the incoherence of theism, this is a charge which can only be rebutted on a case-by-case basis.

But, as a general matter, this is also a straw man argument because the unbeliever imposes on Scripture a very wooden and extrinsic standard of accuracy, disregarding the literary idioms, conventions, and genres of Scripture.

ii) Immorality

Unbeliever often attack the Bible because they take offense at the value-system of Scripture, viz. hell, holy war, patriarchy, heterosexism, slavery, &c.

But there are several problems with this line of attack:

i) Insofar as many unbelievers subscribe to moral relativism, they lack a moral platform from which to launch an attack on the value-system of Scripture.

ii) Even if they had such a value system of their own, all they’ve done is to beg the question by assuming that they are right, and Scripture is wrong. They take their own framework for granted, and then proceed to foist that unquestioned datum onto the Bible. This is truth by imposition rather than argument.

iii) One cannot fail to notice that what they find offensive in Scripture is a mirror-image of the reigning academic fad. As such, they merely advertise their bondage to radical chic social conditioning.

iv) Their objections often have no logical basis in their own worldview. For example, there’s no scientific reason why a Darwinian should believe in homosexual rights or transgender rights.

Indeed, it’s not without reason that Darwinians used to subscribe to social Darwinism, until that went out of fashion. Political correctness changes from one generation to the next. But the social Darwinians had logic on their side, give the operating premise.

B. External objections

An unbeliever may raise a number of external objections to the Bible as well:

i) Lack of historical evidence

This is an argument from silence.

a) In that regard it’s very revealing that unbelievers reject the argument from religious experience, and yet they often base their atheism on an argument from religious inexperience.

Unless they can have a personal experience of the supernatural, they won’t believe in it. So there’s a double standard in how they deploy the argument from silence.

b) Moreover, experience and inexperience are not on an epistemic par. Inexperience does not negate experience. Inevidence does not negate evidence.

The absence of evidence is not equivalent to having positive evidence against something.

ii) Contrary historical evidence

Unbelievers may contend that the record of Scripture is contradicted by extrascriptural evidence.

To this, several things need to be said:

a) Conflicting evidence for x does nothing to negate the evidence for y. So even if our sources were to differ on what part of the record, that’s irrelevant to the points of agreement.

b) At most, conflicting evidence would only go to show that one (or both) of our sources is wrong. Taken by itself, it doesn’t point in any particular direction.

c) Because much of our archeological evidence is mute, there can be uncertainties in the identification of a certain site or individual with a proper name or place name in Scripture.

d) It is much easier to account for a coincidental disagreement than it is to account for a coincidental corroboration.

There are many reasons why two sources might differ or appear to differ—consistent with the reliability of one or even both sources.

But independent corroboration is difficult to square with an unhistorical account.

iii) Contrary scientific evidence

The unbeliever may say that Scripture has been falsified by modern science. Paradigm-cases are the creation account and the flood account.

There is obviously a vast literature on both sides of the debate. For now I’ll make a few quick comments:

a) Regarding the creation account, unbelievers generally disregard the internal implications of creation ex nihilo. They don’t bother to ask what such a world would look like.

Instead, they simply say that our world wouldn’t resemble Gen 1 given the natural processes postulated by modern science.

But that fails to engage the inner logic of the text, where a very different mechanism is in view.

b) Regarding the flood account, unbelievers generally judge the narrative by contemporary, postdiluvial conditions, extrapolating back in time to the prediluvian setting.

In this regard, the flood account is inconsistent with certain anachronistic, extratextual assumptions which are interpolated into the text, without any generic connection to the narrative viewpoint of the original text.

c) The scientific “evidence” is often theory-laden evidence, so the evidentiary appeal is viciously circular.

d) Oftentimes the unbeliever will operate with a tacit philosophy of scientific realism, which, in turn, depends on direct realism.

More often than not, no effort is made to defend either proposition.

e) Yet another problem is that without a doctrine of divine creation and providence, the unbeliever has no principled grounds for the reliability of induction or the laws of nature.


iv) Comparative mythology

An unbeliever may say that Scripture is mythological because it’s comparable to world mythology.

This objection is problematic on several grounds:

a) At one level, it’s the polar opposite of the argument from silence. Instead of saying there are no extrabiblical parallels, in which case the Bible writer concocted the story whole cloth, we told that there are extrabiblical parallels, in which case the Bible writer plagiarized the story whole cloth.

This is a good example of the double standard employed by unbelievers. The absence of parallels disproves the Bible while the presence of parallels also disproves the Bible!

b) All this comparison amounts to is the common denominator of a supernatural outlook. So the objection boils down to the circular contention that what makes mythology mythological is the supernatural element; Scripture contains a supernatural element; hence, Scripture is mythological; hence, Scripture is unbelievable because we don’t believe in the supernatural, and we don’t believe in the supernatural because it’s mythological.

This argument makes all the progress of a kitten chasing its own tail.

c) The alleged “parallels” rarely get beyond name-dropping or tendentious summaries. Never direct, verbatim quotes from the primary sources.

Up close, the parallels dissolve under the spotlight: