Friday, January 02, 2015

All the gnus that's fit to print

I'm going to post some comments I left at Michael Kruger's blog in response to Eichenwald and other gnu atheist commenters:

I think some commenters miss the point of Kruger’s critical review when they dismiss it as a “waste of time.” I doubt that Dr. Kruger is attempting to persuade Eichenwald or the Newsweek editors that they are mistaken. That’s not his objective or target audience.

Rather, he’s writing this for the benefit of fellow Christians–as well as non-Christian lurkers who may be unaware of the other side of the argument.

Likewise, the point is at issue is not how many people happen to read Newsweek. Rather, this Newsweek article is representative of stock objections to the historical Jesus. So Kruger’s rebuttal is generally relevant to those kinds of objections, which unbelievers recycle ad nauseum.

Christian parents are naive if they think these sort of objections can be safely ignored. Many kids raised in evangelical churches lose their faith when they go to college or read a book by an atheist because they were not forearmed to deal with these objections.

“because religious faith, by definition, is the absence of proof.”

Who is defining religious faith as the absence of proof? Is that how Christian theologians generally define religious faith? Is that how Christian philosophers generally define faith? 

For instance, Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield defined faith as “a mental state or act which is determined by sufficient reasons.” Moreover, he said faith is based on testimonial evidence.
“It is the acceptance of imaginary and unproven things that someone tells you or you read about.”

To say they’re imaginary or unproven begs the question. Moreover, nearly everything you yourself believe is based on what someone told you or you read about. So your objection is self-refuting.

“I would say I am a redline Christian – meaning that the words attributed in the Gospels as coming out of Jesus’s mouth are the most important.”
i) One problem with that statement is that, at best, it has regard for the authority Jesus, but disregards the authority of Scripture. 

Another problem is that “redline Christians” typically have a low Christology. They reject the deity of Christ. So they don’t think his words are absolutely authoritative.

A case in point is asserting that Jesus mispredicted the future. 

ii) Also note the disclaimer: words “attributed” to Jesus. That illustrates how you can’t separate the authority of Jesus from the authority of Scripture. If the Gospels are fallible, uninspired records, then these are merely words attributed to Jesus. They may really be the words which the redactor put in his mouth, like a playwright who creates dialogue for his fictional characters. 

“And it amazes me that there are some people who would actually consider that an anti-Biblical or anti-Christian message.”
By definition, an article that attacks the veracity of Scripture is anti-Biblical. 

“It goes to my point – there are people who are so prideful that they believe those who disagree with them aren’t Christians.”
i) That hyperbolic trope is an intellectual co-out. Dr. Kruger doesn’t take the position that if someone disagrees with him, that ipso facto means they are not Christian. 

Suppose Dr. Kruger is an amillennialist. That doesn’t mean he thinks premillennialists aren’t Christian. Although he’s a Presbyterian, that doesn’t mean he thinks Baptists, Lutherans, or Evangelical Anglicans aren’t Christian. 

ii) The Bible contains explicit creedal statements. In addition, entire books of the NT are written to explain to Christians what they are supposed to believe. From the standpoint of the NT church, to be a Christian you must believe certain things and disbelieve contrary things. There are boundaries to what constitutes a Christian profession of faith. Some things are out of bounds. 

iii) It’s unclear why considering himself a Christian is something that Kurt values. Why does he take umbrage when that’s questioned? What makes that important to him? 

iv) This isn’t just a question of how “fundamentalists” view people like Kurt. Atheists also question why people like Kurt cling to a Christian residual instead of making a clean break. Atheists consider the position of somebody like Kurt to be an inconsistent and intellectually unstable compromise.

“What is your answer to Jesus plainly saying his return would be within the lifetimes of some of his followers or Paul’s plain instructions indicating an imminent return. Jesus clearly taught that the end was near, thus his instructions to not worry about tomorrow, to forsake family and friends.”
Where does Jesus say not to worry because the end is near? He doesn’t. Rather, he says not to worry because Christians ought to trust in God’s providential care. If God provides for the lesser (e.g. birds), God will provide for the greater (his children). It’s an a fortiori argument, not an eschatological argument.

Where does Jesus say forsake family and friends because the end is near? He doesn’t.

In fact, he doesn’t instruct Christians to forsake family and friends. Rather, if family or erstwhile friends force a Christian to choose between them and Jesus, then allegiance to Jesus takes precedence.

“Anyone who embarks on a plain reading of the Bible in its entirety will recognize the inconsistencies and head scratching contradictions the author points out.”

“An individual can easily get lost when entering the circus of competing interpretations.”

“The fact that there is widespread disagreement among scholars, denominations, schools, ministers, and believers is sufficient proof that it is unclear.”

That’s a typical specimen of how unbelievers lack critical thinking skills:

On the one hand they say the reason there’s “a circus of competing interpretations” is because they Bible is unclear. 

On the other hand, they say the Bible contains “inconsistencies” and “head-scratching contradictions.”

But you can’t very well say the Bible is unclear, then in the very next breath say the Bible clearly contains inconsistencies and contradictions. An unclear Bible can’t have clear contradictions. For if the meaning if Scripture is ambiguous or obscure, then you can’t impute inconsistencies to Scripture. If the interpretation of Scripture is up for grabs, then it has no definitive meaning in reference to which you can say it contradicts itself–or anything else.

So you need to decide which chair you’re going to sit on. If you try to straddle both chairs you will fall down between them.
“Then I’ll be more specific. There is widespread disagreement among biblical scholars as to the nature of Jesus (divine, not divine, apocalyptic preacher, claimed divinity, didn’t claim divinity, etc.) and his message which is sufficient proof that it is not clear.”
Your statement is confused. The disagreement is not due to the lack of Biblical clarity, but their disbelief regarding the historical authenticity of statements attributed to Jesus or statements made about Jesus in the NT.

“What is your answer to Jesus plainly saying his return would be within the lifetimes of some of his followers or Paul’s plain instructions indicating an imminent return.” 

Well, you don’t bother to quote which of Paul’s “plain instructions” you’re alluding to, so there’s nothing to respond to.

Regarding the first clause of your statement, here are two counterarguments:

Keep in mind that Dr. Kruger has been hosting a series of guest scholars responding to Peter Enn’s “Aha moments.” That was probably interrupted by the busy holiday season (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas) and end of term grading. I expect that will resume next year.

“What is your answer to Jesus plainly saying his return would be within the lifetimes of some of his followers…”
Let’s revisit this allegation. It’s a good example of how unbelievers fail to think through their position. This allegation isn’t even internally consistent with critical assumptions. That’s a problem when unbelievers simply repeat piecemeal objections which they picked up in some liberal book or article. 

i) For liberals, there’s no presumption that statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were actually spoken by him. Hence, from a liberal standpoint, Jesus never said that. Even if it’s a shortsighted prediction, it doesn’t tell you anything about Jesus.

Rather, on liberal assumptions, this is probably a saying which the early church or the redactor made up out of whole cloth and put on the lips of Jesus. 

ii) Moreover, liberals typically date the Gospels to sometime after the fall of Jerusalem. Even if they date Mark to just before AD 70, they date Matthew and Luke to a later date. 

iii) Furthermore, liberals typically classify Biblical predictions as prophecy after the fact. 

If, however, we combine all three liberal assumptions, then that means the Synoptic redactors invented a prophecy after the fact, which they put in Christ’s mouth–a prophecy ex eventu which, according to unbelievers, was demonstrable false at the time of writing.

But why in the world would the Synoptic redactors fabricate a prophecy which they themselves knew to be mistaken? Jerusalem lay in ashes. That was years ago. Yet there was no Parousia.
So liberal assumptions generate a liberal dilemma. 

iv) Apropos (i-iii), presumably the Synoptic writers didn’t understand these predictions to be failed prophecies. If they had, wouldn’t we expect them to edit out the discredited claim? Liberals think the Synoptic writers exercise considerable license in redacting the Jesus traditions. 

And if that’s not how the Synoptic writers understood the prophecy, then that’s not how modern readers should understand the prophecy. Do it make sense to interpret the prophecy contrary to how the Synoptic writers understood it?

v) If, however, it makes no sense to think Synoptic writers invented a prophecy after the fact that was demonstrably wrong even before they put it on the lips of Jesus, then what’s the alternative?

Well, the alternative is a prophecy in advance of the fact, along with a record of the prophecy in advance of the fact. In other words, you have to date the Synoptics before AD 70. Assuming Markan priority, if Jesus died in the 30s, then Mark was written in the 50s (or sooner) while Matthew and Luke were written in the 60s (or sooner).

But that puts liberals in a bind, for in that event the Synoptic Gospels were written within living memory of Christ’s public ministry. About 20-30 years after he left the scene. 

Pushing the date back makes it far harder for unbelievers to claim that the Synoptic Gospels were out of touch with the historical Jesus, with what he said and did. So that generates a different dilemma for liberal assumptions.

“The fact that there is widespread disagreement among scholars, denominations, schools, ministers, and believers is sufficient proof that it is unclear.”
That’s sociologically naive. People can disagree for a variety of reasons. They may disagree due to cultural conditioning. They may disagree because they don’t like a particular interpretation. They may disagree because they feel the mistaken need to supplement Scripture with an additional authority source to underwrite dogmas that have no basis in divine revelation.

“The most perplexing of questions is why does God need Biblical scholars, translators, and interpreters, to explain and legitimize his very important message? IF God has indeed inspired all hands, minds, and events to bring us the Book of Truth in our hotel room drawer shouldn’t it be easily read and understood?”
Your statement is absurd on the face of it. Naturally it requires translators inasmuch as not everyone knows ancient Greek and Hebrew. Although the Bible was written for the benefit of humanity in general, it was written to a specific audience at a specific time and place. As such, the meaning is to some degree historically situated. That’s the nature of historical revelation. God addressing real people in real space and real time.

“Absurd? Perhaps. But an excellent question when the message God wishes to convey is of such high stakes to all mankind that it requires complete faith on the part of modern man absent of any further revelation for the last 2000 years…”
That’s utterly disingenuous given your contempt for centuries of prior divine revelation. If you disbelieve older revelation, you won’t believe newer revelation.

“Here’s another question to ponder while you argue why it’s difficult to figure out what the Bible says and/or what it means: why wasn’t Jesus literate and leave His profound messages in his own writing?”
That’s pretty naive. Just as unbelievers deny the traditional authorship of the Gospels, if Jesus himself wrote about his true identity, mission, and miracles, unbelievers would deny the authenticity of those writings. Even if they admitted the authenticity of those writings, they’d dismiss what Jesus wrote about himself as biased and self-serving. Are you really that clueless about the modus operandi of unbelievers like yourself? 

“The fact that we are all on this blog 2000 years after his death debating who/what/when words were written kind of proves one of Echenwald’s points.”
That’s debated by unbelievers.

“More than a million people were said to be walking around a very small desert for 40 years.”
That’s a very disputable figure, which fails to take into account the varied meanings of eleph in Hebrew. Douglas Stuart, in his commentary on Exodus, has an multipage excursus on eleph, concluding that there were 28,800-36,000 Israelites who left Egypt. Here’s another analysis:

“Any human moving around, or camping in one spot for that matter leaves behind evidence that they were there. They leave behind trash. They leave behind their dead. They leave traces of old fires. What have we found to prove the Exodus? Exactly nothing.”
We’re talking about an event that happened about 3500 years ago. Entire cities have been swallowed up by the desert (e.g. Petra).

“Ramses tomb has been found, and nowhere does it mention the plagues to visit Egypt in the hieroglyphs, nor any sign of Jewish slaves petitioning their government to let them go repeatedly.”
That’s native. Saddam Hussein bragged about winning the Gulf War. 

“We have evidence that Jericho was already deserted at the time the Hebrew bible says the battle took place.”

Win Corduan has a witty quip regarding that fallacious reasoning:

  • “Anyway, what really amuses me is the ever-increasing consensus that the Bible is wrong with regard to the exodus and conquest because archaeologists just can’t find any evidence for it in the thirteenth century.  The various sites give evidence that the crucial towns already were destroyed before that time.  Could it be that this lack of confirmation is due to the fact that the time frame, as provided by the Bible, puts the exodus and conquest clearly into the late fifteenth century?  One makes a false assumption concerning the Bible (or, actually, parrots the same misinformation that’s been around for well over a century now), disproves the assumption, and then claims triumphantly to have refuted the Bible.  It doesn’t work that way logically.  If you show that an assumption leads to a contradiction, you have refuted the assumption, not the system in which you made the assumption.”

“And of course we all know that the sun doesn’t go around the earth, but instead the earth revolves around the sun.”
That’s a scientifically naive statement. Actually, that’s a case of relative motion.

“If he stopped the earth’s rotation we all would have flown off into space.”
i) To begin with, that’s an uncomprehending objection. If God performed a miracle like that, he’d make the necessary adjustments. 

ii) Because the passage is poetic, it’s hard to identify the “mechanics” behind the miracle. But in context, the miracle involves prolonging daylight to give the Israelites extra time to defeat the enemy. Minimally, it’s a miracle of sunlight.

“This is made even truer in your case, where your main proponent of the faith, Paul, seems to imply that Christ was never a human being, but a heavenly spirit only.”
i) Paul is not the “main proponent” of the Christian faith. The NT consists of several important writers.

ii) Where do you imagine that Paul says that? 

“Why does Matthew talk about the dead getting up out of their graves and walking around, yet something so significant goes on unremarked upon by the other cultures living there at the time, like the Romans and Pagans?”
Most people wouldn’t even know who these revived saints were. Some or many of them had no contemporary friends or relatives. Only those who had died fairly recently, and had relatives in Jerusalem, would be recognizable as former decedents. 

“Surely the sky going dark and the temple curtain being torn in half would have been noticed by the Jews, yet they make no mention of it.”
Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Romans. How much literature survived that conflagration? 

“So until you can actually produce the hard evidence…”
Try this for starters:

“They are already atheists about Zeus and all the other old gods. Pretty soon they will be atheists about just one more god.”
By that logic, I should be a solipsist. Why believe in one more person than myself?

“And of course we all know that the sun doesn’t go around the earth, but instead the earth revolves around the sun. God could not have “stopped the sun in its position” because the sun doesn’t move. If he stopped the earth’s rotation we all would have flown off into space.”
Let’s revisit Lorraine’s objection:

i) To begin with, I disagree with his interpretation.

ii) Since, moreover, the objective of the miracle is to aid the Israelite army, Lorraine’s object cuts against the grain of the text. God wouldn’t perform a miracle at cross purposes with his goal. If the miracle had the side-effect of destroying the Israelite army, that would be counterproductive. So that is certainly not what the narrator intended.

iii) But what’s most ironic is how unbelievers like Lorraine raise unscientific scientific objections to the Bible. Even if we grant Lorraine’s interpretation for the sake of argument, his scientific objection is unscientific.

To my knowledge, the earth’s rotation is not what keeps us pinned to the surface of the earth. Rather, that’s due to gravity. In fact, the earth’s rotation slightly weakens the downward gravitational pull.

By itself, cessation of the earth’s rotation wouldn’t cause us to fly off into space, for the earth’s rotation isn’t what keeps our feet planted on terra firma in the first place.

iv) If the earth’s rotation instantly halted, and the oceans kept moving at about 1000 mph, that would result in tsunamis. That, however, would be horizontal or curvilinear force, not vertical, upward force. It would knock things over–not rocket them into outer space at escape velocity.

v) Again, even if we grant Lorraine’s interpretation for the sake of argument, the text doesn’t say God instantly stopped the earth from rotating.

If a supersonic jet were to instantly halt, the passengers would keep on moving at that speed, which would be fatal to the passengers. But, of course, supersonic jets gradually decelerate.

vi) Likewise, if the earth’s rotation instantly halted, and the atmosphere kept moving, that would be like a 1000 mph hurricane. It would flatten cities, forests, &c.

But even on its own terms, that would be horizontal, curvilinear force, not vertical, upward force.

And, of course, it’s entirely arbitrary to think God wool fail to make the necessary adjustments to avoid global catastrophe.

Evidently, Lorraine read this silly “scientific” objection from some village atheist site, but didn’t bother to think through the underlying science.

“Need I say more.”
If you wish to refute what I said, then yes, you need to say more. You haven’t begun to show what’s wrong with my statement.

It’s undiscerning to say that if God halted the earth’s rotation (on one interpretation of Joshua’s Long Day), catastrophe would ensue. It’s not as if God would slap his forehead and exclaim: “I forgot to stop the atmosphere from spinning! Sorry about that guys! Better luck next time!”

That’s an unintelligent way to critique a miracle. That’s a naturalistic objection to a supernatural event. But the miracle in question takes for granted that ordinary dynamics are temporarily suspended within that local system. It’s not as if God didn’t anticipate the natural consequences and take that into account when performing the miracle, to mitigate the physical consequences. 

That’s not consistently critiquing a miracle on either naturalistic or supernaturalistic terms. Rather, that objection combines and confounds two opposing principles. 

“The objective of ‘my opinion’ is to show you the way out of this maze. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life going around in this circle or are you in search of true knowledge and understanding. If you raise your level of consciousness…”
Did you get that from a fortune cookie or a Kung Fu movie?

True understanding is worthless is a godless universe. Truth is only valuable in a universe that respects the difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. That requires a wise, benevolent Creator.

“Why does Matthew talk about the dead getting up out of their graves and walking around, yet something so significant goes on unremarked upon by the other cultures living there at the time, like the Romans and Pagans? Surely the sky going dark and the temple curtain being torn in half would have been noticed by the Jews, yet they make no mention of it.”
I) Just for starters, our major source of extrabiblical information about 1C Palestine is Josephus. However, he wasn’t even born when these events took place. He was born about 5 years later. 

His works on Jewish history were written after the fall of Jerusalem. His Antiquities was written 60 years later. 

What makes you think he’d know anybody who lived in Jerusalem during Good Friday-Easter? 

Keep in mind that the fall of Jerusalem was immensely disruptive, resulting in massive dislocation of former residents. 

ii) Are we to suppose that if, say, Josephus reported the same event as Mt 27:52-53, you’d believe it? Seems highly unlikely given the attitude on display in your lengthy comment. So why demand evidence that you’d dismiss out of hand if it was furnished?

i) I’d like to make an additional observation about the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. These are hard for readers to harmonize for the simple reason that we aren’t starting where Matthew and Luke started; rather, we’re starting where they ended. We don’t have access to the sources (oral or written) which they used. We haven’t seen what they were working with. We’re not privy to all their selection-criteria. All we have to go by is the end-product, which both of them edited down from more complete records.

ii) Inerrancy doesn’t mean the Gospels are harmonizable with each other. Rather, it means the Gospels are harmonizable with the underlying facts. The Gospels are an accurate representation of historical events.

But each Gospel writer has his own selection-criteria. They employ narrative compression. The summarizes speeches and paraphrase statements. They sometimes rearrange events.

We can’t necessarily reconstruct their editorial process, and we don’t need to.

iii) If Eichenwald presumes to criticize the historicity and inerrancy of scripture, then he needs to become an informed critic. It’s incumbent on him to acquaint himself with some of the standard literature from the opposing position. For instance:

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP; 2nd ed., 2007)

Steven Cowan and Terry Wilder, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture (B&H 2013)

James Hoffmeier & Dennis MaGary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? (Crossway 2012)

Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003)

Jonathan Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely (Baker 2012)

Vern Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels (Crossway 2012)

I. Provan, V. P. Long & T. Longman, eds. A Biblical History of Israel (WJK 2003)

Robert Stein, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament (Baker 1997)

BTW, this work is available online:

And here’s a review of another fine resource:

On the deity of Christ, I’d simply point out that Eichenwald is reheating old chestnuts which have been countered in detail by scholars like Richard Bauckham, Gordon Fee, Simon Gathercole, Sigurd Grindheim, Larry Hurtado, and Murray J. Harris.

Here are some responses to three stock objections which Eichenwald raises:

On the genealogies:

On the relationship between Gen 1-2

On Easter chronology:

“The hatred and venom (and threats) that have been directed at me for trying to open a discussion on the Bible is an example.”
That’s a tiresome trope.

i) To begin, “hatred” becomes meaningless due to it’s hyperbolic overuse. 

ii) In addition, it’s the responsibility of a writer for a national magazine to know his audience and be informed about the people he presumes to write about. If Eichenwald was caught off-guard by the response, then that’s a reflection of his one-sided research and his provincial social circle. There’s a word for that: prejudice. 

“I am hardly a Bible attacker or Christian hater.”
Naturally he doesn’t view himself that way, but that’s the problem. He has no larger frame of reference. He doesn’t understand the people he presumes to characterize. He needs to practice some shoe-leather journalism. Why not visit some evangelical seminaries (e.g. RTS, DTS, TEDS, WTS, Gordon-Conwell) and speak with some of the faculty? 

Talk to the people in question before you talk about the people in question. Listen and learn.

Have you ever considered that the homosexual lifestyle is, itself, abusive?

If you mouse over to the CDC and explore the medical maladies which are endemic to homosexual activity, this is not a question of how Christians view homosexuals, but how homosexuals abuse their own bodies.

“I do volunteer work in a homeless center for young adults (the cut off age is 23). Up to one third of the residents there typically are gay or lesbians kids tossed out of their homes by their fundamentalist parents.”

Your claim is statistically implausible. Homosexuals comprise a tiny fraction of the total population. Hence, homosexual kids of “Fundamentalist” parents would comprise a fraction of a fraction.

Moreover, if you really care about homosexual kids, why don’t you care about the dire medical consequences of homosexual behavior?

“You don’t get that?”
I get that you’re making a dubious claim. Repeating your dubious claim doesn’t make it any less dubious.

Why should I believe you? What about kids who are kicked out because they’re hooked on drugs and steal from their parents to subsidize their habit? Or runaways who leave home because the stepdad or live-in boyfriend is abusive? Why should I think that’s at most 2/3?

“Responsible homosexual behavior is no more ‘dire’ than responsible heterosexual behavior.”
As in the higher correlation between sodomy and colectomies or colon cancer?

“You don’t seem to like homosexuals, do you?”
Actually, you’re the one who dislikes homosexuals, given that you condemn them to a genocidal lifestyle.

“Instead of painting them all with your disapproving brush, why don’t you try to see that these are human beings just trying to live their lives.”
Actually, the brush I used was from the CDC.

“Homosexuality is determined at birth and cannot be altered. Like race and gender. You may resist that fact, because it would take away any rational reason for your homophobia, but it happens to be true.”
That’s ironic considering the fact that you’d be accused of transphobia for asserting that gender is determined by birth and can’t be altered.

“Jesus hung out with the marginalized in his community.”
He also condemned sexual immorality.

“Knee jerk intolerance and ignorance. A perfect example why churches are losing their members in droves, particularly among the younger generation, who is fed up with the messages of hate wrapped up in pious sermonizing.”

You’re the one who is willfully ignorant. What I did was refer to medical evidence from the CDC regarding the disease-ridden nature of the homosexual lifestyle. If you click on their website, there’s lots of cautionary material on that topic. You’ve done nothing whatsoever to even engage, much less refute, the medical evidence. 

You’re the one who operates with a faith-based infidelity that’s impervious to empirical disconfirmation. You exercise blind faith in your secular dogmas. When I respond to you with reason and evidence, you get emotional. 

Your glaring anti-intellectualism is a testament to the irrational character of infidelity.


  1. Thanks for your efforts, Steve, even though at times it may feel like you're pounding your forehead against brick walls. I agree that there is great value in reassuring and strengthening the sheep while shutting the mouths of the obstreperous wolves.

  2. Once again it's manifest that unbelievers are simply incapable of arguing in good faith (i.e. rationally, consistently, and coherently).

    Depravity affects the whole of man, including the allegedly neutral and objective "holy of holies" (as Dr. Bahnsen was fond of stating tongue-in-cheek) "behind the eyeballs".

    They just want to follow the facts wherever they lead, they would believe the evidence if it were available for inspection, they're simply truth seekers...except for when they don't like the facts, won't believe the evidence, and reject the truth.