Apostate Paul Tobin has posted a reply to TID. Like a typical apostate, he continues to define himself by the Christian faith. He still lives in the shadow of the church, only now he pelts the stained-glass windows with rocks.
Apostates have nothing to live for. Nothing better. Nothing half as good. So their only purpose in life is to attack their former faith. It helps them to pass the time. While away the boredom of their vapid existence.
I’m going to quote some of his statements more than once to make different points.
I. “Modern” Scholarship
The main thesis of my original article in the book The Christian Delusion is that the fundamentalist/evangelical position on the Bible is not reflected by modern mainstream Biblical scholarship, historical research and near eastern archaeology. Before proceeding with the detailed response below I would like to make two general observations.
Firstly, given my thesis, it is quite strange to see that the “rebuttals” are based mainly on quotations from evangelical scholars and publications with frequent references to my not “interacting” with “evangelical scholarship.” An important point of my article in the book, and something I will continue to emphasize below, is that evangelical scholarship is not mainstream and not supported by a consensus of scholars who do not hold the same pre-suppositional biases.
There are several problems with this set-up:
1. In his addendum, he said, “I have argued that the evangelical belief in biblical inspiration cannot be defended in light of modern scholarship” (169).
But how is he in any position to claim victory if he constantly runs away from evangelical answers to his objections? It’s not as if evangelical scholars simply ignore what “critical/mainstream” scholarship has to say. They read what the liberals have to say, and they present counterarguments.
2.That’s not how he introduced his thesis in TCD. Here is what he actually said:
Most Christians claim they have a reasoned faith. This faith claim is based on the Bible being the word of God in some meaningful sense. But modern scholarship has shown us that the canonical Bible:
i) Is inconsistent with itself,
ii) Is not supported by archaeology,
iii) Contains fairy tales
iv) Contains failed prophecies, and
v) Contains many forgeries.
Given all this, the Bible cannot be considered an inspired–“God breathed–document. Rather it seems to be written by a superstitious people who were creating God in their image, as Ludwig Feuerbach charged. Therefore Christianity is not a reasoned faith. It cannot stand up to critical scrutiny (148).
Notice that he originally cast his thesis in chronological terms. “Modern” scholarship has alleged disproven the inspiration of Scripture. The insinuation seems to be that Christians traditionally believed in the inspiration of Scripture because they didn’t know any better. But modernity has discovered disconfirmatory evidence. So his thesis seems to turn on a contrast between past knowledge and present knowledge.
Yet in response to me, he’s using “modern” as if that were “synonymous” with “mainstream.” But, of course, that’s non-sensical. 20-21C evangelical and fundamentalist scholars are just as modern as 20-21C “mainstream” scholars. We’re dealing with contemporaries.
So unless he’s using “modern” as an idiosyncratic synonym for “modernism,” to denote to denote a particular mindset, his contrast between “modern” scholarship and evangelical/fundamentalist scholarship is bogus.
2. In addition, Tobin is simply a contributor to TCD. But the TCD reflects the editorial agenda of John Loftus. As Loftus says in the introduction to TCD:
As the editor of this book I envisioned it as an extension of my previous one, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008), which I think of as important background reading for the chapters in this one, although you don’t need to read it in order to understand and benefit from this present book (15).
In addition, it’s not as if John Loftus has a hidden agenda:
I can, and I do argue against mainline and even Catholic Christianity. It's just not my focus. My focus is on fundamentalism because the majority of Christians believe the "literal" passages in the Bible, and because they have a zeal for pressing their views upon me through economic and political power. Liberals are not that much of a threat, period. They do not blindly accept what they read in the Bible, and that's being more reasonable than fundamentalists, who have a Bible verse for every problem, intellectual or social. I can agree with liberals on this, so why bother with them? My goal is to dislodge the evangelical Christian off of center.
And that agenda is clearly on display in TCD. TCD doesn’t target theologically moderate to liberal Bible scholars like Dale Allison, Brevard Childs, Craig A. Evans, Joseph Fitzmyer, Robert Jewett, Luke Timothy Johnson, John Meier. It doesn’t target center-left theologians like Alister McGrath, Richard Swinburne, Keith Ward, or Rowan Williams.
No, TCD concentrates its fire on conservative evangelicals, with special reference to inerrancy. So the title of the TCD is a misnomer. It should really be called The Evangelical Delusion, or the Inerrancy Delusion.
Tobin tacks on a token reply to liberals at the end of his essays, but that’s a tertiary target, both in reference to his own essay and the TCD as a whole.
How can Tobin show that conservative Evangelicals are “deluded” if he refuses to interact with Evangelical scholarship? Tobin raises stereotypical objections to the inerrancy of Scripture which evangelical Bible scholars regularly address. By dodging direct engagement the counterargument, Tobin leaves the counterargument intact. You can’t disprove the opposing position if to you act as though responding to their counterarguments is simply beneath you.
And this is not a problem for my position. Rather, that’s a problem for his position. His failure to press the charge home.
It’s like a rag-tag army that marches up to a fortified city, stands there declaring victory and demanding our unconditional surrender. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but we’re not going to open the city gates without a fight. You need to defeat us.
II. Proof By Quotation
Firstly, given my thesis, it is quite strange to see that the “rebuttals” are based mainly on quotations from evangelical scholars and publications…
The reason I respond to Tobin by quoting scholars to the contrary is that I’m answering him on his own level. His idea of proof is to simply cite or quote “mainstream” scholars or “critical” scholars. That’s his idea of evidence. The sheer opinion of a “mainstream” scholar counts as evidence. Just bare conclusions. He rarely gives a supporting argument.
That’s his modus operandi in TCD, and that’s his modus operandi in response to TID. It’s a tendentious appeal to authority.
In the same vein, he chides me for referring the reader to footnoted literature, but that, too, is standard operating procedure for Tobin.
III. Truth By Definition
Embedded within these rebuttals are quotations from “scholars” who still believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch…
The main thesis of my original article in the book The Christian Delusion is that the fundamentalist/evangelical position on the Bible is not reflected by modern mainstream Biblical scholarship, historical research and near eastern archaeology.
Firstly, given my thesis, it is quite strange to see that the “rebuttals” are based mainly on quotations from evangelical scholars and publications with frequent references to my not “interacting” with “evangelical scholarship.” An important point of my article in the book, and something I will continue to emphasize below, is that evangelical scholarship is not mainstream and not supported by a consensus of scholars who do not hold the same pre-suppositional biases.
Any “research” done seems to be based purely on evangelical and fundamentalist works –filled with speculations and guesses for which little or no evidence is provided.
The main point is this, no serious (i.e. non evangelical) scholar today considers the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 to be anything more than different creation myths “cut and pasted” together by a later scribe to form an uneasy narrative.
I can continue to quote various scholars ad nauseam, but the point, I think, is made. Scholars who respect the methodology of historical research (which, unfortunately, exclude most evangelical scholars) are generally in agreement about the uneasy contradiction which exists between the epistle of James and the epistles of Paul.
In his rebuttal of the obvious anachronism of the reference to “Ur of the Chaldees” that I pointed out in my article, Hays simply quoted the opinion of an evangelical scholar (Duane Garrett)
In his attempt to rebut the anachronism of calling Abimalech “king of the Philistines”, Hays actually quoted an evangelical who still believes that Moses wrote the Pentateuch! No serious Biblical scholar today takes such a position.
Next Hays turned to my comments about the anachronism of the references to camels in the patriarchal narratives. Outside fundamentalist/evangelical circles, the anachronism of the references to domesticated camels during the time of Abraham and Joseph is, more or less, a settled issue.
The one non-evangelical work Hays cites is Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt published by Oxford University Press. Archaeologists do not consider the case Hoffmeier is making to be particularly strong. This is what William Dever has to say on Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt.
Here Hays accuses me of not interacting with “standard scholarship” on the issue of the historicity of the Exodus and the Conquest. Yet all the references he sites (notes 47 & 48), with one exception, are from evangelical publishers! How is this “standard scholarship”??
In response to my noting the conflicting messages of the epistles of James and Paul, Hays (as in (2) above) has merely resorted to citing an evangelical scholar who thinks that the epistles of James and Paul were not in conflict. That does not really solve anything though, since I can equally site [sic] many critical historical scholars who think differently.
Hays suggestion – which he referenced from yet another evangelical author…
Note also that Hay’s “rebuttal” amounts to nothing more than asserting an evidentially unsupported speculation. Hays quoted his evangelical “scholar” as saying…
Not only has he ignored the references from mainstream scholarship that I provided…
See a pattern?
1. Tobin is trying to win the argument by definition. Define his position as the true position. He doesn’t have to refute the arguments of evangelical scholars. It’s sufficient to merely classify which scholars are “mainstream” and which are “evangelical” or “fundamentalist.”
By definition, real scholars are “mainstream” scholars or “scholars.” By definition, evangelical/fundamentalist scholars aren’t “serious” scholars. Indeed, we should put “scholar” in scare quotes whenever we refer to evangelical/fundamentalist scholars. By definition, “standard” scholarship is non-evangelical.
He talks about evangelicals and fundamentalists the way a Klansman talks about the “darkies.”
He takes “mainstream/critical” scholarship for granted as the standard of comparison. But, of course, that begs the question. A polemical book like TCD needs to make a case of whatever controversial methods and assumptions it employs. It can’t show that Christian faith is delusive by stipulating the rules of evidence.
His appeal to “mainstream” scholarship is an argument from authority. But he hasn’t given the reader a good reason to treat “mainstream” scholars as authority-figures.
2. Notice how he sets up a false dichotomy between “archeologists” and James Hoffmeier. You’d never know from his statement that Hoffmeier is, himself, a seasoned field archeologist.
3. Observe his circular definition of consensus. The only consensus that counts is “mainstream” opinion. Evangelical dissent doesn’t reflect a lack of consensus, for he uses a selective definition of consensus which limits the referent whoever agrees with Tobin.
4. Another obvious problem with such trusting appeals to critical consensus is that today’s critical consensus differs from yesterday’s critical consensus, as well as tomorrow’s critical consensus.
5. Yet another problem with his appeal to “consensus” is that it gives the lie to his appeal to “evidence.” For consensus is a sociological phenomenon rather than an evidentiary datum. The standard for consensus is correspondence with what other people believe rather than correspondence with the facts.
6. If, by this own admission, the dividing line is ultimately presuppositional rather than evidentiary (i.e. “presuppositional bias”), then that’s the very first thing he needs to discuss and defend.
7. What does he mean by the “methodology of historical research?” Is that a tendentious euphemism for methodological naturalism, a la Troeltsch? Is so, then he needs to make a case for his naturalistic historiography. That’s not something he can posit as a fait accompli. And he needs to do that in TCD. If not there, he needs to do that in response to TID.
8. And if a naturalistic historiography is his touchstone, then this also gives the lie to his evidentiary appeals–for in that event he is not allowing the evidence to speak for itself. Rather, he is speaking to the evidence. He is telling the evidence what it may or may not say.
9. Babinski, Tobin’s co-contributor quotes “evangelical” scholars to help make his case for the “primitive” cosmology of the Bible. But according to Tobin, evangelical scholars aren’t “serious” scholars. So we have to choose between Tobin’s chapter and Babinski’s chapter. Which one should we jettison?
IV. Is “Mainstream” Scholarship the Gold Standard?
In lieu of a real argument, Tobin constantly falls back on authoritarian appeals to “mainstream” scholarship. But if that’s the standard, then, as Jason Engwer already pointed out, a lot of atheistic scholarship is decidedly substandard.
i) For instance, so-contributor Robert Price relishes his self-appointed role as the bête noire of mainstream scholarship. He (and Richard Carrier) contributed to The God Who Wasn't There: A Documentary Asserting that Jesus Christ Never Existed, which hardly represents “mainstream scholarship.”
Price’s iconoclastic espousal of radical Dutch criticism hardly represents the critical mainstream:
Likewise, Price’s parallelomania hardly represent “mainstream” scholarship. As James Dunn exclaimed, “Gosh! So there are still serious scholars who put forward the view that the whole account of Jesus’ doings and teachings are a later myth foisted on an unknown, obscure historical figure,” “A Response to Robert Price,” J. Beilby & P. Eddy, The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP 2009), 94.
ii) Then there’s co-contributor Richard Carrier. In TCD, does his opinion that Mark’s Gospels “was not even written as history, but as a deliberate myth” (303) represent “mainstream” scholarship? And what about his other imaginative theories on pp303-04? Is that “mainstream”?
For that matter, isn’t Carrier pretty contemptuous of modern scholarship in NT studies?
Many issues I thought were cut-and-dried are actually mired in complexity, and my research in these areas has absorbed far more time than it should have. The two most annoying examples of this (though not the only ones) are in dating the contents of the New Testament and identifying their authorship and editorial history. There is no consensus on either, even though standard references (like Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, and The New Interpreter's Bible) tend to give the impression there is. Even when acknowledging some disagreements, they do not accurately convey the shear number of disagreements and the complexity of determining their relative merits.
In other words, not only is there no consensus, but there are dozens of positions, and arguments for each are elaborate and vast. It was only after over a month of wasting countless hours attempting to pursue these matters to some sort of condensable conclusion that I realized this was a fool's errand. I have changed strategy and will attempt some sort of broader, simpler approach to the issues occupying my chapter on this, though exactly what that will be I am still working out. It will involve, however, a return to what historians actually do in other fields, which New Testament scholars seem to have gotten away from in their zeal to make sense of data that's basically screwed in every conceivable way. For when it comes to establishing the basic parameters of core documents, I have never met the kind of chaos I've encountered in this field in any other subfield of ancient history I've studied. Elsewhere, more often than not, either the matter is settled, or no one pretends it is.
Now sure, everything above can be debated endlessly. But an endless debate on one detail, multiplied by a dozen details, multiplied by a dozen problems, multiplied by a dozen documents (since the Gospels aren't the only vexations among early Christian documents, not by a longshot), you end up with nearly two thousand endless debates. Even supposing you can fit an eternity into a day and thus nail a conclusion on any one point in under ten hours, ahem, two thousand days still works out to more than seven years (as you'll surely be taking weekends off at least--to drink yourself into a stupor, if nothing else). And at the end of it, you have perhaps only a few pages to show for it all, since that's all that will be needed to summarize your conclusions regarding the basic facts of your evidence before moving on to the actual topic of your book. A handful of pages. Which took seven years of soul-crushing tedium to compose.
The field of New Testament studies needs to get its house in order. Until it does, I'll have to do without what I can normally rely upon in other fields: well-supported conclusions (or a ready consensus on the range of conclusions possible) on the most fundamental issues of evidence.
V. False Dichotomy
i) Tobin sets up a false dichotomy between “mainstream” scholarship and “evangelical” scholarship. Of course, Tobin’s operational definition of what’s out-of-the-mainstream is anything to the right of Tobin. But even on his own terms, how does he determine what represents the “mainstream” position or the “consensus” position. Does he have polling data from seminaries, divinity schools, and professional associations which provide a statistical breakdown of where contemporary Bible scholars range along the theological spectrum? Let’s see him crunch some numbers.
It also generates a potential dilemma. For what if “mainstream” scholarship merges with “evangelical” scholarship? At that point, Tobin will find himself stranded on beachhead during a rising tide. Indeed, one prominent critic is deeply alarmed by that very development:
My focus is the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), the main organization for Biblical scholarship in North America. In recent years it has changed its position on the relationship between faith and reason in the study of the Bible. I think that it has forgotten the lessons of both Pascal and Spinoza, and is falling into a confused domain of dissension and hypocrisy. The problem, as I understand it, has to do with money.
SBL used to share its annual meeting with the major American organizations for Near Eastern archaeology (the American Schools of Oriental Research, ASOR) and for the study of religion (the American Association of Religion, AAR). But due to petty disputes among the leaders of these groups, ASOR and AAR have dissolved their links with SBL. In order to keep up its numbers at its annual meeting, SBL has reached out to evangelical and fundamentalist groups, promising them a place within the SBL meeting. So instead of distinguished academic organizations like ASOR and AAR in the fold, we now have fundamentalist groups like the Society of Pentecostal Studies and the Adventist Society for Religious Studies as our intimate partners. These groups now hold SBL sessions at the annual meeting. The participation of these and other groups presumably boosts attendance—and SBL’s income—to previous levels.
The problem is that the SBL has loosened its own definition of Biblical scholarship, such that partisan attacks of this type are now entirely valid. When I learned of the new move to include fundamentalist groups within the SBL, I wrote to the director and cited the mission statement in the SBL’s official history: “The object of the Society is to stimulate the critical investigation of the classical biblical literatures.”3 The director informed me that in 2004 the SBL revised its mission statement and removed the phrase “critical investigation” from its official standards. Now the mission statement is simply to “foster biblical scholarship.” So critical inquiry—that is to say, reason—has been deliberately deleted as a criterion for the SBL. The views of creationists, snake-handlers and faith-healers now count among the kinds of Biblical scholarship that the society seeks to foster.
VI. The Argument from Silence
As Christopher Hitchens so succinctly puts it- “That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
That’s very quotable, but what does it mean, exactly?
i) To take one example, we don’t have any specific evidence that most folks in antiquity ever existed. The hoi polloi never made it onto monumental inscriptions. Classical historians don’t have a habit of naming slaves and peasants. We don’t have marked graves for most people who lived and died. Or birth certificates. Or death certificates. So should we conclude that the human population was limited to those individuals for whom we have specific archeological evidence?
ii) And suppose we measure Tobin’s claims by his own yardstick? Most of the time he doesn’t give us supporting evidence for his claims. All we get are quotes from his favorite liberal “scholars.” And he doesn’t quote their arguments (assuming they have any). He simply quotes their say-so.
Secondly, most of the “rebuttals” amount to no more than suggesting or speculating other possible explanations than the ones I have presented. This is something I have pointed out in my book The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager (pp. 212-214) Evangelicals seems to have difficulty understanding the difference between the concepts of possibility and probability- just because an hypothesis is possible does not mean it is the most probable explanation for something…Simply providing an alternative hypothesis, without providing any evidence or argument, proves nothing.
i) One of Tobin’s problems is the way he illicitly converts the absence of evidence into counterevidence. He acts as if the absence is evidence is just a different kind of evidence: evidence to the contrary.
But lack of evidence doesn’t point in any particular direction. His chronic reliance on the argument from silence is an invitation to speculate. Evidence rules out certain possibilities. In the absence of evidence, we are left with various logically consistent ways to fill the gap. The absence of evidence doesn’t point in one direction rather than another.
ii) He also confuses lack of evidence with the lack of corroborating evidence. Yet Scripture itself is testimonial evidence for various events. So it’s not as if we’re starting from zero.
iii) An argument from silence can be persuasive if there’s reason to expect a certain type of evidence. That’s something which Tobin needs to argue on a case-by-case basis.
iv) When I reviewed The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, a few years ago, the contributors to that work resorted to any alternative explanation, however far-fetched, to deny the resurrection of Christ.
VII. Sifting the Evidence
1. Primary & Secondary Sources
In addition to Tobin’s misuse of the argument from silence, there is also his token appeal to the “evidence.” He likes to talk about the evidence against Scripture. But he’s better at telling than showing. He uses “evidence” as a euphemism for quoting his favorite liberal “scholars.” But if he’s going to make a big deal about the evidence, then secondary sources don’t count as evidence. He needs to show us the primary sources which allegedly contradict Bible history. What he’s giving us is not the actual evidence, but a summary or reconstruction from his favorite liberal “scholars.”
If he’s going to complain about my quoting scholars in support of my position, then he needs to do better, right? If he can quote scholars, I can quote scholars.
2. The Loftus Standard
Apropos (1), Tobin must, in consistency, apply the same standard to his extrabiblical historical sources as he does to the Biblical historical sources. According to Loftus, ancient history is a poor medium of communication. “If God chose to reveal himself in history, then he chose a very poor medium to do so.”
But, of course, that claim, if true, isn’t limited to Bible history. Rather, that applies to ancient history in general.
Indeed, atheists like Loftus assurance us that ancient people were backward and superstitious. That’s why we can’t trust the testimonial evidence of Scripture. For Bible writers shared the same primitive, superstitious views as their contemporaries.
So Tobin’s chapter cancels out the chapter by Loftus, or vice versa. Which one should we jettison?
3. The Carrier Standard
In TCD, Carrier lays down the following criteria for judging the Gospels: “Your doubts become stronger when you can’t question the witnesses; when you don’t even know who they are; when you don’t have the story from them but from someone else entirely; when there is an agenda…we don’t know who really wrote them, or when, or where…That’s what we don’t know. What we do know is that the Gospels were written with an agenda…We have no way of knowing what got added to the version we now have in the Bible…The existence of improbabilities, contradictions, propaganda, evident fictions, forgeries and interpolations, and legendary embellishments in them has been exhaustively discussed in modern literature…We can’t trust our sources, and we have no idea who their sources were or how faithful they were to them. We have no eyewitness accounts… (TCD, chap. 11).
But, oddly enough, I don’t find Tobin asking these same questions of the ancient historical sources he cites (laundered through his favorite scholars) in opposition to Scripture.
Before Tobin is in any position to invoke his ancient extrabiblical sources as the benchmark for measuring Bible history, he needs to run them through the Carrier filter:
i) Identify the sources. What is he referring to? Writings? Inscriptions? Coins? Pottery? Graffiti?
If his sources are literary, what’s the genre?
ii) What’s the date of the source? By what methods did you arrive at the source?
iii) Who wrote the source? Was the author an eyewitness? If he claims to be an eyewitness, how does Tobin verify that claim?
iv) Conduct an séance to interrogate the ancient eyewitness. We can’t trust an ancient eyewitness whom we can’t even question.
v) Does the source have an agenda? Is the source propagandistic?
vi) What sources did the writer use? How faithful was he to his own sources?
vii) How many recensions did the source pass through?
viii) Does the source reflect a superstitious outlook, viz. attributing the success or failure of a military campaign to the gods?
VIII. Evidentiary Duplicity
On the one hand, Tobin denies that certain Biblical events ever happened unless we have corroborating evidence. On the other hand, when we have an event like Noah’s flood, where we also have Mesopotamian flood traditions (Atrahasis, Sumerian King List, Epic of Gilgamesh, Erdu Genesis) which corroborate the historicity of the event, he turns around and cites that supporting material as if it somehow undermines the Biblical account.
So in reality, he has a “heads I win/tails you lose” evidentiary standard. If there’s no corroborative evidence for a Biblical event, then we should deny the historicity of the event–but if there is corroborating evidence, then we should also deny the historicity of the event!
IX. Rigging the Rules of Evidence
Unfortunately this commonly made accusation against any reasonable person who demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claim is misplaced. I have written in detail the historical method and how it relates to the treatment of miracles in my book, The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager.
Sagan’s catchy slogan is just the right size to fit on a bumper sticker, but why should we accept that dubious claim? What does it even mean?
1. What makes a claim an “extraordinary” claim? Does that simply mean the event in question is exceptional, out of the ordinary, or unusual?
But unbelievers think that many natural events are extraordinary in that weak sense. Likewise, they think that many human events or historical events are extraordinary in that weak sense. And they don’t demand extraordinary evidence (whatever that means) for such events. So they must have something stronger in mind.
2. They often appeal to the uniformity of nature. So do they define “extraordinary” in the sense that miracles don’t happen, inasmuch as that would run counter to the uniformity of nature?
But, of course, that definition begs the question. Whether miracles do or don’t happen is the very point at issue. You can’t very well presume that miracles never happen without begging the question.
Hence, reported miracles don’t have to overcome the presumption that miracles never happen. For that would assume the very thing the unbeliever must prove.
3. Perhaps, though, the unbeliever thinks the onus is on the believer. Since the believer is asserting that miracles happen, the believer assumes the burden of proof.
However, the unbeliever is asserting that miracles don’t happen, so he—in turn—shoulders a commensurate burden of proof.
4. Frequently, the uniformity of nature is underwritten by appeal to the laws of nature. Here we have a strong claim: miracles don’t happen because miracles can’t happen.
And why can’t they happen? Because that would violate the laws of nature.
Extraordinary events don’t demand extraordinary evidence as long as they’re the right kind of event—natural events, consistent with natural law. A miracle is the wrong kind of extraordinary event for ordinary evidence to suffice.
But there are several problems with this claim:
5. An unbeliever can’t very well presume that the laws of nature preclude miracles. For he’s making a very ambitious claim. A claim about the state of the world.
That’s something he needs to defend. He can’t merely stipulate that his view of the world is right. He must argue for his view of natural law. Therefore, it’s not as if reported miracles must overcome the presumption that natural law precludes their occurrence.
Even if natural law did preclude the miraculous, that, of itself, is a claim which demands a supporting argument.
6. Keep in mind that a natural “law” is just an anthropomorphic metaphor. Literally speaking, there are no “laws” of nature. That’s a figure of speech which is borrowed from human affairs and then projected onto nature.
7. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we formulate the possibility of miracles within a natural law framework, what would be extraordinary about an event that “violated” the laws of nature?
That would only be extraordinary under the assumption that natural laws are the ultimate factors governing reality. An absolute limiting condition. They demarcate what is possible and impossible.
But, of course, the unbeliever cannot very well presume such a grandiose position. He needs to argue for it.
8. To see the problem with (7), ask yourself the following question: “Is there something extraordinary about the idea that God would do something contrary to the laws of nature?”
On the face of it, there’s nothing extraordinary about such an idea. If God is more ultimate than nature, then God is more ultimate than natural law. So God isn’t bound by nature law. Rather, the laws of nature depend on God.
On the face of it, there’s no presumption that God would never do something contrary to the laws of nature. That would only follow if the laws of nature are ultimate and autonomous.
9. Of course, at this point, the unbeliever will object to the introduction of God into the equation. After all, the unbeliever doesn’t believe in God.
But why doesn’t he believe in God? Does he take the position that God’s existence is an extraordinary claim demanding extraordinary evidence?
But why is God’s existence extraordinary? After all, many theologians argue that God is a necessary being. And if God is a necessary being, then it would be extraordinary if he didn’t exist. Indeed, his nonexistence would be impossible. So his existence is not extraordinary: rather, it’s inevitable.
10. Of course, an unbeliever will deny that God is a necessary being. But if a theologian must argue that God is a necessary being, then an atheologian must argue that God is not a necessary being. An atheist or agnostic can’t merely presume that God is not a necessary being. His own denial is a belief. A belief with its own burden of proof.
On the basis of 1-10, there’s no prima facie assumption that a reported miracle amounts to an extraordinary claim. If an unbeliever is going to classify a reported miracle as an extraordinary claim, then he must mount an argument for his category. It’s not something he’s entitled to take for granted.
He is making a claim about the state of the world. That’s not something he can merely stipulate to be the case—especially when his claim is controversial.
11.What about extraordinary evidence? What an unbeliever really means is that, practically speaking, no evidence will ever overcome the presumption against the occurrence of miracles.
But that, of itself, is a very ambitious claim. It’s an extraordinary claim to claim that, practically speaking, no evidence can ever overcome the presumption against the occurrence of miracles.
Indeed, it begs the question. It really boils down to supposition that since miracles either don’t occur or can’t occur, then there is no possible evidence for miracles. But that’s tendentious.
12. Apropos (11), what does it mean to say that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence?
i) Does it mean the evidence for an extraordinary claim must be the same kind of thing as the event it attests? Supernatural claims demand supernatural evidence? Paranormal claims demand paranormal evidence? Where both evidence and event belong to the same class or category of thing? Is that what this rule of evidence amounts to? The nature of the evidence must correspond to the nature of the event?
Yet that seems to be viciously regressive. After all, the objection to miracles (to take a specific example) is that miracles are inherently implausible. And that is why we need a special kind of evidence to overcome the presumption of their nonoccurrence.
But if the sceptic is demanding the same kind of evidence, if a miraculous report demands miraculous evidence, then the evidence would suffer from the same (alleged) implausibility as the event it attests.
If you say a miraculous event is implausible because it’s miraculous, then miraculous evidence for a miraculous event would be equally implausible.
Yet the slogan seems to concede that a miracle is credible as long as you can furnish the right kind of evidence. On the fact of it, the slogan doesn’t say that no quality or quantity evidence would ever count as probative evidence for an extraordinary claim.
ii) And if, in fact, this is what the slogan really amounts to, then is that a sound standard of evidence? How is the sceptic in any position to rule out the possibility of a miracle? Isn’t his own worldview based on a preponderance of the evidence? If so, then his worldview must make allowance for counterevidence. The evidentiary standard cuts both ways. If he can’t make allowance for any possible evidence to the contrary, then is worldview isn’t based on the state of the evidence.
iii) But what is the alternative? If it doesn’t mean that an extraordinary claim requires the same kind of evidence to attest the event, then it would require a different kind of evidence. But, by definition, a different kind of evidence would be ordinary evidence.
13. It’s also ambiguous to say an extraordinary claim demands extraordinary evidence. This can mean either of two things:
a) It requires extraordinary evidence to attest the occurrence of an extraordinary event.
b) It requires extraordinary evidence to attest the extraordinary nature of the event in question.
i) But (a) seems circular. Unless you can already recognize the extraordinary (e.g. miraculous, supernatural, paranormal) nature of a reported event, why would you demand special evidence to attest that claim? You would only demand extraordinary evidence if you already classified the event in question as an extraordinary event.
For unless the event already fell within your preconception of an extraordinary event, then ordinary evidence would suffice to attest its occurrence.
ii) So that leaves us with (b). But the problem with that interpretation is that sceptics don’t think you need extraordinary evidence to identify a miracle (to take one example) as an extraordinary event.
To the contrary, sceptics routinely reject extraordinary claims of this sort (e.g. miraculous, supernatural, paranormal) because they have a preconception of what kinds of events are ordinary, and what kinds of events are extraordinary. They accept or reject the credibility of a reported event based on their preexisting classification scheme of what is actual, possible, impossible, probable, and improbable.
For them, it goes like this:
i-b) Miracles are inherently implausible.
ii-b) The reported event falls within the stereotypical domain of a miraculous event.
iii-b) Hence, the reported event is inherently implausible.
iv-b) Hence, it requires extraordinary evidence to overcome the presumption of its nonoccurrence.
But, of course, the major premise (i-b) simply begs the question.
X. Sagan Says
Another problem with Sagan’s facile maxim is that what’s ordinary or extraordinary is person-variable, depending on your individual range of experience. To take just one example, I’m reminded of an encounter between Richard Dawkins and Rupert Sheldrake:
A crusading atheist and author of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is a Fellow of CSI (The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, formerly CSICOP) and a strong supporter of James Randi. His earlier books were on evolutionary biology, the best known being The Selfish Gene. In 2007, he visited Rupert to interview him for his TV series Enemies of Reason:
Richard Dawkins is a man with a mission – the eradication of religion and superstition, and their total replacement with science and reason. Channel 4 TV has repeatedly provided him with a pulpit. His two-part polemic in August 2007, called Enemies of Reason, was a sequel to his 2006 diatribe against religion, The Root of All Evil?
Soon before Enemies of Reason was filmed, the production company, IWC Media, told me that Richard Dawkins wanted to visit me to discuss my research on unexplained abilities of people and animals. I was reluctant to take part, but the company’s representative assured me that “this documentary, at Channel 4’s insistence, will be an entirely more balanced affair than The Root of All Evil was.” She added, “We are very keen for it to be a discussion between two scientists, about scientific modes of enquiry”. So I agreed and we fixed a date. I was still not sure what to expect. Was Richard Dawkins going to be dogmatic, with a mental firewall that blocked out any evidence that went against his beliefs? Or would he be open-minded, and fun to talk to?
The Director asked us to stand facing each other; we were filmed with a hand-held camera. Richard began by saying that he thought we probably agreed about many things, “But what worries me about you is that you are prepared to believe almost anything. Science should be based on the minimum number of beliefs.”
I agreed that we had a lot in common, “But what worries me about you is that you come across as dogmatic, giving people a bad impression of science.”
He then said that in a romantic spirit he himself would like to believe in telepathy, but there just wasn’t any evidence for it. He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand. He compared the lack of acceptance of telepathy by scientists such as himself with the way in which the echolocation system had been discovered in bats, followed by its rapid acceptance within the scientific community in the 1940s. In fact, as I later discovered, Lazzaro Spallanzani had shown in 1793 that bats rely on hearing to find their way around, but sceptical opponents dismissed his experiments as flawed, and helped set back research for well over a century. However, Richard recognized that telepathy posed a more radical challenge than echolocation. He said that if it really occurred, it would “turn the laws of physics upside down,” and added, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
“This depends on what you regard as extraordinary”, I replied. “Most people say they have experienced telepathy, especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?”
He produced no evidence at all, apart from generic arguments about the fallibility of human judgment. He assumed that people want to believe in “the paranormal” because of wishful thinking.
We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.
The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.
Richard seemed uneasy and said, “I’m don’t want to discuss evidence”. “Why not?” I asked. “There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about.” The camera stopped.
The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.
I said to Russell, “If you’re treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it’s not irrational to believe in it. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn’t interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise.”
Richard said, “It’s not a low grade debunking exercise; it’s a high grade debunking exercise.”
In that case, I replied, there had been a serious misunderstanding, because I had been led to believe that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. Russell Barnes asked to see the emails I had received from his assistant. He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left.
Richard Dawkins has long proclaimed his conviction that “The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it to us are fakes and charlatans”. Enemies of Reason was intended to popularize this belief. But does his crusade really promote “the public understanding of science,” of which he is the professor at Oxford? Should science be a vehicle of prejudice, a kind of fundamentalist belief-system? Or should it be a method of enquiry into the unknown?
XI. Historical Knowledge
Tobin has a naïve view of what constitutes historical knowledge. He makes bold historical claims about the past as if these are hard facts in relation to which the testimonial evidence of Scripture is false. But as one scholar explains:
Of course, the past has left traces of itself besides such testimony, most notably materials that an archaeologist can examine: coins, pots, the remains of dwellings, and the like. In the modern period of historiography, some observers (those bewitched by the prestige of the sciences and anxious to ground historical statements in something more solid than testimony) have assumed that such archaeological remains offer us the prospect of independent access to the past. Here, after all, are data that are directly observable and upon which scientific testing can be carried out, akin to the data available to the natural scientists.
Yet we maintain, in our description of the acquisition of historical knowledge, that the assumption is false. Archaeological remains (when this phrase is taken to exclude written testimony from the past) are of themselves mute. They do not speak for themselves; they have no story to tell and no truth to communicate. It is archaeologists who speak about them, testifying to what they have found and placing the finds within an interpretive framework that bestows upon them meaning and significance. This interpretive framework is certainly not entirely or even mainly, derived from the finds themselves, which are mere fragments of the past that must somehow be organized into a coherent whole. The framework is, in fact, derived largely from testimony, whether the testimony of people from the distant past who have written about the past, or the testimony of others, more recent inquirers into that past who have gone before and were themselves dependent upon testimony from the distant past. It is this testimony that enables the archaeologist even to begin to think about intelligent excavation. It is this testimony that helps in the choice of where to survey or dig, imparts the sense of the general shape of the history one might expect to find in any given place, enables a tentative allocation of destruction levels related to specific, already-known events, and permits material finds to be correlated with certain named peoples of the past. The “filling out” of the picture of the world that is thus produced is itself much more general than specific. The reason is that literary remains are much more useful where specific historical issues are to the fore; nonliterary artifactual remains are most useful to the person interested in general material culture and everyday life.
The whole business of correlating archaeological finds with the specifics of the past as described by texts is, in fact, fraught with difficulty. Interpretation inevitably abounds as to what has in fact been found. Is this destruction layer to be associated with this or that military campaign? Is this site in fact the site of the city mentioned in that particular text? Leaving aside specific sites, the data collected evening large-scale regional surveys represent a highly selective sampling at best, and these data are open to a range of interpretations. Interpretation also abounds as to what has not been found, because the absence of evidence on the ground for events described by a text cannot necessarily be interpreted as evidence of the absence of those events, even if a site has been correctly identified.
I. Provan et al., A Biblical History of Israel (WJK 2003), 46-7.
XII. Mopping Up
1. Hays started by defending the contradiction between the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 by stating that “numerous scholars” say that Genesis 1 is a “global creation account” while Genesis 2 is a “local creation account”. This is shoddy for a few reasons. Firstly, Hays did not provide even a single reference from these “numerous scholars”…
Since Tobin refuses to read scholars who don’t show up on his preapproved list, why should I refer him to even more scholars he will never read?
2. And secondly, he does not seem to understand that merely providing an alternative possibility does not settle the question.
Sure it does. He posited a contradiction between the chronology of events in Gen 1 and Gen 2. If, however, Gen 2 has reference to the preparations for the Garden, then it doesn’t have to be in sync with Gen 1. That’s not a contradiction. Rather, that’s a separate process–with its own timetable.
3. In response to his, unnamed, “numerous scholars,” I will cite a few modern scholars, among many, who assert that Genesis 1 and 2 are in contradiction to each other – primarily because the stories in those two chapters are woven from two separate (somewhat contradictory) sources.
Quoting scholars who “assert” that to be the case is not a reason for believing their assertion. Merely quoting writers who agree with him doesn’t make it so. That’s not an argument. Just a one-sided opinion survey.
And, of course, the allegation of composite sources has been addressed in standard evangelical scholarship.
4. Similarly his “rebuttal” of my pointing out the discrepancy between the number of animals brought up to Genesis 6:19-20 and Genesis 7:2-3 is to cite one evangelical scholar, Bruce Waltke, who thinks it is due to “the Hebraic literary technique of synoptic/resumption expansion”. He does not explain why this explanation is stronger than that of Friedman, Soggins, Kugel and the majority of critical scholars who thinks that this discrepancy is real and points to the multiple source origins of the Pentateuch.
And Tobin doesn’t explain why his alternative is stronger than Waltke’s. Name-dropping is not an argument.
5. Here Hays shows shoddiness in reading what is before him. He makes a great effort, subdividing point 4 into three separate paragraphs numbers i, ii and iii asserting how I was wrong in noting that racism makes the Bible untrue. The problem is he was attacking an argument I did not make! In my article I raised the issue of racism in the books of Deuteronomy, Ezra and Nehemiah in contrast against the more racially inclusive book of Ruth to show that the Bible is inconsistent when it comes to this issue. Hays has completely missed the point. This is all the more surprising when one considers the fact that my whole argument is contained only within a single paragraph in my article!
Since, as I argued, his allegation of racism is false, there is no inconsistency between one set of books and another.
6. In my article, I had noted that the markedly different outlooks of the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs as another example of how the Bible is inconsistent with itself. Hays response that I fail “to take into account the genre of each” does nothing in resolving this problem. Genres may impact the way an idea is being presented (in music, different genres such as rock, or disco or rap can be used to speak of undying love) but not in its message (all these genres can also speak of hate). The messages of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs if they do come from one god, comes from a schizophrenic one.
Tobin misconstrues both books:
Ecclesiastes alternates between the “vanity” passages and the “carpe diem” passages. Tobin isolates the “vanity” passages to the exclusion of the “carpe diem” passages. But these go together:
i) According to the vanity passages, life is fleeting, unpredictable, and unfair. Due to mortality, nothing accrues. You can’t take it with you. Generations come and go, but the world remains the same.
You can plan for the future, but you can’t count on the future. Except for Judgment Day, there are no guarantees. Providence is often inscrutable.
ii) Given the vanity passages, we need to adjust our goals to the nature of our existence in a fallen world. Form realistic expectations. There’s no point making the accumulation of stuff your overriding goal in life. For one thing, you’ll have to leave it all behind. And even before you die, you may lose it all due to misfortune. Fame and fortunate are utterly ephemeral.
So make the most of the moment. Be practical. Be realistic. Live your life according to what is attainable in this life–with a view to the Day of Judgment. Don’t skimp on today for the sake of tomorrow, for tomorrow may never come. Enjoy each day at a time.
i) The proverbs are general adages, no promises or prophecies. Elementary rules of life which work more often than not. If you play the rules, things can still go wrong, but they’re more likely to go wrong if you break the rules. All things being equally, you’re more likely to succeed if you follow the rules.
ii) But Proverbs also acknowledges the existence of injustice in a fallen world. You can do everything right, only to see everything to wrong. But the fear of the Lord will never let you down in the long run, for God will rights the scales of justice in the Final Judgment.
7. In response to my noting the conflicting messages of the epistles of James and Paul, Hays (as in (2) above) has merely resorted to citing an evangelical scholar who thinks that the epistles of James and Paul were not in conflict. That does not really solve anything though, since I can equally site [sic] many critical historical scholars who think differently.
i) Certainly it doesn’t “solve anything” when Tobin raises objections, the ducks all the arguments to the contrary.
ii) And it doesn’t “solve anything” for him to simply quote the opinion of critical scholars. For their opinions are no better than their supporting arguments.
The problem with his tactic of truth-by-quotation is that, for every scholar he quotes, I can quote another scholar to the contrary. The only way to break free of stalemate his for him to start arguing for his positions. In the meantime, I’ll continue to answer him on his own level.
8. In commenting on my section on the impossibility of a worldwide flood, Hays refers me to works by young earth creationists who have “marshaled many arguments to the contrary.” May I point him to the fact that even in their “battle” with evolution in the public sphere, most creationists have retreated into the more nebulous claims of “Intelligent Design” which avoids making claims about the age of the earth, Noah flood and anything which has been soundly refuted by scientists. Perhaps I should respond here by telling Hays that he should “refute” all of modern physics, geology, paleontology, cosmology, astro-physics, biology, biochemistry etc.etc. since all these show young earth creationism to be complete nonsense.
i) That’s an ignorant characterization of the ID movement. For instance, Michael Behe isn’t a disguised version of Henry Morris. Behe comes from a very different religious tradition. Theistic evolution is the default position in modern Catholicism.
ii) In my response to Tobin, I didn’t take a position on young-earth creationism. I merely pointed out that he is dismissed that position without addressing the arguments of its best representatives. What Tobin is doing now is to bluff his way through the conversation. Using words like “astrophysics” and “paleontology,” followed by “etc. etc.” is not an argument.
iii) In addition, his original objection was to a global flood, not young-earth creationism in general. If the whole package of young-earth creationism is his actual target, then there are some other creation scientists (e.g. John Byl, Marcus Ross) he needs to engage–besides the ones I already cited.
iii) I also pointed out that he simply ignores old-earth creationism. I guess we need to remind Tobin that TCD purports to show that Christian faith is delusive. So given the apologetic thrust of TCD, it assumes a burden of proof. As such, it is incumbent on Tobin to actually argue for his contentions. He doesn’t get a free pass.
iv) Finally, I pointed out that his attack on Noah’s flood is out of sync with the view of the world which his co-contributor (Babinski) attributes to the author of Genesis. So either we jettison Babinski’s chapter, or Tobin’s.
9. In attempting to discredit my claim that the Genesis story ofNoah’s flood is dependent on ancient Babylonian flood tales like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hays quotes a “liberal” blogger Peter Enns as someone who does not take that position. But immediately after the section quoted by Hays, this is what Enns wrote:
The literary evidence from ancient Mesopotamia makes it very likely that Genesis 6-9 is Israel’s version of a common and much older ancient Near Eastern flood story. The similarities are clear…
This expressly contradicts the impression Hays was trying to convey about Enns position!
Actually, Tobin is the one who’s trying to foster a misimpression. He began by saying “It has long been known that the story of the great Flood told in Genesis chapters 6-9 is a scientific impossibility” (151). That’s the context in which he then appealed to the alleged dependence of the Genesis account on Mesopotamian accounts. The implication of his statement is that Gen 6-9 is fictitious because that derives from earlier, equally fictitious exemplars.
He never suggested that the Genesis account is based on a true story. That there was a real flood. Yet even Enns admits that this goes back to a real flood. (Just not a global flood.)
10. Hays sidestepped the reasons given by Cyrus Gordon on why the Noah’s story is dependent on the Babylonian one.
Gordon’s objections are perfectly consistent with the historicity of the account:
i) The Genesis account doesn’t situate the flood in Israel rather than Mesopotamia. If the flood originated in Mesopotamia, how does that disprove Genesis? Gordon’s objection wouldn’t cut any ice with a scholar like Walton, Alexander, or Youngblood who favors the local interpretation.
ii) As far as familiarity with flooding, the Exodus generation was acquainted with the annual flooding of the Nile, as well as flashfloods in the Sinai.
iii) If the flood was global, and survivors repopulated Mesopotamia before migrating elsewhere (because the ark settled in Mesopotamia), then we’d expect Mesopotamia to be the nexus of diluvial traditions.
11. The quote he gave mentions nothing about dependence of the various stories – but merely asserts that these stories recall “a common event.” Again there is no attempt to show how such a possibility is stronger than the theory of dependence.
The question is whether or not Gen 6-9 has a factual basis. Even according to Gordon (whom Tobin cited), it does. But if it has a basis in fact, then you can’t very well say it was a scientific impossibility.
Perhaps Tobin is tacitly assuming the global interpretation. If so, he needs to deal with the scholars I cited (on both sides of that issue).
12. In his rebuttal of the obvious anachronism of the reference to “Ur of the Chaldees” that I pointed out in my article, Hays simply quoted the opinion of an evangelical scholar (Duane Garrett) taken from, presumably, a private e-mail correspondence between the two. The suggestion that the Ur referred to in Genesis 11:26-28 may refer to a location different from that accepted by most scholars is just that: a suggestion. This flies against the consensus held by most historians on the matter, a consensus based on firm archaeological findings. Let me provide a quote from archaeologist and historian Eric Cline:
The biblical writers’ reference to Abraham’s father city of Ur of the Chaldees is, therefore clearly anachronistic. This point is accepted by virtually all scholars, without argument. [Emphasis added]
i) To say “this point is accepted by virtually all scholars, without argument” is a damning characterization of “consensus.” If it’s accepted “without argument,” then so much the worse for consensus.
ii) Victor Hamilton (whom I quoted) also cites archeological evidence for his interpretation.
iii) Tobin disregards the arguments I gave by Currid and Kitchen.
13. Again note how Hays, and Garrett, are merely presenting another possibility without attempting to show how it is superior to the consensus opinion.
That’s demonstrably false. Garrett gave an argument for his interpretation, which Tobin simply ignores.
14. In his attempt to defend the anachronism of Genesis 26:1 where reference is made to a city (Gerar) which, as have been shown by modern archaeology, simply did not exist during the time of Abraham, Hays suggested that “scribes sometimes updated archaic terms.” There are a couple of objections to this. First, merely speculating that the anachronism could have been caused by a later scribe does not prove that it actually happened that way. Hays needs to provide evidence why he thinks this is the most likely explanation here. There is no textual evidence that I am aware of that supports his speculation. Second, such a suggestion surely opens a can of worms for a fundamentalist such as Hays. If scribes can “update archaic terms” why can’t he update the archaic stories as well.
i) There’s nothing outré about my suggestion that scribes sometimes modernized obsolete terms. Emanuel Tov, in Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress 1992), has a section documenting how scribes would replace rare words with more common words (259f.), and another section documenting different phases in the orthography of the Hebrew text (221ff.).
He also has a section on conjectural emendation, where–among other things–he says, “Justification for conjectural emendation comes, first and foremost, from the recognition of the imperfections of the available textual evidence: Only a very small part of all the readings that were created and copied throughout the many generations of transmission of the text that are known to us. Many readings have been lost, among which were necessarily readings that were contained in the first copies. Since the evidence that has been preserved is arbitrary from a textual point of view, it is permissible to attempt to arrive at the ancient texts by way of reconstruction (353).
So my suggestion represents “mainstream” scholarship.
ii) There’s no comparison between updating archaic terms and updating “archaic stories” (whatever that means). To update obsolete terminology is a conservative procedure–a way of preserving the story by replacing long-forgotten place-names, &c., in the interests of intelligibility.
iii) I didn’t know I was a “fundamentalist.” I thought I was a Calvinist. Tobin needs to read a church historian like George Marsden to learn the difference.
15. Note also that Hay’s “rebuttal” amounts to nothing more than asserting an evidentially unsupported speculation. Hays quoted his evangelical “scholar” as saying that “perhaps there was an early wave of Aegean invaders…[that] Moses applies the generic name ‘Philistines’ to them.” Err…Perhaps not.
This objection assumes that Tobin knows what "really" happened. But as his co-contributor, Robert Price is fond of pointing out, we can’t hop into our time-travel machine and see for ourselves. Reconstructions of the distant past can’t avoid speculation. All we have is trace evidence. We interpolate the gaps with educated guesswork.
16. The last point is not an ‘argument from silence.’ It is not as though we lack evidence from that time about what beast of burden was used during the middle bronze age (around 2000 to 1500 BCE - the purported time of Abraham’s existence). The point is that we know what kind of animals was used the beast of burden during that time - donkeys!
Are archaeologists so ignorant or stubborn that they refuse to accept the evidence presented before them? No, the real reason is simple: the evidence for widespread domestication of the camel prior to the 12th century BCE is simply non-existent!
i) The Biblical record is, itself, a historical witness to that phenomenon.
ii) Evidence for donkeys hardly counts as evidence against the existence of domesticated camels. You might as well say any evidence for the existence of Cadillacs counts as evidence against the existence of Porches!
iii) Why would we expect to find significant evidence for something like that so long ago?
17. Perhaps I can make the issue clearer with an hypothetical example. Imagine the founder of a new religion in Iran or Saudi Arabia - where almost everyone is Muslim, and practice circumcision – telling his followers, “To set you apart, God has commanded that you remove the foreskins from your penises.” This would have been met with utter lack of comprehension, since everyone around them was already circumcised!
That oversimplifies the issue. There were other differential factors:
i) The timing of circumcision. Jewish circumcision was a birth rite, applied to babies on the 8th day, unlike a rite of passage applied to adolescents (which is the case in some other cultures). What makes a ritual sign significant is not just the sign itself, but the whole ceremony.
ii) The subjects of circumcision. Jewish circumcision was restricted to males, unlike some other cultures which observe both male and female circumcision.
18. Here, like the stories of the flood, creation and paradise, the parallels between this and story of Moses told in Exodus 2:2-10 are amazing:
· The mother had a baby in secret. (Exodus 2:2)
· Due to dire circumstances, the baby had to be cast away. (Exodus 2:3a)
· This was done by making a basket out of bulrushes and sealing it with tar. (Exodus 2:3b)
· The baby was put into the basket and left adrift on the river.(Exodus 2:3c)
· The baby was discovered by the person who became his foster parent. (Exodus 2:5-6)
That ignores the disanalogies, as well as analogies with other, intertextual, incidents.
i) It’s well documented that the Bible sometimes makes ironic, polemical use of certain pagan motifs. So even if Exod 2 contained a literary allusion to Sargon or Horus or whoever, this wouldn’t create any presumption that Exod 2 is unhistorical. It would just be another case in which a Biblical writer or speaker is trying to trigger an association for polemical purposes.
ii) In Exod 2:3, the word “basket” is “the same word used of the boat that Noah built to save his family and the world’s animals from the Flood (Gen 6:14). The fact that the Bible only uses the word here and in the flood narrative (‘the ark of the covenant’ uses a different Hebrew word) strongly suggests that there is an intentional connection being made between two accounts,” J. Oswalt, Exodus (Tyndale House 2008), 292.
So there is, indeed, a literary allusion. It is not, however, an allusion to a pagan myth or legend. Rather, it’s an intertextual allusion to the flood account in Genesis.
iii) Oswalt points out another parallel in the same verse: “The Hebrew word used for ‘reeds’ here is the Egyptian loan word sup, which is the same word used in 13:18 and elsewhere to identify the sea that God led his people across (28 occurrences; see also Jonah 2:5). This creates a strong impression that the narrator wanted the reader to make a connection between the two events,” ibid. 292-93.
So this would be a case of literary foreshadowing, where one story anticipates another.
In that event, we now have two strategically placed narrative clues. The proper way to interpret Exod 2 is not, in the first instance, to reach for extraneous parallels–but to notice the intertextual parallels which the narrator intended to trigger.
iv) The form of the Sargon legend involves a first person intro and an epilogue that concludes with 1 of the 4: blessings/curses, didactic lesson, temple donation, or prophecy. None of this applies to the Moses story.
v) First, the meaning and function of the story are unclear. Second, there is no threat to the child Sargon. The account simply shows how a child was exposed, rescued, nurtured, and became king (see Brevard Childs' commentary on Exodus). Third, other details do not fit: Moses is never completely abandoned, never out of the care of his parents; and the finder is a princess and not a goddess. It seems unlikely that two stories, and only two, that have some similar motifs would be sufficient data to make up a whole genre. Moreover, if we do not know the precise function and meaning of the Sargon story, it is almost impossible to use it as a pattern for the biblical account. The idea of a mother abandoning a child to the river would have been a fairly common thing to do, for that is where the women of the town would be washing their clothes or bathing. If someone wanted to be sure the infant was discovered by a sympathetic woman, there would be no better setting (see A. Cole, Exodus, p. 57). While we may not be dealing with a genre of story-telling here, it is possible that Exodus 2 might have drawn on some of the motifs and forms of the other account to describe the actual event in the sparing of Moses--if they knew of it. If so it would show that Moses was cast in the form of the greats of the past.
19. Hays suggestion – which he referenced from yet another evangelical author – that the same word is used for father-in-law or son-in-law - is simply incorrect. Anyone with a good lexicon of Biblical Hebrew can check for themselves that the words are pointed differently.
Needless to say, there were no vowel points in the original text. That’s why commentators on various books of the OT often challenge the Masoretic pointing if they think a different understanding makes better sense of the text.
20. Here Hays takes me to task for noting Moses’ name was originally Egyptian not Hebrew. He asks rhetorically “how does that cast doubt on the historicity of the account, exactly? Since Moses was adopted by the Egyptian princess, why wouldn‘t his adoptive name be Egyptian rather than Hebrew?“
Not only has he ignored the references from mainstream scholarship that I provided, he has forgotten (or have not read) Exodus 2:10 which erroneously states that the name Moses is derived from the Hebrew word masah which means “to pull out” from water. As Niels Lemche noted:
Obviously this represents “folk etymology” taken from the narrative structure but without any linguistic support. In Egyptian, the name occurs in compounds referring to certain pharaohs, including Kamose, Tuthmosis and Ramesses (Ramose).
i) Folk etymologies like Exod 2:10 are puns. You might as well say a pun is erroneous. That misses the point entirely. It’s just a play on words–a nickname based on homophonic associations. It was never meant to be a true etymology.
ii) Tobin also fails to distinguish between the narrator and the princess. The narrator is translating an Egyptian statement into Hebrew.
iii) Moreover, the Hebrew word sounds like an Egyptian word, which forms the basis of the pun.
Once again, Tobin could easily consult the relevant evangelical scholarship on this penny ante issue. Cf. J. Currid, Exodus 1-18 (Evangelical Press 2000), 64; J. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (Oxford 1999), 140-42; K. Kitchen, The Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 296-97; J. Oswalt, Exodus (Tyndale House 2008), 293; D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman 2006), 93.
21. The answer to Hays question is simple: there is simply no time in the period where the Exodus may have happened. If we date it according to the biblical chronology – around the mid 15th century BCE – then we have a problem because Exodus 1:8-11 says that the Israelites were forced to build the cities of Pithom and Ramses. But the first Egyptian Pharaoh with the name Ramses appeared only in 1320 BCE. There is evidence that a city called Pi-Ramses was built – by Rameses II who ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 BCE.
Of course, that old chestnut is repeatedly discussed in evangelical scholarship. There’s a viciously circular quality to Tobin’s objections. He raises a stale objection to the evangelical view of Scripture. An objection that's been repeatedly addressed in the evangelical literature. He acts as if his objections are unanswerable. But when you then point out that his objections have already been answered, he turns a deaf ear to the answers since that’s “evangelical” or “fundamentalist” rather than “mainstream.”
For standard treatments of this complex issue, cf. J. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker 2001), 125ff.; J. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt (Oxford 1999), 117-21; K. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003); 255-59; D. Stuart, Exodus (Broadman 2006), 67f..
22. Throughout the period of the New Kingdom (c1569-1076 BCE), Egyptian armies have been known to march through Canaan as far north as the Euphrates in Syria. From the 15th to the 11th century BCE, Canaan was a province of Egypt!
It is important here to pause and let this evidence sink in and see how it relates to the story of the Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan (see below). If Canaan was under complete control of the Egyptians throughout this period, then the Israelites could not have escaped from Egyptian rule. They would be merely leaving one region and entering another – all under the administrative control of the empire of Ramses II!
Israel’s survival was never predicated on her innate ability to repel her enemies. Rather, her survival was always dependent on God’s protection, which was–in turn–contingent on her fidelity to the covenant. Tobin’s objection is premised on his atheistic assumptions.
23. Hays says my statement on the extent of David’s kingdom to be “deceptive” – yet it seem to me that he has been rather disingenuous in his accusation. I never compared the Davidic or Solomonic empire to Rome – merely to what is claimed for it in the biblical narratives.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the issue is whether we’d expect the Davidic or Solomonic “empire” to be on a scale which would leave behind significant amounts of monumental evidence.
24. His ”defense” is based mainly on explaining away the absence of evidence (i.e. destruction and/or rebuilding by the Babylonians, Persians, Romans and Muslims and lack of access to possible archaeological sites). In other words, it is an implicit admission that he has little evidence to support the claims made about the united monarchy in the Bible.
Notice how he begs the question by assuming that there ought to be extant evidence, despite Kitchen’s entirely reasonable explanation. There is nothing to “explain away” unless there’s a prior expectation of the contrary. Tobin needs to justify his expectation, which is a chronic failing of his.