Saturday, May 20, 2006

Fact & faith

Zeteo Eurisko said:

“This is circular on two levels. First, this is the classic argument that the Bible is God’s Word because the Bible says it is God’s word. Second, with more detail, you are saying that the error-prone versions of the Bible we have now are descendants of divinely inspired autographs because those inspired autographs (which we don’t have) say they are divinely inspired.”

i) I wasn’t attempting to mount an argument for the inerrancy of Scripture since that was not your question at this stage of the discussion.

Your question was not, “Why do I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture?” But, “Why do I believe in the errancy of the copies?” or “Why don’t I believe in the errancy of the copies?”

Indeed, your question took the inerrancy of Scripture for granted and then proceeded to ask why I didn’t extend that principle to the copies.

I’m answering you according to the way you choose to frame your own question. If, for the sake of argument, you assume the inerrancy of Scripture, and then use that as leverage to demonstrate an inconsistency between affirming the inerrancy of Scripture and disaffirming the inerrancy of the copies, it is scarcely circular for me to answer you at your own level. I’m merely answering you at the level at which you chose to pitch the question.

Of course you don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, but, for purposes of your argument, you traded on that assumption in order to generate a point of tension in Evangelical belief.

ii) And, of course, I share your operating assumption as a matter of principle, and not merely for the sake of argument.

That said, why would I believe in the inerrancy of the copies? On the one hand, this is not a Scriptural claim. My rule of faith does not commit me to that proposition.

On the other hand, there is no extrascriptural evidence for this claim. So I have no reason, one way or the other, to subscribe to inerrant copies.

iii) Any Christian is going to use the Bible as a reason for believing certain things. That’s what makes it a rule of faith.

However, as Jason also pointed out, to use our rule of faith as a reason for believing certain things does not imply that we have no reason for believing in our rule of faith.

To the contrary, we wouldn’t use the Bible as our rule of faith unless we had good reason for believing in Scripture.

iv) Quine described a human belief-structure as a web of believe. We believe certain things on account of another belief. I believe y because I believe x, and x entails y.

So one belief can function as evidence of another belief. As a result, we have first and second-order beliefs.

That doesn’t preclude our having separate evidence for x and y alike. Or for x alone. Or for y alone.

I can have good reason for my first-order belief, while my first-order belief also functions, in turn, as a reason for my second-order belief.

v) Also, while the self-witness of Scripture is insufficient reason to believe it, this is a necessary reason.

There would be no reason at all to believe that God was speaking to us unless God identified himself as the speaker.

Now, a speaker can make a false claim, but there has to be a claim on the table to either believe or disbelieve, prove or disprove.

Unless the Bible laid claim to divine inspiration, it wouldn’t even be in play as a revelatory claimant.

v) We don’t say the autographa were inspired because the autographa make this claim. Rather, we say the autographa were inspired, in part because the copies make this claim on behalf of the autographa, and the textual integrity of the copies is more than sufficient to conserve the original claim intact.

“This strikes me as a remarkably safe position. Anything that can be observed and tested, such as errors in our extant texts, can be attributed to errors in transmission.”

One of the problems with this discussion thus far is that you have developed a rather canned critique of your former faith. And you jimmy everything your Christian opponent has to say into this preconceived grid. You are only hearing what you expect to hear or want to hear, not what was actually said.

You need to be a better listener. You’ll recall that my reply to Dagood was far more targeted. I cited a specific argument (from Tov) for the principle of conjectural emendation. And I cited specific evidence for textual variants in the numerical figures for the comparative Biblical data.

So this is not a “safe” answer. This is, rather, a well-documented answer.

“The actual autographs, which can never be observed, are glorified as perfect and inspired. The part of the process we see today – the transmission – is clearly controlled by men.”

You are failing to draw some elementary distinctions:

i) There is nothing artificial about distinguishing between copies and originals. This isn’t distinctive to Scripture.

An original may or may not be error-free, but a hand-written copy is likely to contain mistakes that don’t go back to the original.

All a Christian apologist is doing is to apply a general principle to the special case of Scripture.

This may strike you as convenient, but that doesn’t make it suspect. Christians have a perfect right to defend the Bible by appeal to commonplace principles which are equally applicable to scriptural and extrascriptural documents alike.

ii) Some documentary phenomena are more prone to textual corruption that others. Numbers are quite vulnerable to mistranscription, and once miscopied, are difficult to catch and correct after they have entered the textual tradition.

We do not invoke mistranscription to account for every apparent difficulty or discrepancy in Scripture.

iii) Belief in the inerrancy of the autographa is not predicated on the distinction between copies and originals.

Rather, that belief has its own particular and positive lines of evidence.

The distinction between copies and originals merely serves a negative purpose in demonstrating that certain problems with the extant MS record are entirely consistent with inerrancy of the autographa.

This doesn’t prove the autographa to be inerrant, but neither does it prove them to be errant. That’s the point.

“Rather than extrapolating backwards and concluding the whole development of the text (including the authorship) could reasonably be explained by the same process, once we are beyond our ability to observe, the supernatural is invoked as the explanation.”

As a former Christian you ought to know that this is a very contrive characterization of what Christians believe and why.

i) Christians do no “invoke” the supernatural as an explanatory stopgap whenever observation falls short.

a) Rather, they believe the supernatural, in part because they believe the Bible, and the Bible affirms the supernatural.

b) They may also have a personal experience of the supernatural, or know some trusted acquaintance who had.

c) They may also have historical, scientific or philosophical arguments for the supernatural.

The distinction is categorical rather than quantitative. Not that we lack enough evidence to account for a given phenomenon given the same observable process, but that more evidence would be the wrong kind of evidence because the phenomenon in question belongs to a different domain.

“It is a faith-based position against which argumentation is likely useless.”

That’s another invidious characterization. You implicitly oppose faith and reason.

Although there are exceptions, deconversion stories follow a stereotypical pattern. A nominal Christian grows up within a very insular, anti-intellectual and/or legalistic Christian tradition, like fundamentalism or Pentecostalism. As soon as he goes to college, he loses his faith.

What we often end up with is a postgraduate version of atheism arrayed against a Sunday school version of Christian theism.

Now, the apostate or backslider may had good reason to rebel against certain deficiencies in his religious upbringing.

But exposing the intellectual limitations of your Sunday school teacher or small-town pastor or youth minister is a far cry from disproving the Christian faith.

That would make as much sense as disproving atheism by disproving the village atheist.

If you feel the need to compare and contrast the alternatives, you need to compare a post-graduate version of atheism with a post-graduate version of Christian theism.

BTW, I’m not saying that you personally are guilty of this. But it’s a common problem. A debate between a college-educated twenty-something against his teenage alter-ego.

Obviously a 25-year old version of “Zeteo” can argue circles around a 15-year old version of himself. That’s hardly a fair fight.

“Granted, but I am not claiming to have knowledge of the mind of God. Protestant theology does claim to know how God has worked.”

Yes, but you’re raising an objection that is not directly addressed in Scripture, so a knowledge of God’s mind is not terribly germane to the answer.

“What do you do, then, when our best methods of recovering the original still result in 800,000 = 1.1 million? I still have not had an answer to that question.”

Actually, I thought I already answered that question.

In the face of certain textual variants, we may have insufficient data at our disposal to say which figure is correct, or whether either figure is correct.

The state of the MS evidence is, at this juncture, insufficient to resolve the conflict.

Lower criticism is unable to retrieve the original reading in every instance.

But these are penny-ante details. No article of faith is at risk because we can’t say for sure if the original figure was 800,000, 1.1 million, or something else.

“I think this statement – and your argument from incredulity that follows it – regarding the ridiculous results of God constantly intervening into the lives of men is more in your problem domain to answer than mine. I do not believe that God has ever intervened. If he has, the results you describe apply as much to your claim of inspired scripture as they do to your example of how ridiculous it would be for God to constantly inspire our speech. One is not more or less unbelievable than the other.”

i) This all-or-nothing approach is highly artificial and irrational. If divine “intervention” is necessary in some situations, but unnecessary in others, how does the fact that God won’t “intervene” more often than he needs to a problem for my position? This is not even an apparent problem.

ii) The distinction between divine speech and merely human speech is a principled distinction, not an ad hoc distinction.

This is involved in the very notion of special revelation. To extend that process to every single scribe would not extend the principle, but destroy the principle.

Moving along:


Now this cuts to the chase. I am beginning to realize that a large component of my disbelief has stemmed from my fading belief in the supernatural. I explained this from a philosophical perspective on my blog here, but that discussion is ancillary to this one (and it needs re-writing!). As a Christian music leader, I would sing in one of my favorite songs, "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you." I would really like to see and know God, but He’s frankly not there for the observing. (Again, see the blog article if you want a fuller opinion.)

Revealed knowledge – the Bible – should provide observable evidence of its unified divine origin. In most of the studies that I have done on my own, I have not found (or, perhaps, not understood) this evidence. But I won’t do you the disservice of assuming your argument. To what lines of evidence would you point me that demonstrate scriptural inspiration?

I recognize that this is a very broad question, and I will be satisfied with resources (books, websites) rather than an in-depth response.


This query raises a number of issues.

For starters, the evidence is no better than the rules of evidence. Among other things, you say the following on your blog:


Miracles are acts that must be experienced to believe. Reason cannot be used to compel a person to believe in them since by their very definition they are contrary to reason.

Thus to believe in the miraculous (or the supernatural), I have to experience it directly. I do not believe I ever have. I have prayed throughout my life to witness the supernatural or a miracle, because I believe that this is a huge barrier to my belief. I am one of those for whom God has allotted a small measure of faith, and I need, like Thomas, to see before I believe. I'll pass on the extra helping of blessing granted to those who believe without seeing to gain the smallest foothold in the world of belief. For now, though, I find it hard to believe in the supernatural or in miracles.

A review of my original post reveals my position that the supernatural can only be understood through experience. We have two means of acquiring knowledge as human beings: reason and experience. The supernatural is something that by definition defies reason -- the only explanation for the supernatural is something outside the reasonable, natural world. There does not exist a process rooted solely in reason that can have us understand the resurrection of a dead man. Thus, I make the case that experiencing a miracle is the only means by which we can acquire knowledge of a miracle or supernatural event. Having not experienced the miracles - including the resurrection of Christ - I claim that there is no means through reason that one can gain knowledge of them, and thus belief in them. Therefore, I do not believe in the supernatural, having neither experienced it nor been given reason to believe in it.


i) You assert that “by definition,”’ the supernatural (or miraculous) defies reason; hence, direct experience is the only fallback position.

You make this assertion as if it were self-evident that the supernatural defies reason. Why you think so is very unclear. So say a miracle is unreasonable because it lies outside the “reasonable” (i.e. “natural”) world is viciously circular.

Let us also keep in mind that you are imposing an extrinsic framework on Scripture, then judging the Bible by that extraneous grid.

The natural/supernatural dichotomy is basically a secular schema to begin with.

From the Biblical perspective, “natural” events are also acts of God.

From a Biblical perspective, angels and demons are natural rather than supernatural beings, for they, too, are merely creatures—just like plants and animals and man.

From a Biblical perspective, the whole “interventionist” model is synthetic and deistic, as if the created order were a box, so God must poke a hole in the box and parachute in from the outside to be involved in mundane affairs.

At the back of your mind you seem to be operating with the deistic model of a clockwork universe.

God winds up the clock, and it runs on its own except when the watch is running fast or slow, and which point God must interfere to make repairs or reset the watch or rewind it.

This is a completely unscriptural image of God’s relation to the world. God is more like an author than a watchmaker. Indeed, the Bible uses literary metaphors for God.

So a more Biblical model would be something like Dante’s relation to the Commedia.

Dante is the author. He exists outside of the book. He wrote the book.

But he also wrote himself into the book as the main character.

ii) From this faulty premise you say that the only alternative is experience, in which case you can only believe in a miracle if you personally observe a miracle.

Even if your premise were true, I hardly see how your conclusion follows.

A miraculous event is like any other event in being an event. If we believe in the occurrence of other events on the testimony of others, then there’s no a priori reason why we should automatically discount testimony to the miraculous.

iii) You are also conflating your categories. You say “we have two means of acquiring knowledge as human beings: reason and experience...There does not exist a process rooted solely in reason that can have us understand the resurrection of a dead man.”

But our understanding of death is a truth of fact, not a truth of reason. A result of experience and observation, not reason alone, if reason at all.

I’ll finish with a few other comments on your post. You say:

“There is no means of reasoning your way into believing these unreasonable claims without, as mentioned before, sacrificing your intellectual honesty by accepting the Bible as true from the outset.”

You also say:

“My discussions of the "Moral Argument" were intended to comprise a rejection of it. I listed Ravi Zacharias' claims as those with which I disagree. I will grant that an absence of God does change the way many people look at Law, Hope, and Meaning. Nonetheless, a human desire for absolute law, hope for the future, and meaning to our lives does not necessitate God, as RZ seems to argue in the linked sermons and in his book Can Man Live Without God. This amounts to wishing God into existence because he would be the last piece of our law/hope/meaning puzzles. I reject the argument as wishful thinking.”

But if atheism leads you to disavow ultimate meaning or moral absolutism then why be intellectually honest?

Secularism has sawed off the branching you’re sitting on.

“My point: of all the arguments for the existence of God, the only one that leads a person to the God of the Bible is the argument from Miracles. Moral arguments, cosmological arguments, and teleological arguments can lead a person to a God-concept or a moral absolute, but not to the God of the Bible.”

There are two problems with this claim:

i) It disregards the argument from prophecy and typology.

ii) True, the theistic proofs do not coincide with the God of the Bible. But they may intersect with the God of the Bible.

The God of special revelation is the same God as the God of general revelation. Scripture gives us a more highly specified description of the same God.

Moving along:

“My point about the cosmological argument was that the very concept of causation depends entirely on the meaning of time. The foundation of the cause/effect relationship is removed when time cannot be used as a descriptor. With space and time unequivocally linked since Einstein, there is no meaning to the phrase "before the beginning of the universe." To describe what happened before the universe ( e.g., to describe the cause of the universe) is to describe what happened before time. Again, you cannot have a concept of "before" without the concept of time. Thus, the cosmological argument dissolves into meaninglessness as soon as you begin to describe the cause that existed before the universe.”

This is way too facile.

i) Remember that words like “before” and “after” are literally spatial makers, not temporal markers.

We find it convenient to conceptualize temporal relations by using the metaphor of spatial divisions.

But this is figurative. And we could substitute a different spatial metaphor to express the same idea.

Instead of saying that God existed “before” the world, or “preexisted,” we could just as well say that God subsists “apart” from the world.

You’re getting carried away with metaphors.

ii) The Kalam version is an a priori argument prized on the distinction between an abstract actual infinite and a concrete potential infinite.

As such, its soundness is irrespective of a posteriori considerations.

iii) The universe can still have a point of origin or first moment.

All you’ve done is to relocate the original problem. To say that time began with the universe doesn’t nothing to explain how time began, why time began.

“For the sake of brevity, let's grant that the Bible we have is exactly what was written by the original authors, all the books included in it are exclusively the correct ones with no omissions, and that it is generally accurate in describing testable historical events ( e.g., city locations, who was a ruler and when, wars, etc.). This still does nothing to establish a precedent to believe the Biblical authors when they make claims about the supernatural. Fallacies could have been correctly reproduced throughout history in a document that records a mostly accurate secular history of events interwoven with tales of the supernatural. Just because the book was reproduced correctly does not mean that what is being reproduced is true. Just because the book describes wars and rulers to within reasonable limits of accuracy does not mean that when it begins to describe the supernatural, we should believe it on these points as well.”

Once again, you’re moving way too fast:

i) It’s reasonable to infer that if a writer is accurate where he can be tested, then he’s probably as accurate where he cannot be tested.

It is not as if an otherwise reliable writer suddenly becomes unreliable when he changes the subject or says something we cannot confirm.

Remember that the Bible writers had no advance knowledge of what corroborative evidence would survive the vicissitudes of time.

So it’s not as if they were in a position to plant a few easily verifiable claims so that they could trade on that to make some false, but unfalsifiable claims.

ii) It isn’t possible to compartmentalize the Bible into a record of natural and supernatural events.

iii) To quote, as well as add to, something I said elsewhere:

Different men are impressed by different types of evidence.

Some men are more empirical, others more philosophical, still others more existential. There are many possible reasons for believing in the Bible.

Existential readers are impressed by its psychological realism, by the way in which the men and women depicted in Scripture act just like you’d expect real men and women to act in real life situations.

They are also impressed by the way in which they can find themselves in Scripture, by the “shock of recognition” as it offers an uncannily accurate diagnosis of their own condition. As they identify with the spiritual experience of David or Paul.

Likewise, they are impressed by the work of grace in the lives of the saints, who model their lives on Scripture.

Empirical readers are more impressed by patterns of prophetic and typological fulfillment as seemingly divergent OT motifs suddenly converge in the NT on the person and work of Christ.

For example:

T. D. Alexander, The Servant King (Regent 2003).

Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock (Kregel 2004).

They are also impressed by the way in which Bible history coincides in time and place with extra-Biblical history, as borne out by Biblical archeology and the like.

For example:

Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity (IVP 1999).

_____, The Birth of Christianity (Eerdmans 2005).

Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Eisenbrauns 1990).

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

Or, to take a couple of detailed examples, the synoptic problem affords us an independent check on how Matthew and Luke react one of their sources (assuming Markan priority). We can see for ourselves how extremely conscientious and conservative they are in the minor changes they make to Mark.

Or, for another example, Andreas Köstenberger has an excursus on “Johannine Asides” in his Encountering John (Baker 2003), 250-52.

Now, if John were just making up scenes and speeches as he went along, he would not include these parenthetical comments. Rather, he would incorporate the interpretation directly into the narrative.

These editorial asides only make sense if the composition of the Fourth Gospel is a two-stage process in which he first records what was actually said and done, as he saw it and heard it, and then glosses the record for the benefit of readers who weren’t there and wouldn’t be privy to the explanatory context.

Philosophical readers are more impressed by the explanatory power of Scripture in its philosophy of history.


  1. Steve, Give me some time with this. This weekend and upcoming week are not convenient for blogging, and I would like to give your post the thought it requires. Thanks, Z

  2. There is no way I was a nominal way at all.

    But that's only one of the many delusions you have. If it helps you then have at your delusion all you want to. But it's false.

  3. Mr. Loftus,

    We cannot conclude that you were ever savingly joined to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you were, you would not have left such a glorious, merciful Savior. You would not have turned away from God, and you would not have become an active enemy of the Gospel. You "went out from us, because you were not of us", as the apostle John would say. In this sense, you were certainly a nominal Christian, "in name only".

    --Jon Unyan

  4. John wrote:
    There is no way I was a nominal way at all.

    Given your rather poor understanding of Christianity in the discussions I've had with you, I must agree that you weren't a nominal Christian. You weren't any kind of Christian.

    I'm sure you believed something. And that something you believed included the term "Jesus." But based on the fallacies and misunderstandings you constantly fall into, you most certainly did not believe/understand basic, orthodox Christianity.