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Learn how to screw up your worldview

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Green Shiny True Button And Red Shiny False Button With Text And

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A doubter about the existence of God and other things religious wrote that part of his problem,

is that I have a passing academic interest in religion, so pulling things out of that context causes a bit of cognitive dissonance. Theologically I’m very liberal–I know it’s a slippery slope, but it is what it is. I see cultural context everywhere, I don’t trust the Gospels’ historicity, I read John as mysticism, the less said about Paul the better, and I’m aware of how diverse early Christianity was. I won’t claim that the version that survived wasn’t the true one, but I definitely see other factors at play in its success. One of those actually may have been divine intervention–it’s intriguing that there are visions associated with both of the people who transformed it (Paul and Constantine), but this is definitely a tangled knot of problems that aren’t going to be solved anytime soon. So I’m trying to be open to the possibility that the all the important stuff actually is true, but it’s going to involve a lot of leaps of faith to come to that conclusion.[1]

This is only part of a post he made to a Christian forum (you can read a continuation of it at footnote #1, but it unveils a considerable amount of information about his perspective. Let’s see if we can unpack some of the issues that are driving his agenda.

A. A liberal resistance to God

What I observe about his perspective, associated with his ‘cognitive dissonance’, i.e. disharmony in his thought processes, is that his …

1. Presuppositions cover up issues

I addressed him directly:[2] I’ve been looking at this paragraph that you wrote and it seems to be overcome with your presuppositions that are preventing your examining the biblical material at face value. Let me pick up a few of them and I’d appreciate it if you would correct me if I’m wrong:

Your passing academic interest in religion and pulling out of context causes cognitive dissonance. I’m unsure if this ‘context’ is the academic interest or context in Scripture or something else. I’m unclear on your content. If your context is ‘academic interest in religion’, then I’ll have to know whether that is a university, seminary, college or Christian setting (and whether it’s a liberal setting) to be able to try to uncover your presuppositions.

2. We know where the slippery slope leads

Image result for clipart slippery slopeFrom where did you get your ‘very liberal’ theological position? Was it from the evidence from Scripture or from ‘very liberal’ sources who/that dumbed down other views, especially those of Bible-believing Christians? You’ve admitted that it is ‘a slippery slope’. This means that that position is doomed to destroy faith and cause disillusionment with people and decline of churches. We know this from the decline in theologically liberal denominations worldwide. Take a look at the Anglican Church here in Australia (outside of the Sydney diocese), Anglican Church in UK, Church of Scotland, United Church of Canada, Episcopal Church (USA), United Methodist Church (USA), Presbyterian Church (USA), American Baptist, etc. See the article, Liberal churches in decline while orthodox ones grow, says study of Protestants in Canada‘.

3. Stuck in a rut

‘It is what it is’ is an unhealthy way of examining or correcting one’s views. I find the better approach is to investigate the evidence from Scripture without imposition of previous beliefs. Are you a postmodern deconstructionist when it comes to your reading of Scripture?

4. Historicity of the Gospels

You say, ‘ I don’t trust the Gospels’ historicity’. That seems to be your presuppositional imposition on the Gospels. What primary investigation have you done into the nature of historicity of any document and applying those criteria to the Gospels? Other researchers have gone before you who have already done that and they have come to a positive position on the historicity of the Gospels and the NT. I’m thinking of leading researcher at the University of Manchester, the late F F Bruce: The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (available online). Right beside me on my desk is Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP 2007). What causes you to refuse to accept the historical evidence provided by these scholars?

4.1 John’s Gospel and mysticism

‘I read John as mysticism, the less said about Paul the better’, he wrote. That statement is loaded with your presuppositional agenda. You would have to give me lots of other information for me to understand why you regard John as mysticism. By the way, it’s a very different kind of Gospel to the Synoptics because it was written for a different purpose, ‘The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name’ (John 30 30-32 NLT).

Then you give the thumbs down to Paul (presumably referring to his letters and the history about him in the Book of Acts). Without your telling us why you make that statement, I wouldn’t try to guess what leads you to that kind of view.

5. Leap of faith and unthinking Christianity

You say, ‘I’m trying to be open to the possibility that the all important stuff actually is true, but it’s going to involve a lot of leaps of faith to come to that conclusion’. To the contrary, Christianity does not require you to put your brain/mind in neutral and resort to a ‘leap of faith’ to accept it. All of the historical basis of Christianity can be subjected to the same tests of historicity that you give to any other historical document about Nero, Martin Luther, George Washington, Captain James Cook or the September 11, 2001 disaster in New York City. However, there is the strong dimension of faith, but that is in the person of Jesus Christ for salvation, the Jesus who is revealed in Scripture. If you don’t know who Jesus is (because of theological liberal presuppositions), that leap of faith will be into darkness rather than into the light.

B. His responses to my challenge

In the following I deal with his responses to what I have written above. These are some of his emphases:

1. Liberal bias that opposes one-way religion

Image result for clipart one way Christianity

He wrote:

No formal training, I’ve just accumulated knowledge here and there–mostly of a liberal bias, yes. Not specifically Christianity but religion in general. It’s uncomfortable for me to switch from viewing something as interesting in the greater scheme of world religion to zeroing in on one and saying, “Maybe this one actually is true.” It’s getting less strange with time, but it’s definitely still jarring.[3]

How should I reply? Here goes![4]

I was raised in a religiously liberal home and it wasn’t until my parents were converted from liberalism to biblical Christianity that I was even open to other evidence. I did not pursue the evidence wherever it led until that time of conversion for my parents.

What has caused you to consider that the liberal bias of accumulated knowledge is correct? This indicates that you have censored some important areas for consideration. Why have you done that? Have you ever considered how your ‘liberal bias’ lines up with reality – the truth? Why liberal and not conservative? What attracts you to liberal religion?

You don’t like going from the general (greater scheme of world religion) to the specific of one religion being true. Surely this should not be a difficult thing for you to do because you are forced to do it in everyday life, even with much lesser products. Do you use a mobile phone? If so, surely you have examined a range of mobile phones before concluding a certain one was the best for you. That’s what I had to do recently.

You do this in a whole range of activities. What causes you and me to take medicine prescribed by the Dr and not swallow ‘RoundUp Poison Ivy’:
clip_image002
The purpose of the product influences that choice.
When it comes to the choosing which religion is the truth, it takes care in comparing that religion with reality, facts/truth. What is truth when you examine religion?
Have you found a better search engine on the www than Google? Why does Google seem to be the preferred product over, say, Bing or Yahoo?
Another analogy would be when something happens to the motor of your automobile. Do you choose to take it to a motor mechanic instead of a painter or cabinet maker? You can be narrow in your choices.
When it comes to dealing with the worldviews of any religion, I challenge you to examine which of those worldviews fits reality. See the difficulties with:

 

You face a major hurdle before you can even begin to investigate worldviews, religion and God. You start at the wrong end of your inquiry, by excluding certain evidence. When you start with a liberal bias, you will see liberal views in a much more favourable way and anti-liberal views negatively. This is not a beneficial way to examine evidence.

I hope you realise the self-defeating nature of your view with a ‘liberal bias’. You don’t like one-way religion but you have chosen that view yourself, i.e. religion with a liberal bias. That’s every bit as one-way as biblical Christianity. Do you realise how self-defeating your argument is?
May I suggest a better approach: Pursue the evidence, wherever it leads.

2. Evolution defeats Christianity[5]

I’ll pick up a few things from the early parts of his post.

2.1 Presupposition favours evolution

He wrote: ‘I walked away from Christianity as a child because of evolution’. Go to the science section of this forum to discuss this further if you want. However, to allow Charles Darwin & Co to determine HOW God created and continues to create is a view that has added to Scripture. It’s your presuppositional agenda. I don’t see the origin of species and adaptation (Darwinism) in Scripture, but I won’t discuss further.

See my articles:

2.2 Starting with allegorical interpretation.

Again, his reasoning is, ‘I’m not sure if dropping literalism means dropping conservativism (sic), because there have been people who’ve read Genesis as allegory since the religion first started up. That seems to be even more common in Judaism’.

You provide not one piece of documentation for this. It is your assertion. Therefore, it is a diversionary tactic. If you want to interpret Genesis as allegory, then start a thread and raise the issues. Do you want the first man and woman to be an allegory? Are you going to treat Noah and the flood as an allegory? How about Abraham? Is God’s promise to Abraham, ‘I will make of you a great nation’, an allegory that had no relationship to the nation of Israel?

Image result for clipart interpretation public domainHow do you read your local newspaper, whether hard copy or online? Do you read it literally or impose your allegory on it? Take this morning’s article from the Brisbane Times (29 January 2017), Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ executive order kicks in, passengers refused entry to US.[6]

The article began: ‘New York: President Donald Trump’s executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees was put into immediate effect on Friday night (Saturday AEDT). Refugees who were in the air on the way to the United States when the order was signed were stopped and detained at airports’.?

What would stop you from making this an allegory where you force your own meaning onto it to make it say what you want? That’s what allegorical interpretation does. It imposes a meaning from outside of what the text states. It is far too easy for you to say, ‘there have been people who’ve read Genesis as allegory since the religion first started up. That seems to be even more common in Judaism. I didn’t know that this stuff could be read in layers when I was seven, but I certainly know it now’.
So you are already accepting the ‘layers’ of allegorical interpretation without investigating whether that is the case and the harmful consequences of what that does to any piece of literature, including the Bible.

For further explanations of the meaning of allegorical interpretation and the damage it does, see my other articles:

clip_image004 Is the Bible to be interpreted as literal or metaphorical?

clip_image004[1] What is literal interpretation?

clip_image004[2] What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

clip_image004[3] Isn’t it obvious what a literal interpretation of Scripture means?

clip_image004[4] The wedding at Cana led to divorce

See also:

clip_image006 The danger of allegorical Bible interpretation (Danny Coleman);

clip_image006[1] Sins of Interpretation #1: Allegorical method (Kruse Kronicle/Kenneth

Bailey);

clip_image006[2] Historical implications of allegorical interpretation (Thomas D Ice)

clip_image006[3] The Bible: How should we interpret it? (John Ankerberg interviews Norman Geisler)

2.3 Resurrection, the Bible and truth

He continued: ‘If I decide the Resurrection happened, I can then start working on the question of how much of the rest is true, but that seems a bit backwards as a starting point.’ But you have already told us about your ‘liberal bias’. How will you ever get to understand Jesus’ resurrection as an historical event without telling us which historical criteria you will be using to examine the evidence?

See my articles:

clip_image008 Can Jesus Christ’s resurrection be investigated as history?

clip_image008[1] Christ’s resurrection: Latter-day wishful thinking

clip_image008[2] The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: The Comeback to Beat Them All

clip_image008[3] Was Jesus’ Resurrection a Bodily Resurrection?

clip_image008[4] Junk you hear at Easter about Jesus’ resurrection

clip_image008[5] Can we prove and defend Jesus’ resurrection?

clip_image008[6] Easter and the end of death

 

2.4 Garden of Eden promotes misogyny[7]

You say, ‘Can you be conservative and read the Garden of Eden metaphorically? I find it a very powerful statement when viewed symbolically, but when taken literally, I think it’s blatantly misogynistic. My liberal bias very clearly lines up to the reality that Eve has been used as an excuse to justify the oppression of women throughout all of Judeo-Christian history’.

You can’t be a legitimate biblical interpreter and make the Scriptures mean what you want them to mean. When you impose a metaphorical hermeneutic on the Garden of Eden, you introduce your own story into the narrative. That’s called a red herring fallacy because it takes us away from what the narrative states. There is no indicator in the text of Gen 1-3 (ESV) that tells us the Garden of Eden narrative is an allegory. That’s your ‘liberal bias’ imposition.

You have nailed what drives your agenda: ‘I lean towards the liberal view that the Word of God was filtered through a patriarchal culture and picked up some of its bias’. Again, that’s imposition on the text. It’s eisegesis (putting your meaning into the text) instead of exegesis (getting the meaning out of the text). Unless you put your presuppositions up for examination and follow the evidence wherever it leads, you are going to have difficulty in pursuing this investigation. I see your foggy worldview of liberalism blinding you to the reality of what the text states.

When you pick and choose what you want to make allegory, you are the postmodern deconstructionist[8] who is deconstructing the text to your own worldview. I urge you to place your presuppositions on the altar of critical examination (I ask the same of all of us on this forum, including myself).

C. Further responses: Distorted reasoning

This person replied and I’ve incorporated his reply in my response.

It’s not a diversionary tactic to not provide evidence–I figured you’d already know what I was talking about, since I’ve been at this for a couple months now; you’ve been doing it for significantly longer! But if you want evidence, I know Clement of Alexandria and Origen interpreted things allegorically, and in Judaism, there’s the Remez approach to interpretation, which appears to be allegorical. There was also apparently a medieval rabbi called Saadia Gaon who said that a passage should not be interpreted literally if that made it contrary to the senses or reason. I am not making any of this up; it is quite ancient and literally biblical. We can go straight to Galatians 4:24, since apparently Paul himself interpreted things allegorically: “Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants.” If Paul wasn’t orthodox, I have no idea what orthodoxy is, haha.[9]

1. Confusion of allegorical interpretation with allegory

You seem to confuse two things:[10] (1) Allegorical interpretation, and (2) A narrative that says something is described as an allegory.
Do you want me to interpret your above information allegorically, by which I make your statements say what I want them to say and not what you have intended them to mean? Let me try one example:

  • ‘It’s not a diversionary tactic to not provide evidence—I figured you’d already know what I was talking about, since I’ve been at this for a couple months now; you’ve been doing it for significantly longer!’
  • By this, Silmarien means that God’s lack of evidence (for Jesus) is merely God’s way of getting through to Silmarien that God has superior knowledge to Silmarien’s beginning inquiries into spiritual things.
  • If I invented allegorical interpretation of everything you wrote, you would have every right to call it baloney or bunkum. Why? Because allegorical interpretation is an illegitimate method of interpretation because it forces into a text what is not there.
  • When Paul states in Gal 4:24 that he was dealing with an allegory. That was a literal interpretation by Paul to confirm the existence of allegory.

2. Genesis and literalism

You wrote:

A critical examination of the Old Testament is very much the problem, though. God creates animals first and humans second in Genesis 1, but in Genesis 2, Adam is created before the animals. Cain conjures up a wife out of nowhere and then goes off and builds himself a city, even though there’s supposedly nobody to live in it yet. I’m sure there are ways to get around all the continuity issues, but for me, it kind of feels like trying to trap God within the pages of a book. Because my problem with literalism isn’t just liberal post-modernism; it’s also mysticism. The surface level of all things religious tends to leave me cold.[11]

To the contrary,[12] a careful examination of the OT is not a problem. Every one of the issues you raise here from Gen 1 and 2 has been successfully resolved. The differences in the order of creation are quite easily explained.

  • Gen 1 gives the order of events:
  • Chronological order
  • Outline
  • Creating animals

Then,

  • Gen 2 goes into more detail on the content about what was in ch. 1:
  • There is no contradiction, since ch 1 doesn’t affirm when God made the animals. Ch 2 gives:
  • Topical order
  • Details, and the
  • Naming of animals, not creating animals.

Therefore, Gen 1 and 2 provide a harmonious statement that gives a more complete picture of the events of creation (with help from Geisler & Howe 1992:35).

Determining the source of Cain’s wife is an old chestnut. It is easily solved. Your claim is that ‘Cain conjures up a wife out of nowhere’. Were there no women for Cain to marry as there were only Adam, Eve (Gen 4:1) and his dead brother Abel (Gen 5:4)?

Cain probably married his sister or niece because we are told that Adam ‘fathered other sons and daughters ‘ (Gen 5:4 HCSB). Adam lived 930 years (Gen 5:5 ESV) so he had stacks of time to have a pile of children. Was Cain committing incest if he married his sister/cousin? At the beginning of the human race there would have been no genetic imperfections. Genetic defects would have emerged following the Fall into sin. Since only a pair (Adam & Eve) began the human race, Cain had nobody else to marry except a close female relative.

You state that Cain ‘goes off and builds himself a city, even though there’s supposedly nobody to live in it yet’. It’s time that you read Genesis 5 more carefully. ‘Supposedly nobody to live in it’ is bunk, when you read the text.

You say, ‘My problem with literalism isn’t just liberal post-modernism; it’s also mysticism. The surface level of all things religious tends to leave me cold’. Your problems with this statement include:

3. Old Testament reliability

His denigration of Scripture continued:

Regarding historical evidence, I accept logical arguments that take the formula “if not P, then not Q. Q is true, therefore P is true.” Could be applied to the disciples’ transformation, as well as Paul’s conversion. There are plenty of facts that are debatable, but these two are not. I’m also intrigued by extra-biblical evidence in general–Constantine’s vision, Genesis 1 continuing to match up to the Big Bang Theory, but evidence for the Old Testament is probably a bit premature.[13]

Do you affirm the Law of Noncontradiction[14] that ‘A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship’?
Evidence for the reliability of the OT is not premature. Your knowledge seems to have a gap here. Take a read of archaeologist, Egyptologist and historian, Dr Kenneth A Kitchen 2003. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

4. Belief and postmodern deconstruction

This isn’t really an investigation, though, since I actually do believe. Experimentation with prayer has been… pretty conclusive. A lot of it could be attributed to brain chemicals, but when a prayer of “Hey Jesus, if you’re real, can you please help me not be crazy over Calvinism?” results in immediately calming down… well, it can’t be the placebo effect when you don’t actually have faith. The problem is that I already have deconstructed everything–it’s too late to not be a postmodernist when you’ve already torn everything to pieces. I guess all I can do now is try to put it back together in a way that’s reasonably orthodox. I did just order Simply Christian, so hopefully that will help. C.S. Lewis offered some food for thought, but not really on a theological level.[15]

Image result for clipart postmodern deconstructionYou say you actually do believe.[16] What do you believe in? What is the nature of your belief? I’m reminded of a verse that James taught, ‘You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!’ (James 2:19 ESV).

Your claim is that you have deconstructed everything and it’s too late not to be a postmodernist. That fact is not true. What you have written in your post is not postmodern deconstruction. For the benefit of those who don’t understand that language, we should define ‘postmodern deconstruction’.

It means that words and sentences have no inherent meaning in themselves. People who read anything construct their own meaning, which is shaped by culture and life’s experiences. So the author’s intention in the writing is deconstructed, i.e. altered by the reader. The reader determines what the author means. Postmodern deconstruction turns an author’s meaning on its head. The reader determines the meaning.

Silmarien, in your post here, I didn’t read anything that told me I must read it as postmodern deconstruction. I observe how close postmodern deconstruction is to allegorical interpretation. Postmodern deconstruction tears the heart out of any document. You cannot apply for social security, secure a bank loan, or answer the rules of the road to get your driver’s license using postmodern deconstruction.

Therefore, it makes no sense to interpret the Bible, your writing on Christian Forums.net, or your local newspaper using postmodern deconstruction. It’s a great way for any reader to make a writing say anything he/she wants it to say. The fact remains that the true meaning of a text or spoken word is based on what the writer or speaker intended for it to mean. Anything else is an imposition on the text.

So, you do not engage in postmodern deconstruction of ‘everything’. You are selective in what you deconstruct. That’s your liberal bias coming into play and that bias needs to be exposed if you are going to read the Bible objectively and not impose your deconstructed message on it.

D. More examples of liberal bias intruding

All of us need to be aware of how our presuppositions can interfere with our interpretations of documents.

1. Presuppositions meet a brick wall of liberal bias

He wrote:

I would say that everyone has presuppositions when it comes to reading anything–biblical inerrancy is as much a presupposition as historical criticism, and an equally modern take. I can’t ignore things like Zoroastrianism’s influence on Judaism or Platonic elements in Christian theology, so my options are 1) abandon all religion as inherently manmade, or 2) accept that cultural influences don’t negate the truth value of a religion as a whole. I’m actually an existentialist with my reading of Scripture–Paul Tillich right now, a bit of Kierkegaard. But when it comes to actual evidence, I do start deconstructing things into meaninglessness. That part is a problem, but the existentialism is kind of necessary for me.[17]

I agree that all of us have presuppositions,[18] but the key to unpacking them is to compare those presuppositions with the evidence from reality.

  • What you’ve done in announcing biblical inerrancy as a presupposition and a modern take, it that this is a throw away line. Why? You provided not one example for us to examine. Norman Geisler’s edited book, Inerrancy (Zondervan 1979), presents biblical and historical evidence to counter your presupposition. Chapter 12 (by Robert Preus) of this book is, ‘The view of the Bible held by the church: The early church through Luther’, in which Irenaeus is cited from his writing, Against Heresies, ‘We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit’ (Against Heresies 2.28.2). Therefore, you are incorrect to state that biblical inerrancy is a ‘modern take’ (‘Scriptures are indeed perfect’, Irenaeus). Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, lived ca. 125-202. That is hardly a modern take in support of inerrancy – the Scriptures are perfect. Chapter 12 of Inerrancy provides other examples from the church fathers in support of inerrancy. Seems like you have a fair amount of research to do to come up with a correct understanding of what the early church fathers believed about the Bible’s perfection in the original documents.
  • Then you provide the unsupported statement of Zoroastrianism’s influence on Judaism and Platonic influence on Christian theology. That may be so, but you are yet to prove your case. Your assertions merely state your opinions. They don’t provide evidence.
  • Your support of Paul Tillich’s existentialism (I have his Systematic Theology) comes with the critiques of existentialism that don’t make it a worldview to live by. The review, ‘Tillich: An Impossible Struggle’, raises some insuperable difficulties with Tillich’s worldview.
  • Deconstructing into nothingness will lead you to nothingness.
  • Starting with existentialism as being ‘necessary for me’ is a brick wall approach to understanding any world view. You are stuck in a rut of experience that won’t allow you to pursue the evidence wherever it leads because … of your necessity for existentialism. Try existentialism if you are caught speeding and the policeman issues you with a fine. Existentialism is not a world view of reality that leads to payment of the fine.

2. Mysticism’s failures

This inquirer (or stirrer) wrote:

The view of the Gospel of John as a work of mysticism is ancient. It’s only a problem in that it puts me on a different page than most people here–mysticism is one of the major reasons I’m not an atheist. I don’t discount the claims because I think it’s mysticism; I actually take them more seriously. I’m very much on the mystical side, that’s a large part of why taking things at face value does nothing for me. As for Paul… suffice to say that I have no love for 1 Timothy. Apparently there are serious doubts as to its authorship, so that’s one less problem, but there’s still plenty of stuff I’m skeptical about, including his claim to authority when he was never there in the first place. Actually, if you know of any good material on him, I’d definitely appreciate it.[19]

You say,[20] ‘Now you’ve got presuppositions about my presuppositions!’ Not really! What I’ve been trying to do is uncover your presuppositions as your post at #17 is loaded with your presuppositions, some of which you mentioned, like your ‘liberal bias’, but there were more presuppositions that needed to be exposed to try to see how they fit the evidence.

I acknowledge that the Gospel of John has some different emphases to the Synoptics, but a mystical interpretation, I find, is an imposition on the text. You seem to be engaged in a begging the question logical fallacy. When you start with John’s Gospel as mysticism and conclude with mysticism, you have achieved nothing. It is fallacious reasoning that doesn’t deal with differences between John and the Synoptics.

There are dangers in mysticism. I recommend a read of ‘What is contemplative Spirituality and Why is it Dangerous?’ (John Caddock 1997).

You say ‘taking things at face value does nothing for me’. I wish you luck in trying that approach with buying groceries, abiding by the road rules, reading your local newspaper, or appearing in court to face the evidence?

Concerning the pastoral epistles, I recommend Gordon D Fee’s commentary, ‘New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988). A later edition gives details HERE. Fee has a considerable amount of exposition on the authenticity of the pastoral epistles. See his index on ‘authenticity’. R C H Lenski’s Introduction to the pastoral letters, in my view, more than adequately covers the authorship controversy. See Lenski (1961:473-484).

3. Christian existentialism

Now he launches into a brief statement in support of …

Christian existentialism. 😉 I’m all about faith as the ultimate act of courage. It’s what cured me of my atheism, so when I talk about leaps of faith, shutting off your brain is not remotely what I’m thinking of.

I mention that I’m pretty liberal so that people know what they’re dealing with. I don’t know where to start with conservative scholarship and definitely do want to take a look at the other side of the story. I know there’s a lot of bad blood between the groups, but please leave me out of it, haha. The infighting is part of what’s stressing me out.[21]

What is Christian existentialism?[22] Would you conclude that this is a reasonable summary of Christian existentialism? It may be defined as

a philosophy of its own that is not compatible with either secular existentialism, nor traditional Christianity. There is a wide variety of forms of existential religion with differing doctrinal beliefs. Kierkegaard and later Karl Barth are sited for attempting to make theology, particularly the Christian faith, compatible with existentialism.

Its premise is that a person must submit themselves totally to God without reasoning — that is, true absolute faith must be void of philosophy or intellect. Religious existentialism then states such things as:

  • A person is autonomous and is fully free to make choices and fully responsible for them
  • Rational grounds for theology and divine revelation do not exist
  • True faith transcends rationalism and God’s commandments
  • The true God is not the God of philosophers or of rationalism
  • The destruction of wars throughout human history proves there cannot be rational understanding of God or humanity
  • A Christian must personally resolve within self the content of faith from being a myth or mystery to being realty or truth before they will allow an understanding and acceptance of salvation
  • It is impossible to discover personal Being and faith through rational reasoning (All About Philosophy: Christian existentialism).

If faith is ‘the ultimate act of courage’ for you, I have to ask, ‘Faith in what? The god of Zoroastrianism; the Jesus who was not raised bodily from the grave; a liberal Jesus who loves people but excludes damnation?

Where to start with conservative scholarship is what I’ve stated: Follow the evidence wherever it leads. However, if you are going to impose your liberal bias, mysticism and existentialism onto the biblical text or an author’s views, you will invent your own god and jesus and won’t allow the conservative scholars to present their cases . You’ll come out with a godhead that looks like the very one with which you began.

For an examination of the conservative side of the resurrection of Jesus, I’d recommend:

(1) The debate between Gary Habermas (Christian) and Antony Flew (atheist who became deist). It’s available in: Gary R Habermas and Antony G N Flew 1987. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate. San Francisco: Harper & Row. In this book, there is a response to the debate by Wolfhart Pannenberg (pp. 125-135). Pannenberg is the European scholar on the resurrection that I mentioned previously to you.

(2) Norman L Geisler 1989. The Battle for the Resurrection. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

(3) James L Snyder 1991: In Pursuit of God: The Life of A. W. Tozer. Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications.

Yes, there is considerable controversy between liberal and evangelical Protestants. I encourage you not to become involved in slinging matches but to examine the evidence, based on the claims themselves. This will require for both sides to: (a) Examine their presuppositions in the light of reality; (b) Do not impose one’s worldview on the text. (c) Refrain from the use of logical fallacies in challenging an opponent.

Speaking of logical fallacies, do you remember your statement: ‘His [Norman Geisler’s] endorsement of Donald Trump. clip_image009 In all seriousness, I disapprove immensely of the politicization of religion. He seems to mix the two a fair amount, and that makes me believe that I’m not his intended audience’ (Silmarien #29).

Here you have committed a genetic logical fallacy. Any Christian apologist worth his or her salt should be assessing politicians and their policies. You obviously don’t like Trump, but when you dump Geisler’s views because of his support for Trump, you have not engaged in debate of the issues that Geisler raised. Instead, you have wiped his views because of his assessment of Trump’s views. This is erroneous reasoning.

4. Presuppositions about presuppositions

Image result for clipart false teaching public domainHis ducking and weaving among challenges continued, this time with a red herring fallacy,

Now you’ve got presuppositions about my presuppositions! I’m comfortable with the idea of miracles, just disinclined to look at them as evidence when I think such claims would have ended up in the stories regardless of whether or not they happened. Just as I think that if prophecies were not fulfilled, the disciples would have started forcing prophecies to fit events (or events to fit prophecies) one way or the other. I don’t accept these things as evidence, but that doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge the possibility that they’re true.[23]

You say,[24] ‘Now you’ve got presuppositions about my presuppositions!’ Not really! What I’ve been trying to do is uncover your presuppositions as your post at #17 is loaded with your presuppositions, some of which you mentioned, like your ‘liberal bias’, but there were more presuppositions that needed to be exposed to try to see how they fit the evidence.

I think you need to ask: ‘What is the truth about reality, especially concerning the person of Jesus Christ, his death, resurrection, and second coming?’ The answer to that question, along with, ‘What are the attributes of God?’ will unlock a gold mine that will take you into eternity, with the beloved or the lost.

‘What happens one second after your last breath?’ is a dynamite question for which you need answers.
Your posts do read to me like a version of Pascal’s Wager.

Without Christ changing your life, you will not be able to live up to the high moral standards of Christianity. It’s wishful thinking trying to make it on your own.

5. His struggles

In response to what I wrote above, he admitted his struggles. These are his conflicts within:[25]

  • The idea of eternity is terrifying (that’s a big one for him);
  • Annihilation doesn’t sound bad;
  • Damnation means everyone is in trouble;
  • You can’t magically not struggle with doubt;
  • Why would you take the Bible at face value?
  • ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” seems to encompass at least a bit of mystical dabbling’.
  • The religious experience is in a different sphere to intellect.
  • You balk at Luke 16:31 (ESV), ‘He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead”’.
  • · You stated: ‘I don’t have an agenda, but if you’ve spent your life rationalizing away everything, it’s hard to make yourself stop’. There’s a paradox in this statement. You really do have an agenda and that is to rationalise away ‘everything’.
  • ‘Not sure why I’d be worshipping Ahura Mazda [a god of Zoroastrianism], but the bodily Resurrection and the concept of damnation are not things that I reject as unbelievable’.

I replied to him this way:[26]

clip_image011 The idea of eternity is terrifying (that’s a big one for you). This is an example where you are kicking against the pricks – against God’s revelation to you eternally. This is what I’m talking about: ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end’ (Eccl. 3:11 NIV). You may not understand this revelation of eternity, but you need to recognize eternity is right there in your innermost being. I urge you not to resist the wooing of the Holy Spirit in revealing what is there already. An understanding of it is in everyone’s heart – eternity.

clip_image011[1] Annihilation doesn’t sound bad, he wrote. Of course zapping people out of existence at death sounds better than eternal torment in hell/Hades. However, what’s the truth? You’ll read about it in Scripture and not in your or my presuppositions.

clip_image011[2] Damnation means everyone is in trouble, according to his view. This is not so. Biblical facts determine that only unbelievers experience damnation. See: Matthew 25:46 NIV; John 3:36 ESV. I’m sticking with Scripture and not Silmarien’s or my presuppositions.

clip_image011[3] You can’t magically not struggle with doubt is what he stated. Agreed! Thomas doubted (John 20:24-29), but when evidence is provided to counter the doubt, doubt should subside to the point of being pacified or removed. I encouraged him to meditate on Psalm 77:11-15 (NRSV) to help him with his doubt?

clip_image011[4] Why would you take the Bible at face value? That’s because it’s a book of history and should be interpreted like any other historical book. Try taking the bombing of Pearl Harbor or Richard Nixon’s presidency at other than face value! For the same reason, we take Jesus’ death and resurrection at face value.

clip_image011[5] ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” seems to encompass at least a bit of mystical dabbling’. I think you’ve missed the meaning. It means loving the Lord with your entire being. I hope you and I are more than mystical beings involved in mystical activities.

clip_image011[6] The religious experience is in a different sphere to intellect is your perspective. That’s one view. I suggest to you that Christianity involves communicating with your inner being with God and that includes the mind.

clip_image011[7] You balk at Luke 16:31 (ESV), ‘He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead”’. That’s the human propensity to doubt the historical and supernatural in Christian experience.

clip_image011[8] You stated: ‘I don’t have an agenda, but if you’ve spent your life rationalizing away everything, it’s hard to make yourself stop’. There’s a paradox in that statement. You really do have an agenda and that is to rationalize away ‘everything’.

clip_image011[9] ‘Not sure why I’d be worshipping Ahura Mazda [a god of Zoroastrianism], but the bodily Resurrection and the concept of damnation are not things that I reject as unbelievable’. I found that statement confusing, that you are worshipping a god of Zoroastrianism but you are open to teaching on the bodily resurrection and damnation. Are you wanting to worship a God/god of syncretism?

I thanked him for engaging with me in this challenging discussion. I pray that the Lord will guide him into all truth.

‘But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate [Paraclete] won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment’ (John 16:7-8 NLT).?

He seems to be a seeker but his filter of liberal bias is acting as a blockage.

clip_image012

(image courtesy Pinterest)

E. Conclusion

This person with a self-proclaimed liberal bias came onto an evangelical Christian forum with an agenda of a ‘couple of questions’. That’s shorthand for a number of questions that were filtered through his theological liberal worldview.

I have attempted to expose his presuppositions, many of which do not harmonise with reality and especially with a literal reading of the biblical text. He confused the use of allegorical interpretation with a literal hermeneutic stating that a section of Scripture is allegory. At least he admitted that liberal presuppositions can lead to a slippery slope, by which he meant that the liberal bias descends into something worse – he gave an example of nothingness as one alternative.

He is stuck in a rut, not able to understand or accept the historicity of the Gospels. His leap of faith takes him into mysticism and existentialism. He does not want to understand the Book of Genesis literally but pursues allegorical interpretation.

He did admit that he engages in postmodern deconstruction of ‘everything’, to which I responded that he did not state he wanted me to read his posts that way. Postmodern deconstruction falls flat with any document. He cannot apply for social security, secure a bank loan, or answer the rules of the road to get his driver’s license using postmodern deconstruction.

I agreed with him that his posts do look like a version of Pascal’s Wager.

One of the major problems with his liberal bias of a worldview is that it colours all of his investigation of life and the Bible. It is way too easy for him to commit a begging the question logical fallacy, by which he starts with a liberal bias in examining anything and concludes with a liberal bias. That gets him nowhere.

The final section on his struggles demonstrates the inconsistencies in his world view. His liberal presupposition overwhelm his ability to consider the claims of Scripture at face value.

F. Works consulted

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When critics ask: A popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Lenski, R C H 1961. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (earlier published by Lutheran Book Concern 1937; The Wartburg Press 1946; Augsburg Publishing House 1961; Hendrickson Publishers, Inc edn 2001).

Kurish, N & Fernandez, M 2017. Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ executive order kicks in, passengers refused entry to US. Brisbane Times, 29 January 2017. Available at: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/refugees-detained-at-us-airports-as-donald-trumps-antimuslim-executive-order-comes-into-force-20170128-gu0p5o.html (Accessed 29 January 2017).

G.  Notes

[1] Christian Forums.net 2017. Questions for Christians (Q&A), Silmarien#8. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/couple-of-questions.68199/#post-1292985 (Accessed 21 January 2017).

[2] The following points are in ibid., OzSpen#17.

[3] Ibid., Silmarien#17.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#24.

[5] This is my reply at ibid., OzSpen#52, #53.

[6] Kulish & Fernandez (2017).

[7] Misogyny means ‘dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women’ (Oxford dictionaries online 2017. s v misogyny).

[8] Deconstruction means ‘detailed examination of a text in order to show there is no fixed meaning but that it can be understood in a different way by each reader’ (Cambridge dictionary 2017. s v deconstruction).

[9] Christian Forums.net 2017. Silmarien#54.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[11] Ibid., Silmarien#54.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[13] Ibid., Silmarien#54.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[15] Ibid., Silmarien#54.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[17] Ibid., Silmarien#17.

[18] Ibid., OzSpen#63.

[19] Ibid., Silmarien#17.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#71.

[21] Ibid., Silmarien#17.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#72.

[23] Ibid., Silmarien#69.

[24] Ibid., OzSpen#70.

[25] Ibid., Silmarien#76.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen#87.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 February 2017.

Secular assaults on the Bible: The inerrant Bible battles

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

Image result for inerrancy clip art

By Spencer D Gear

Why would other religionists and secularists want to start this kind of topic: ‘Why do some believers of Christ feel the bible is without error?’[1] A Mormon got the topic rolling with this statement:

Since spending a few years in researching the origins of the bible and trying to make sense of the intent of the writers of the bible I have discovered to (sic) much evidence that the bible is far from perfect. Why do people believe it is perfect?[2]

Even though he used the language of ‘perfect’ to refer to the Bible, he did not provide a definition of what he meant by the title of his thread, ‘the bible is without error’. Did he mean it is without error in everything it says, including what the devil said, only spiritual matters, or to include some other limitations? Is it without error when it reports the lies of liars? Is every historical detail in the Bible inerrant? Any fair discussion needs a definition of the meaning of ‘the bible is without error’ and the ‘bible is far from perfect’.[3]

A. Samples of responses

It was nor surprising that this kind of topic had the lemmings[4] coming out of their forum’s ethereal Internet captivity. Here are a few grabs of comments:

clip_image002 ‘Because to see any error in it, to them, would mean it isn’t from a perfect deity’ (Judaism).[5]

clip_image002[1] ‘It was very liberating for me when I finally realized it wasn’t perfect. It allowed me the freedom to explore beyond the small box I had created for myself and truly seek God’ (Taoist).[6]

clip_image002[2] ‘These Christians hold that if one word or verse in the Bible cannot be accepted as true, than nothing in it can be depended on to be true, and that Christianity then becomes a total lie. They paint themselves into a theological corner of their own making’ (Christian).[7]

clip_image002[3] ‘Just as the Catholics must accept Papal infallibility, the Protestants must accept Biblical infallibility. As soon as people begin to question portions of the Bible like Noah’s flood, then it creates an avalanche’ (atheist).[8]

clip_image002[4] ‘It is a method of elevating one’s self to the level of divinity. If Bible is infallible and I can read it (and interpret it to my liking) I am on par with God!’ (Buddhist)[9]

clip_image002[5] ‘Since God is perfect, His written Word is perfect. It is also sufficient for every spiritual need’ (2 Tim 3:16,17) [non-denominational].[10]

clip_image002[6] ‘Please let us know which version, with which verses, with which words, is perfect. I am not sure how one can find perfection amongst hundreds of manuscripts (none of which are close to being originals) and with thousands of variations between them. Which combination is perfect? I am eager to learn’ (Christian).[11]

Are you getting the drift? Non-Christians dislike, even detest, the very idea of Scriptures being perfect, without error. Non-evangelical Christians dislike the very idea of perfection in regard to the Bible.

This last comment is getting a little closer. However, there is still no definition of the exact meaning of an errorless Bible. Does it extend right down to every alphabet letter in every word or only to spiritual matters? What about translations versus original manuscripts?

B. Definition needed

A Christian was seeing the need to define further so he wrote:

For the purposes of this discussion, Scripture is GOD-BREATHED (Gk theopneustos) (2 Tim 3:16). In practical terms it means that every word in the 66 canonical books of the Bible’s original manuscripts (Hebrew and Greek) is a word of God, and a word from God. That ensures perfection. God not only inspired His Word, but He also preserved it in the multitude (and majority) of manuscripts. The thousands of variations come from a handful of corrupted manuscripts.[12]

I responded:[13]

That’s not my understanding of inerrancy. Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, gave this definition: ‘The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscritps does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact’ (Grudem 1994:90).

Grudem’s chapter 6 on ‘The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible?’ (pp 90-104) is covered in 15pp. What is important is that the inerrancy of Scripture states that it is without error/contrary to fact in the autographa (original MSS). It does not refer to the accuracy of any translation such as the Latin Vulgate, Geneva Bible, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.
My own view is summarised in this article, ‘The Bible’s support for inerrancy of the originals‘.

This fellow’s reply was that:

A better definition is given by Stewart Custer in Does Inspiration Demand Inerrancy?[14] Inerrancy is that characteristic of Scripture which renders it without mistake AND THEREFORE INFALLIBLE, not just in religious matters, but also in matters of historic and scientific fact…. The fact of the matter is that a large number of so-called Evangelicals have rejected inerrancy, therefore infallibility. For proof study The Battle for the Bible and The Bible in the Balance, both written by evangelical writer Harold Lindsell many years ago[15]

He conceptualised it as INSPIRED clip_image004 INERRANTclip_image004[1]INFALLIBLE. My rejoinder was[16] that according to dictionary definitions, inerrancy means infallibility:

9780310392811(image courtesy Zondervan)

Harold Lindsell, one of my previous professors, raised the issue that was happening with the downgrade of inerrancy, particularly in Southern Baptist circles, in his 1976 book, The Battle for the Bible. Perhaps the most helpful exposition I have read is by Norman L Geisler’s edited book from 1979. Inerrancy. See also, ‘Does the Bible have errors?’ by Dr Norman Geisler.

My own understanding in affirming inerrancy is that the Bible is without error in all that it affirms in the original manuscripts (autographa). It naturally flows from an understanding of the Greek theopneustos (breathed out by God), 2 Tim 3:16 (ESV), and the perfection of God. How is it possible for a God-breathed book to include error when he is Perfect?

The only Bible books that are NOT God-breathed are the translations. They are imperfect because of the transcribing and translation processes.

People commonly say to me: But we don’t have the originals so it is pointless to talk about the inerrancy of original documents we do not have. Do you think so? I have found R. Laird Harris’s explanation helpful in explaining the need to have authoritative original documents behind the copies, even though we currently do not have access to the originals (autographa). He wrote:

‘Reflection will show that the doctrine of verbal inspiration is worthwhile even though the originals have perished. An illustration may be helpful. Suppose we wish to measure the length of a certain pencil. With a tape measure we measure it as 6 1/2 inches. A more carefully made office ruler indicates 6 9/16 inches. Checking with an engineer’s scale, we find it to be slightly more than 6.58 inches. Careful measurement with a steel scale under laboratory conditions reveals it to be 6.577 inches. Not satisfied still, we send the pencil to Washington, where master gauges indicate a length of 6.5774 inches. The master gauges themselves are checked against the standard United States yard marked on platinum bar preserved in Washington. Now, suppose that we should read in the newspapers that a clever criminal had run off with the platinum bar and melted it down for the precious metal. As a matter of fact, this once happened to Britain’s standard yard! What difference would this make to us? Very little. None of us has ever seen the platinum bar. Many of us perhaps never realized it existed. Yet we blithely use tape measures, rulers, scales, and similar measuring devices. These approximate measures derive their value from their being dependent on more accurate gauges. But even the approximate has tremendous value—if it has had a true standard behind it (Harris 1969:88-89).

C. Paul Feinberg defines inerrancy

Paul D. FeinbergPaul D Feinberg (image courtesy Crossway)

In an outstanding, provocative and comprehensive article on ‘the meaning of inerrancy’ (Feinberg 1979)[17], Feinberg provides this definition of inerrancy:

 

‘Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences’ (Feinberg 1979:294, emphasis in original).

Feinberg added two observations (Feinberg 1979:295, emphases in original):

1. No doctrine of inerrancy can determine in advance the solution to individual or specific problem passages.

By this, he meant that this teaching on inerrancy can only give parameters or guidelines to dealing with various passages. It will not guarantee the proper treatment of every problem passage as that involves hermeneutical issues.

2. Inerrancy is a doctrine that must be asserted, but which may not be demonstrated with respect to all the phenomena of Scripture.

In this definition, Feinberg admitted to ‘the explicit recognition of both the fallibility and the finiteness of the present state of human knowledge’, leaving only two choices: (a) ‘Either the theologian will trust the word of an omnipotent, omniscient God, who says that He controlled human agents, making it necessary for the theologian to admit his fallibility as critic’, or (b) ‘in some sense he will declare that the aforementioned control is restricted and will affirm at least his own relative and finite omniscience as critic. Since Christ exhibited total trust in the Scriptures, can we do less? All that is claimed is that there is no final conflict with truth’ (Feinberg 1979:295).

Feinberg provided three qualifications (1979:296-298, emphasis in original):

1. Inerrancy applies equally to all parts of Scripture as originally written (autographa).

2. Inerrancy is intimately tied up with hermeneutics, i.e. the science of biblical interpretation.

3. Inerrancy is related to Scripture’s intention.

These misunderstandings were stated by Feinberg (1979:298-302, emphasis in original:

1. Inerrancy does not demand strict adherence to the rules of grammar.

2. Inerrancy does not exclude the use either of figures of speech or of a given literary genre.

3. Inerrancy does not demand historical or semantic precision.

4. Inerrancy does not demand the technical language of modern science.

5. Inerrancy does not require verbal exactness in the citation of the Old Testament by the New.

6. Inerrancy does not demand that the Logia Jesu (the sayings of Jesus) contain the ipsissima verba (the exact words) of Jesus, only the ipsissima vox (the exact voice).

7. Inerrancy does not guarantee the exhaustive comprehensiveness of any single account or of combined accounts where those are involved.

8. Inerrancy does not demand the infallibility or inerrancy of the noninspired sources used by biblical writers.

Feinberg reached this conclusion at the end of his chapter (1979:304):

Concerning the doctrine of inerrancy may be summarized as follows: (1) the term inerrancy, like other words, is subject to misunderstanding and must be clearly defined; (2) inerrancy should be defined in terms of truth, making a number of the usual problems mute; (3) while inerrancy is not the only word that could express the concept here associated with it, it is a good word; and (4) inerrancy is not the only quality of the Bible that needs to be affirmed…. One cannot do better than to close with the words of Isaiah:

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

Because the breath of the LORD blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

But the word of our God stands forever.

(Isa. 40:7, 8)

D. Pressing on: Still no definition

Now back to the Christian Forum. Posters continued their examination of each other’s views but without defining inerrancy. A neopagan wrote: ‘In my opinion the Bible is probably MORE valid if its perceived as inspired but not inerrant simply because focusing on the central message of the text seems to be more compelling than fighting over how old the Earth is and if that is an essential belief’.[18] My response was:[19] How can we focus on your emphasis, ‘the central message of the text’, if the text cannot be understood as being reliable?

‘Fighting over how old the earth is’ relates to interpretation (hermeneutics) and not to the quality of the original documents.
Don’t you also have another worldview[20] from which you are trying to judge the Bible? Which Scriptures have you used to teach and/or reject the infallibility of Scripture?

It was not surprising that he did not want to deal with the specifics I raised. He came back with (part of his reply),

I use the scientific knowledge and experience provided to me over the course of my life. I’ve been in a variety of churches who require an infallible, literal acceptance of the Bible and then others that are in more of an inspired, less literal camp. The less literal camp appeared to make more sense if one is evaluating the Bible as a description of everything in the world. The more literal interpretation loses me on it’s (sic) history and scientific aspects.[21]

Some concerning emphases come out of some Christian thinking on this topic. Here’s one example:

I believe them to be perfect in every way.

That said, I don’t believe it matters. Why? Subjection to opinion of the reader causes various errant interpretation (sic) of even that which is perfect.

Inerrancy of the scriptures then simply becomes a tool to divide rather than edify.

I NEVER discuss inerrancy when ministering to someone in need.[22]

There are some loose ends here to which I responded.[23] Neither do I discuss inerrancy when ministering to a needy person. That’s not the environment for such theological discussion.

However, I do deal with inerrancy of the original documents when teaching or preaching on a core Christian doctrine, the authority or otherwise of Scripture.

I’m not of the view that inerrancy does not matter. I’m interested in what the Scriptures teach. That’s where I begin and finish, remembering that there are established principles for interpreting any document, whether that be Scripture or the local newspaper.

E. We don’t have the originals

When antagonists attack the Bible, it’s not uncommon to get this kind of response: ‘We don’t have the originals, only many copies of copies of copies. And, the vast majority of scholars agree, there are errors in the copies’.[24] The following is my reply:[25]

clip_image005Dr Bruce Metzger died in 2007 at the age of 93 (photo courtesy Wikipedia).

He was one of the world’s most eminent examiners/critics of the Greek text of the NT in the 20th century. His book, last revised in 1992, The Text of the New Testament, has a chapter and many other details on ‘The practice of New Testament textual criticism’ (Metzger 1992:207ff).
One of his conclusions was:

Let it be emphasized again that no single manuscript and no none group of manuscripts exists which the textual critic may follow mechanically. All known witnesses of the New Testament are to a greater or less extent mixed texts, and even the earliest manuscripts are not free from egregious errors. Although in very many cases the textual critic is able to ascertain without residual dou8bt which reading must have stood in the original, there are not a few other cases where he can come only to a tentative decision based on an equivocal balancing of probabilities. Occasionally none of the variant readings will commend itself as original, and he will be compelled either to choose the reading which he judges to be the least unsatisfactory or to indulge in conjectural emendation. In textual criticism, as in other areas of historical research, one must seek not only to learn what can be known, but also to become aware of what, because of conflicting witnesses, cannot be known (Metzger 1992:246). ?

However, there is another part of the story. One of the editors of the RSV of 1946, F C Grant, wrote,’It will be obvious to the careful reader that still in 1946 [when the RSV was published], as in 1881 [ASV publication] and 1901 [RV publication], no doctrine of the Christian faith has been affected by the revision, for the simple reason that, out of the thousands of variant readings in the manuscripts, none has turned up thus far that requires a revision of Christian doctrine’ (Grant 1946:42).

FF Bruce.jpg

(F F Bruce, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

F F Bruce’s comment on this statement was:

If the variant readings are so numerous, it is because the witnesses are so numerous. But all the witnesses, and all the types which they represent, agree on every article of Christian belief and practice. [The 20th century] has seen no greater authority in this field of New Testament textual criticism than Sir Frederick Kenyon, who died in August 1952, and we may take his words to heart in confidence: “It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable word of God” [Kenyon 1936:144]. And again: “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established [Kenyon 1940:228ff] (Bruce 1963:189-190).

You have stated that we don’t have the originals and that is a true statement. If we don’t have the originals, is it pointless to talk about the inerrancy of documents we do not have? I do not think so. I have found R. Laird Harris’s explanation helpful in explaining the need to have authoritative original documents behind the copies, even though we currently do not have access to the originals (autographa). He wrote the statement given above (Harris 1969:88-89).

F. Limited intention of Bible

It was not long before another kind of emphasis would arise from a Christian:

The Bible is accurate for what it is. It is not accurate for what it is not.

It is (in my opinion) the set of spiritual instructions from God to mankind. Even within this narrow scope there is still many variations as to what the instructions say. We should not try to focus on the parts we disagree on but instead focus on the parts we agree on.[26]

So the Bible is only accurate in its ‘spiritual instructions from God’ to human beings, but even that allows for some variations. Don’t focus on disagreement but on things with which we agree. Wow! Who invented that one? He provided not one piece of supporting biblical evidence to arrive at such a view.

What an opportunity to rebut such a view.[27]

Wayne Grudem Photo 2014.jpg

(Wayne Grudem, photograph courtesy Wikipedia)

I’m pleased that you stated that this was your opinion because it does not match the facts. Here’s some evidence to confute what you stated:

Evangelical theologian, Dr Wayne Grudem, knows the Scriptures well and he refutes your perspective with this evidence:

In this section we examine the major objections that are commonly made against the concept of inerrancy.

1. The Bible Is Only Authoritative for “Faith and Practice.” One of the most frequent objections is raised by those who say that the purpose of Scripture is to teach us in areas that concern “faith and practice” only; that is, in areas that directly relate to our religious faith or to our ethical conduct. This position would allow for the possibility of false statements in Scripture, for example, in other areas such as in minor historical details or scientific facts—these areas, it is said, do not concern the purpose of the Bible, which is to instruct us in what we should believe and how we are to live. Its advocates often prefer to say that the Bible is “infallible” but they hesitate to use the word inerrant.

The response to this objection can be stated as follows: the Bible repeatedly affirms that all of Scripture is profitable for us (2 Tim. 3:16) and that all of it is “God- breathed.” Thus it is completely pure (Ps. 12:6), perfect (Ps. 119:96), and true (Prov. 30:5). The Bible itself does not make any restriction on the kinds of subjects to which it speaks truthfully.

The New Testament contains further affirmations of the reliability of all parts of Scripture: in Acts 24:14, Paul says that he worships God, “believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets.” In Luke 24:25, Jesus says that the disciples are “foolish men” because they are “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” In Romans 15:4, Paul says that “whatever was written” in the Old Testament was “written for our instruction.” These texts give no indication that there is any part of Scripture that is not to be trusted or relied on completely. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10:11, Paul can refer even to minor historical details in the Old Testament (sitting down to eat and drink, rising up to dance) and can say both that they “happened” (thus implying historical reliability) and “were written down for our instruction.”

If we begin to examine the way in which the New Testament authors trust the smallest historical details of the Old Testament narrative, we see no intention to separate out matters of “faith and practice,” or to say that this is somehow a recognizable category of affirmations, or to imply that statements not in that category need not be trusted or thought to be inerrant. Rather, it seems that the New Testament authors are willing to cite and affirm as true every detail of the Old Testament (Grudem1994:93).?

Therefore, the Bible confirms that not only matters of Judeo-Christian faith and practice are affirmed as inerrant in Scripture, but this perfection in the original documents extends to all details in Scripture. Even the citing of error and unrighteousness is truthful in its accuracy.

G. False view: Teachings come through

It’s natural in this kind of public discussion that some far out views will arise. This one came from a Mormon:

This does not mean there are not errors. It means that many of the teachings came through. It does not mean that they came through unscathed. Every word translated is not “God breathed”. Believers can take what they want to believe and leave out what they don’t like or do not understand.[28]

How does one reply? Here is what I observed?[29] You have not demonstrated your premises. You have given us your presuppositions that need to be tested (and a short thread like this is hardly the place to do it). Your presuppositions emerge from this statement:

  • The Bible contains errors;
  • Many Bible teachings came through in spite of errors;
  • These teachings have been affected (i.e. not unscathed) by the errors in the text;
  • ‘God breathed’ does not apply to every word of the Bible;
  • Believers can pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible.

These presuppositions need to be tested for verification or falsification from the biblical text because you are talking about ‘the Bible’.
However, your presuppositions do seem to have some dimensions of a doubting, skeptical worldview.

Here’s a perspective that is not so distorted, but it has problems:

Then you have thrown out a majority of the Christian churches. Because most don’t teach inerrant also many of the church fathers didn’t teach inerrancy. I’m not saying the Bible isn’t inerrant I’m saying that it doesn’t have to be inerrant to be true. Furthermore providing a quote/source of a theologians opinion doesn’t equate to facts. I could also go to my bookshelf and provide an example of the other opinion. Finally, it is presumptive to assume that the person you quoted knows the scripture better than someone of this site. People that publish books aren’t the only ones with degrees in Biblical/Theological studies.[30]

These problems include:[31] His statement affirms the ‘appeal to common practice‘ logical fallacy.

If the ‘majority of Christian churches’ do not agree with this position, it does not deny the accuracy of such a position. In addition, you presented not one example to support your case for the ‘majority’.

To say that ‘it doesn’t have to be inerrant to be true’ is asking me to affirm the accuracy of Scripture without its being prefect/inerrant.

I also can go to the 2,500 volumes in my personal library and choose books that do not affirm inerrancy. That proves nothing. Our issues are: (1) What’s the biblical evidence? (2) Can the God of perfection make available a document for everyday consumption that is not perfect?
So are you suggesting that Harold Lindsell, John W Montgomery, Wayne Grudem, Norman Geisler, and others who accumulate evidence in support of inerrancy, are presumptive and don’t know what they are talking about? You stated, ‘many of the church fathers didn’t teach inerrancy’, but you provided not a shred of evidence to support your claim. Derek J Brown (n d) in his article, ‘Inerrancy and church history: The early fathers’, demonstrated that ‘the early church fathers through explicit statements and in their theological practice affirmed the error-free nature of Scripture’.

H. Church fathers on inerrancy

1. Clement of Rome (ca. AD 30-100) wrote ‘Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them’ (Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, ch 24, emphasis in original).

2. Justin Martyr (100-165), an apologist with Platonic leanings, wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho:

But if [you have done so] because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that I might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext [for saying] that it is contrary [to some other], since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself (ch 65).

3. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215), speaking of the Scripture, stated:For truly holy are those letters that sanctify and deify; and the writings or volumes that consist of those holy letters and syllables, the same apostle consequently calls “inspired of God, being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work” [ 2 Tim 3:16]’ (Exhortation to the heathen, ch 9).

4. Irenaeus (ca. 120/140-200/203),[32] in his seminal publication, Against Heresies, wrote: ‘We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit’ (Against Heresies 2.28.2).

Johnchrysostom.jpg

(A Byzantine mosaic of John Chrysostom, image courtesy Wikipedia)

5. Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) discussed incidents in the Gospels to help people understand ‘the difference between statements that are diverse and contradictory’, an example being Christ carrying the cross and Simon, the Cyrene, carrying it. He showed how ‘there is no contradiction’ as both took place. His conclusion is that ‘it is possible to collect many other instances of this kind from the Gospels, which seem to have a suspicion of contradiction, where there is no real contradiction’ (Works of St. Chrysostom, The paralytic let down through the roof, p. 214)

It has been cited on the Internet that Chrysostom wrote that ‘there is divergence in the historical narratives of the Gospel – a fact which disarms the suggestion of collusion which might be made by the enemy, if the agreement between the Four Evangelists were too minute – but there is no contradiction’.[33]

In Homily 1 on Matthew, Chrysostom wrote concerning the four Gospels:

What then? Was not one evangelist sufficient to tell all? One indeed was sufficient; but if there be four that write, not at the same times, nor in the same places, neither after having met together, and conversed one with another, and then they speak all things as it were out of one mouth, this becomes a very great demonstration of the truth….

But the contrary,” it may be said, “has come to pass, for in many places they are convicted of discordance.” Nay, this very thing is a very great evidence of their truth. For if they had agreed in all things exactly even to time, and place, and to the very words, none of our enemies would have believed but that they had met together, and had written what they wrote by some human compact; because such entire agreement as this comes not of simplicity. But now even that discordance which seems to exist in little matters delivers them from all suspicion, and speaks clearly in behalf of the character of the writers.

But if there be anything touching times or places, which they have related differently, this nothing injures the truth of what they have said…. In the chief heads, those which constitute our life and furnish out our doctrine, nowhere is any of them found to have disagreed, no not ever so little….

The harmony between them [the four Gospels] we will establish, both by the whole world, which has received their statements, and by the very enemies of the truth…. With regard to the Scriptures, in each portion of what is there stated, one may see the connection with the whole clearly appearing…. But that they are not opposed to each other, this we will endeavor to prove, throughout the whole work. And thou, in accusing them of disagreement, art doing just the same as if you were to insist upon their using the same words and forms of speech (Matthew, Homily 1:5, 6, 8, emphasis in original.

He wrote that ‘the Scriptures were all written and sent, not by servants, but by God the Lord of all’ (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Gal 1:8, 9).

Speaking of the paralytic man in the Gospels who was let down to Jesus through the roof (see Mark 2:1-12; Matt 9:2-8; Lk 5:17-26), Chrysostom explained:

It is possible to collect many other instances of this kind from the Gospels, which seem to have a suspicion of contradiction, where there is no real contradiction, the truth being that some incidents have been related by this writer, others by that; or if not occurring at the same hour one author has related the earlier event, another the later; but in the present case there is nothing of this kind, but the multitude of the evidences which I have mentioned proves to those who pay any attention whatever to the matter, that the paralytic was not the same man in both instances. And this would be no slight proof to demonstrate that the evangelists were in harmony with each other and not at variance. For if it were the same man the discord is great between the two accounts: but if it be a different one all material for dispute has been destroyed (Homily on the Paralytic Let Down Through the Roof, section 4).

Elsewhere he wrote in his commentary on Galatians 1:7, ‘For the oneness of a work depends not on the number of its authors, but on the agreement or contradictoriness of its contents. Whence it is clear that the four Gospels are one Gospel; for, as the four say the same thing, its oneness is preserved by the harmony of the contents, and not impaired by the difference of persons’ (Homily 1 on Galatians).

6. St. Augustine (ca. 354-430) wrote to Jerome,

On such terms we might amuse ourselves without fear of offending each other in the field of Scripture, but I might well wonder if the amusement was not at my expense. For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason (Letter 83.3, Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers, First Series, vol 1, p. 350, emphasis added).

In Letter 28 to Jerome, Augustine presented his further understanding of the nature of Scripture:

It seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books: that is to say, that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false. It is one question whether it may be at any time the duty of a good man to deceive; but it is another question whether it can have been the duty of a writer of Holy Scripture to deceive: nay, it is not another question— it is no question at all….

To speak well of a falsehood uttered on behalf of God, was a crime not less, perhaps even greater, than to speak ill of the truth concerning Him? We must therefore be careful to secure, in order to our knowledge of the divine Scriptures, the guidance only of such a man as is imbued with a high reverence for the sacred books, and a profound persuasion of their truth (28.3.3, 4).

Augustine’s Reply to Faustus, the Manichaean (11.2) was:[34]

When these men are beset by clear testimonies of Scripture, and cannot escape from their grasp, they declare that the passage is spurious. The declaration only shows their aversion to the truth, and their obstinacy in error. Unable to answer these statements of Scripture, they deny their genuineness….

Should there be a question about the text of some passage, as there are a few passages with various readings well known to students of the sacred Scriptures, we should first consult the manuscripts of the country where the religion was first taught; and if these still varied, we should take the text of the greater number, or of the more ancient. And if any uncertainty remained, we should consult the original text. This is the method employed by those who, in any question about the Scriptures, do not lose sight of the regard due to their authority, and inquire with the view of gaining information, not of raising disputes.

I. Conclusion of church fathers on Scripture

From the above sample of evidence from the church fathers, we can conclude that they had a very high regard of the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture. Of Scripture it is stated:

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Trustworthy and from the Holy Spirit;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Inspired by God;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small No Scripture contradicts another;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Scriptures are perfect, spoken from God and His Spirit;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small A very great demonstration of truth; evidence of their truth;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Written and sent by God, the Lord;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small No real contradiction but harmony in the Gospels;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small The four Gospels are one Gospel;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Authors are completely free from error;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Apparent opposition to truth indicates the MSS is faulty, the translator has not translated correctly, or the reader has failed to understand.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small A writer of Scripture cannot deceive or promote falsehood on behalf of God;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Those opposed to the clear testimonies of Scripture declare a passage is spurious and are being obstinate in error.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small The Scriptures have authority.

Robert Preus, after examining the evidence of the views on the inerrancy of Scripture in the early church, concluded that ‘whether the Fathers speak of the inspiration of the writers of Scripture or of the inspiration of the Bible itself, they are affirming one fundamental truth, that Scripture is really and truly God’s Word, all of it, even its minute details. Scripture is therefore divinely authoritative – and infallibly true’ (Preus 1979:364-365).

In my article, ‘the Bible’s support for inerrancy of the originals‘, I have provided scriptural evidence to demonstrate the Bible’s own support for its infallible authority.

J. Along comes a skeptical philologist[35]

This woman later identified herself as a philologist. She said:

In sharp contrast to the Qur’an (which claims to present the direct, verbatim words of Abraham’s deity, unadulterated by the fallible mortal who merely repeated these revelations), the Bible never masks its status as a vast anthology of heterogeneous texts written by human authors over an extended period of time. How fundamentalists could possibly end up believing that it’s all basically “GOD’S WORD” mystifies me. (And yes, I am familiar with the Pauline epistle that answers the question of whether Christians ought to read Jewish scriptures in spite of having discarded Mosaic law. It does not pertain to the “New Testament”, and it does not claim infallibility, either.)[36]

That’s inviting me, a supporter of inerrancy, to offer a counter argument.[37] So I wrote: These are your assertions. You have provided no defence of your position. It’s expected that that short response would get her pulses increased:

Well, what exactly do you want me to refute and/or prove?

That the Bible is a heterogeneous anthology instead of a single text written (or dictated verbatim) by a single, divine author? A single glance at the table of contents suffices for that.

That the books of the Bible do not claim to represent God’s words (except for passages that explicitly state: “Thus says the LORD”)? Again, the text itself suffices.

Or maybe that the Pauline epistle in question does not make the claim that the whole anthology is inerrant? For that, you only need to do one thing: read the epistle in its historical context. For starters, the New Testament did not exist at that point. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Secondly, the letter addresses a specific question, as I pointed out before: should Christians read the Septuagint, or shouldn’t they? Paul’s answer: yes, read them, they’re all inspired and good for instruction. It doesn’t even claim inerrancy, let alone direct verbal inspiration.[38]

K. More fuel for the debate

(image courtesy dreamstime.com)Holy Bible

How should I respond?[39] Would you have any difficulty with a Shakespearean anthology in determining that Shakespeare was the author. Simply because the Bible is – in your understanding – ‘a heterogeneous anthology’ should not deter you from determining the nature of inerrancy from WITHIN the contents of this ‘anthology’. That’s not such a difficult task. What’s the barrier to wanting to determine the nature of the authority of Scripture in relation to inerrancy?

You state: ‘That the books of the Bible do not claim to represent God’s words (except for passages that explicitly state: “Thus says the LORD”)? Again, the text itself suffices’. Do Shakespeare’s works have written through them, ‘thus says Shakespeare’, to affirm that Shakespeare is the author? I think not.

You state: ‘Or maybe that the Pauline epistle in question does not make the claim that the whole anthology is inerrant? For that, you only need to do one thing: read the epistle in its historical context. For starters, the New Testament did not exist at that point. Zilch. Zip. Nada’.[40] I presume you are referring to 2 Tim 3:16, ‘All Scripture’. If you did your homework on this text, you would discover that this verse is referring primarily, but not exclusively, to the OT Scriptures. Here are a couple examples:

  1. William Hendriksen: ‘All scripture, in distinction from “(the) sacred writings” (for which see on verse 15) means everything which, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the church, is recognized by the church as canonical, that is, authoritative. When Paul wrote these words, the direct reference was to a body of sacred literature which even then comprised more than the Old Testament (see 1 Tim 5:18)…. Later, at the close of the first century A. D., “all scripture” had been completed. Though the history of recognition, review, and ratification of the canon was somewhat complicated, and virtually universal acceptance of all the sixty-six books did not occur immediately in every region where the church was represented – one of the reasons being that for a long time certain of the smaller books had not even reached every corner of the church’ (Hendriksen & Kistemaker 1957:301).
  2. Edwin Blum: ‘These sacred writings are what we know as the Old Testament books and are so valuable because they have the ability to give the “wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”‘ (Blum 1979:45)

There is teaching on inerrancy in this passage, based on the nature of God, but you don’t seem to want to acknowledge that.

The reply came with vengeance:

Well, I am a philologist, so the first task would be to analyze the separate texts for telltale signs of authorship: if they’ve all been written by the same person, it’ll show – and indeed, it does. There are some scholarly debates as to whether Bill Shakespeare wasn’t just a cover for somebody else (Philipp Marlowe, Edward de Vere, Francis Bacon, etc.), but one thing’s for certain: these texts *were* written by a single author.

The same cannot be said about the Bible – and the Bible never disguises that fact. Its separate books bear the names of those people who (in some cases only supposedly) wrote them – both in the New and in the Old Testament. It doesn’t claim that God wrote the psalms – David did. It doesn’t claim that God wrote the gospel of Luke – the greek physician of that name did, etc.

It does not collect the texts of a single author – it collects texts written by very different people with very different perspectives and theologies, composed over a period of a thousand years. And it shows. No philologist would ever conclude that, say, the Song of Songs was written by the same person as Ecclesiastes….

That must be the WORST rationalization I’ve ever seen, ignoring historical context, authorial intent and even the very text in question. The scripture Paul’s talking about here is the Septuagint – nothing more, nothing less. He’s simply addressing the question of whether Christians ought to read Jewish scriptures or not. [41]

She thinks she has the high water mark. This was my reply:[42] You state:

  1. ‘It doesn’t claim that God wrote the psalms – David did’. That is not true. Many of the Psalms are attributed to David but many are not, e.g. Ps 1, 2, 10, 42 (sons of Korah), etc.
  2. ‘It doesn’t claim that God wrote the gospel of Luke – the greek physician of that name did’. No early MSS tells who wrote the Gospel of Luke. The inference is the Greek physician who was Paul’s accomplice.
  3. ‘No philologist would ever conclude that, say, the Song of Songs [SoS] was written by the same person as Ecclesiastes’. SoS is attributed to Solomon (SoS 1:1) and Eccl to ‘the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem’ (Eccl 1:1). Many scholars identify ‘the Preacher’ as the son of king David, Solomon, and that of an old man. Your philologist friends don’t like the same author, but the Hebrew scholars Keil & Delitzsch state of SoS, ‘we believe we have proved that it distinctly bears evidences of its Solomonic origin’ (n d:6.11). In the same volume, their commentary on Ecclesiastes concludes very differently from your position: ‘It is written as from the very soul of Solomon; it issues from the same fountain of wisdom’ and they give their reasons for that conclusion (ibid., The Book of Ecclesiastes, p. 188). I’m sticking with Hebrew scholars and their conclusions.
  4. You don’t like my explanation of 2 Tim 3:16 (ESV), but that’s OK with me. There is not a word in that verse that says it was referring to the ‘Scripture’ of the LXX (although it could have been by inference) but it was referring primarily to the OT Scripture. Your view is that in this verse, ‘he’s simply addressing the question of whether Christians ought to read Jewish scriptures or not’. No he’s not! He’s telling the nature of the authority of Scripture. It is theopneustos, God-breathed. I do note that you forgot to mention how this happens and 2 Peter 1:20-21 (ESV) articulates the particulars: ‘knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’.

Your discipline of philology seems to want to deny how God can take many human authors, to whom God spoke by his Spirit, and carried them along in writing 66 books of OT + NT. I have a high regard for the meaning of theopneustos.

L. Exact word ‘inerrant’ not necessary

Scripture states:

Psalm 12:6 (NIV), ‘And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times’.
Psalm 18:30 (NIV), ‘As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him’
Proverbs 30:5 (NIV), ‘Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him’.

What do these 3 verses teach about the nature of Scripture/the Word of God? It is as clear as crystal that the words of the Lord/God are ‘flawless’. That means without flaw, without error, having no fault. How else do you want me to put it? There is no need to state that the Scripture is inerrant when it states that it is ‘flawless’, which is a synonymous term. That should be the end of the story, but it is not for those who want to stir the theological pot as non-believers.

Now the discussion took another turn.

M. To avoid dealing with issues

Notice what people do to avoid dealing with matters with which they do not agree. Here’s but one example:

“Liberty University”? Ah, yes, a private Christian fundamentalist college that teaches creationism as “science”. Yyyyeah, that sure is a reliable academic source.[43]

What could provoke such a reactionary response? I was the culprit. I had quoted Brandon Carter’s (2007) thesis in support of the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.[44] This was from Brandon’s bachelor’s degree honors’ programme at Liberty University. What was this promoter of Gaia doing with the above negative statements about Liberty University?

N. Genetic logical fallacy to divert attention

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)(logical fallacies)

My reply to Jane was: ‘Why must you commit a genetic logical fallacy with this statement? It’s a typical tactic to avoid dealing with the subject at hand’.[45]

How do you think she might reply? She began with:

It’s a fundamentalist argument provided by a fundamentalist author from a fundamentalist university whose academic credentials can be summarily dismissed because they favour biblical literalism above the scientific method.[46]

I replied:[47] You give me another logical fallacy, a red herring fallacy this time. You did not address the issue I raised that you used a genetic logical fallacy when you denigrated the origin of the argument and did not deal with the issue itself.
We cannot have a logical conversation when you continue with these fallacies because you are using fallacious reasoning.

O. Eminent scholar supports Pauline authorship of Pastorals

I wrote that Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (1971:584-624),[48] an eminent NT scholar, had no difficulty and complications in demonstrating the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles.[49]

A Bahai religionist was quick to jump on this one: ‘You are relying on one guy from 44 years ago, to latch onto? Clearly, you have been quite selective in reviewing the works of well credentialed NT scholars and historians’.[50]

P. Support for Pauline authorship of Pastoral Epistles

File:P46.jpg

Papyrus 46, one of the oldest New Testament papyri, showing 2 Cor 11:33-12:9 (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I replied:[51] Neither do I support just one researcher who defends Pauline authorship, but I gave one outstanding example of a scholar of international repute who demonstrated the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. Here I provide much more additional information in support of Pauline authorship, as well as some who oppose it.

Read this thread and you’ll see where I supplied support from the Church Fathers who also accepted Pauline authorship, including Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Tertullian.

It is false of you to state that I rely on only one opinion. Please quit your false accusations against me. Nevertheless, Donald Guthrie has summarised: ‘The unbroken tradition of the church until the nineteenth century was to regard the pastorals as the work of Paul and therefore authentic’.[52] [53]That changed with Schleiermacher (1807) and he became the leader of a school of modern criticism to reject them as the work of Paul, based on stylistic and linguistic grounds.

For an Internet accessible assessment of the objections to Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, see Donald Guthrie’s, ‘The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul’ (1956:3-44). Guthrie’s conclusion is: ‘It seems more reasonable to regard the Pastorals as true products of the mind of Paul’.

Those who have followed Schleiermacher in rejecting Pauline authorship have included Eichhorn (1812), F C Baur (1835), de Wette (1844), Holtzmann (1880), Moffatt (1901), Bultmann (1930), and Dibelius (1931). There have been a few deniers of Pauline authorship but they want to maintain there are fragments of Paul in the Pastorals. These include Von Soden (1893), Harrison (1921), Scott (1936), Falconer (1937) and Easton (1948).

HOWEVER, for the last couple of centuries there have been careful scholars who supported the Pastorals as authentically Pauline in authorship. These scholars have included: Ellicott (1864), Bertrand (1887), Plummer (1888), Godet (1893), Hort (1894), Bernard (1902), B. Weiss (1902), Zahn (1906), J. D. James (1906), Ramsay (1909-11), White (1910), Bartlet (1913), Parry (1920), Wohlenberg (1923), Lock (1924), Menertz (1931), Schlatter (1936), R C H Lenski (1937), Spicq (1947), Jeremias (1953), Simpson (1954), Hendriksen (1955), Guthrie (1957; 1971), J N D Kelly (1963), Earle (1978), and Fee (1988).
Eusebius (ca. AD 265-339) wrote:

Thus after he [Paul] had made his defense it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and that upon coming to the same city a second time he suffered martyrdom. In this imprisonment he wrote his second epistle to Timothy, in which he mentions his first defense and his impending death. (Ecclesiastical History 2.22.2, emphasis added).

Guthrie noted: ‘The fact that so impressive a list of scholars can be cited in favour of Pauline authorship serves as a warning against the tacit assumption of some scholars that no scientific grounds remain for the traditional position, and that all who maintain it are obliged to resort to special pleading’.[54] However, he also acknowledged in an earlier publication that ‘No-one can seriously entertain a study of this problem without being acutely aware that the many differing opinions which have been advanced during the last century and a half make it difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at any solution which would convince every school of thought’.[55]

Church fathers support Pauline authorship of Pastorals

[56]Let’s keep on topic and why 2 Tim 3:16 is reliable and Pauline (and hence inerrant as God’s theopneustos). There is ample evidence to affirm the Pastoral Epistles as Pauline. Here is some further evidence:

Irenaeus (ca. AD 125-202) and one of Polycarp’s disciples stated this of the Pauline authorship of the pastorals in Against Heresies (3.3.3), ‘Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy…. Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself [a citation from Titus 3:10]’ (emphasis added).

Tertullian (ca. AD 160-220) wrote, ‘It is the same Paul who, in his Epistle to the Galatians, counts “heresies” among the sins of the flesh [Galatians 5:20] who also intimates to Titus, that a man who is a heretic must be rejected after the first admonition, on the ground that he that is such is perverted, and commits sin, as a self-condemned man [Titus 3:10-11] (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, ch 6).

Clement of Alexandria (b. ca. 150) wrote, ‘You, therefore, be strong, says Paul, in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you have heard of me among many witnesses, commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also [2 Timothy 2:1-2, emphasis added]’. And again: Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth [2 Tim 2:15]’ (The Stromata, Bk 1, Ch 1)
Brandon Carter’s (2007) thesis investigated the Pauline authorship or otherwise of the Pastoral Epistles and concluded:

Having investigated the arguments for and against Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, several conclusions can be made. First, theories of pseudonymity create more problems than they solve and are not viable solutions for the problem of authorship. A pseudonymous writing is inherently deceptive and cannot be considered authoritative. Second, in regard to the historical evidence, the information within the epistles does not have to be forced into the timeline of the book of Acts. Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment and then a second arrest is entirely plausible. Furthermore, the numerous internal references to various historical circumstances only strengthen the case for authenticity while the external witness of the church fathers is overwhelmingly in favor of Pauline authorship. Third, the conclusion that Paul wrote the letters is not undermined by their theological content. The ecclesiology found in the letters does not conflict with church structure evident in Acts and the other epistles of the New Testament. Also, the heresy addressed in the letters is Jewish in nature and contemporaneous to the time of Paul. Finally, the differing vocabulary and literary style of the Pastoral Epistles and the undisputed Pauline corpus can be accounted for by the various circumstances and purposes surrounding the Pastorals’ composition. The use of hapax legomena [i.e. a term occurring only once] is dictated by the content of the letters, and statistical studies have demonstrated that the percentage of hapax legomena in the Pastoral Epistles is comparable to that of other Pauline writings. Moreover, the literary style of the Pastorals exhibits many similarities to the undisputed writings of the apostle. Thus, while the view of Pauline authorship is not without difficulties, readers have every reason to believe that the epistles to Timothy and Titus are, in fact, genuine writings of the apostle Paul and authoritative for the church today (Carter 2007:34-35).

Marcion and Tatian, two heretics of the 2nd century, rejected the Pauline authorship of the pastoral apostles (see Carter 2007).
Thus, it is reasonable to conclude:

‘If such situations and contacts with people were fabricated by a pseudepigrapher pretending to be Paul, surely the fraud could have been easily exposed. However, none of the church fathers doubted the letters’ authenticity. Thus, Knight argues that the self-testimony of the Pastoral Epistles makes clear in each introduction that the author was in fact Paul the apostle, and the extensive personal allusions that permeate each letter substantiate that claim’ (Knight in Carter 2007:14).

For an excellent chapter in support of inerrancy of the original documents, see: ‘The Inerrancy of the Autographa’, by Greg L. Bahnsen.

Q. Conclusion

There is sound biblical evidence to support the inerrancy of Scripture in the original manuscripts. Inerrancy means that the Bible is without error in all that it affirms. Even though the exact word, inerrancy, is not found in Scripture, the teaching is. When the Word of God is affirmed as ‘flawless’ and all Scripture is breathed out by God, there is strong support for inerrancy as the biblical doctrine at the heart of inspiration of Scripture.

The Pauline authorship of the Pastorals was supported by the church fathers and church teachers until the early nineteenth century when Schleiermacher instigated skeptical criticism, promoting non-Pauline authorship. However, since that time there has been a strong representation until the present time of support for Pauline authorship of the Pastorals.

It has been demonstrated here that a person’s worldview determines his/her approach to the Bible. Only evangelical Christians with a solid understanding of the God-breathed nature of the Bible – from the perfect God – will ever arrive at an inerrant doctrine of biblical authority.

Works consulted

Barry, G D 1919/2013. The inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. London: Forgotten Books.

Blum, E A 1979. The apostles’ view of Scripture, in N L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, 39-56. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Bruce, F F 1963. The books and the parchments: Some chapters on the transmission of the Bible, rev ed. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the Centuries. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Carter, B 2007. The Authorship of the Pastoral Epistles (online). A Senior Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for graduation in the Honors Program, Liberty University, Fall. Available at: http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&context=honors (Accessed 17 August 2015).

Feinberg P D 1979. The meaning of inerrancy, in N L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, 265-304. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Geisler, N L (ed) 1979. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Grant, F C 1946. The Greek text of the New Testament, in An introduction to the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, 37-42. New York: International Council of Religious Education.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Guthrie, D 1956. The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul (online). The Tyndale New Testament Lecture. London: The Tyndale Press. Available at: http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/pastorals_guthrie.pdf (Accessed 30 August 2015).[57]

Guthrie, D 1957. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles. R V G Tasker gen ed. London: The Tyndale Press.

Harris, R. L. 1957, 1969. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hendriksen, W & Kistemaker, S J 1955, 1957, 1984. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d. Commentary on the Old Testament: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, vol 6 (3 vols in 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Knight, G W 1992. The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Metzger, B M 1992. The text of the New Testament: Its transmission, corruption, and restoration, 3rd ed. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oxford Dictionaries: English 2015. Oxford University Press. Available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ (Accessed 18 August 2015).

Preus, R D 1979. The view of the Bible held by the church: The early church through Luther. In N L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, 357-384. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes


[1] Christian Forums, Christianity and World Religions, Why do some believers of Christ feel the bible is without error? (online) 6 August 2015. Available at:

http://www.christianforums.com/threads/why-do-some-believers-of-christ-feel-the-bible-is-withou-error.7901181/ (Accessed 18 August 2015).

[2] Ibid., fatboys#1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The word is used here to refer to ‘a person who unthinkingly joins a mass movement’ (oxforddictionaries 2015. S v lemming, available at: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/lemming).

[5] Christian Forums, op cit, Loammi#2.

[6] Ibid., gordRedeemed#4.

[7] Ibid., Martinius#5.

[8] Ibid., Cloudyday2#6.

[9] Ibid., kit#7.

[10] Ibid., Job8#13.

[11] Ibid., Martinius#17.

[12] Ibid., Job8#18.

[13] Ibid., OzSpen#80.

[14] This book was published in 1968 in Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press.

[15] Christian Forums, op cit., Job8#81, emphasis in original.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#82.

[17] Part of this article/chapter is available as a Google book HERE (this means that some pages are missing).

[18] Christian Forums, op cit, Zoness#79.

[19] Ibid., OzSpen#83.

[20] He had labelled himself as ‘Neopagan Cryptoanarchist’.

[21] Ibid., Zoness#85.

[22] Ibid., Gdemoss#90.

[23] Ibid., OzSpen#91.

[24] Ibid., bhsmte#98.

[25] Ibid., OzSpen#101.

[26] Ibid., Americanvet#102.

[27] Ibid., OzSpen#103.

[28] Ibid., fatboys#104.

[29] Ibid., OzSpen#108.

[30] Ibid., americanvet#111.

[31] Ibid., OzSpen#114.

[32] Lifespan details from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Irenaeus 2015. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Irenaeus (Accessed 25 August 2015).

[33] This citation was located at Barry (2013:121). However, I have been unable to locate this quotation in Chrysostom’s works which can be located at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chrysostom (Accessed 25 August 2015).

[34] ‘Manicheanism, which was somewhat similar to Gnosticism, was founded by a man named Mani or Manichaeus (216-76) of Mesopotamia, who developed his peculiar philosophical system about the middle of the third century. Mani worked a curious combination of Christian thought, Zoroastrianism, and other oriental religious ideas into a thoroughgoing dualistic philosophy’. In AD 373, Augustine pursued Manichean teaching ‘in his search for truth’ but found it to be insufficient for him and he turned to Cicero’s philosophy and Neoplatonic teachings before his crisis conversion to Christ in 386 (Cairns 1981:100, 146).

[35] Philology is ‘the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages’ (oxforddictionaries 2015. S v philology).

[36] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#115.

[37] Ibid., OzSpen#116.

[38] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#119.

[39] Ibid., OzSpen#126.

[40] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#119.

[41] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#182.

[42] Ibid., OzSpen#183.

[43] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#194.

[44] Ibid., OzSpen#192.

[45] Ibid., OzSpen#197.

[46] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#201.

[47] Ibid., OzSpen#230.

[48] It is now in its 4th ed (2009, IVP Academic).

[49] Op. cit., OzSpen#190.

[50] Ibid., bhsmte#200.

[51] Ibid., OzSpen#220.

[52] Guthrie 1957:15.

[53] The following information is from Guthrie (1957:15).

[54] Guthrie (1957:15-16). Here Guthrie referred to A M Hunter’s comment in Interpreting the New Testament (1951:64).

[55] Guthrie 1955:3.

[56] This was based on my post, Christian Forums, Christianity and World Religion, Why do some believers in Christ feel the Bible is without[t] error (online), OzSpen#192, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/why-do-some-believers-of-christ-feel-the-bible-is-withou-error.7901181/page-10 (Accessed 18 August 2015).

[57] This was the Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1955, delivered in Cambridge onJuly 8th, 1955, at a meeting arranged by the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research’ (Guthrie 1956).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 April 2016.

Bible bigotry from an arrogant skeptic

Saturday, June 20th, 2015


(courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear

What would you say to someone who said the following?

clip_image002 Of the supreme God of the universe, ‘Superstition is not “complicated.” It’s the easy way out – it doesn’t require education, or deep thinking, just an unquestioning adherence to cultural traditions, and a clownishly arrogant willingness to explain the unknowable as if it were known’.[1]

clip_image002[1] Is the Christian faith superstition? ‘That is my opinion, yes. It is a very elaborate belief system, with a complex theology and a long history, but ultimately never ranges out from under the umbrella of “superstition”’.[2]

clip_image002[2] ‘I think it’s clownishly arrogant for people to purport to explain the unknowable as if it were known, which is what religion does about things like life after death, eternity, etc’.[3]

clip_image002[3] ‘If we want to understand the mysteries of the universe, the last thing we should do is unthinkingly embrace the explanations recorded in primitive Iron Age texts.

Imagine if we did that in other areas of life (medicine, architecture, human rights).  It’s 2015’.[4]

clip_image002[4] ‘An average student today knows more about the nature of the universe and of this world than the most learned sages of the Iron Age’.[5].

clip_image002[5] ‘Christianity relies upon Iron Age understandings of man’s origins and the nature of the world.

It would be preposterous for us to apply that same primitive thinking to other areas of modern life (medicine, architecture, human rights), though some religious people attempt to in some areas’.[6]

clip_image002[6] ‘Christianity comes out of that primitive era, and unlike other fields of endeavor, philosophy, social systems, science – remains largely mired in Iron Age thinking’.[7]

clip_image002[7] ‘I was just referring to the persona or characteristics of the imaginary tyrant based on biblical descriptions – just as we ascribe certain characteristics or traits to the Greek gods, based on Greek mythology. The Christian god is a major league tyrant and sadist’.[8]

There you have a sample of an anti-Christian antagonist who has chosen to grace himself on a Christian Forum. Why would an anti-Christian want to even join with a group of Christians to stir the pot with his hostility towards and ridicule of the Christian faith?

My posting on Christian forums over the years has taught me that they seem to do it for at least three reasons:

(1) They enjoy scoffing at the Christian faith to try to demonstrate their supposed superior knowledge,

(2) They love showing up Christians who don’t know their product as well as they should.

(3) For some, there is a considerable amount of arrogance displayed in trying to challenge Christians on what they believe. That’s what you’ll see in David’s responses if you care to follow that thread on the Internet.

A. Notice what he does

What do the above examples show us about David’s enmity towards Christians and Christianity? Let’s look at two examples:

1. Christianity is superstition

One of his examples was: ‘Superstition is not “complicated.” It’s the easy way out’. David’s starting point is that belief in the supreme God is ‘superstition’. So what is his concluding point? He was asked that by Cheryl, ‘Is it your opinion that the Christian faith is superstition?’[9]

What do you think he would conclude? Here it is: ‘That is my opinion, yes. It is a very elaborate belief system, with a complex theology and a long history, but ultimately never ranges out from under the umbrella of “superstition”’.[10]

What is he doing here? He could be trying at least two possible activities:

(1) He has done a lot of investigation and concluded that Christianity is ‘superstition’. Or,

(2) He assumes it is superstition and therefore concludes that it is superstition.

#If he uses the second approach (which seems to be his demonstration in the first few posts), he is committing what is known as a question begging logical fallacy, which is also known as circular reasoning. It is circular because if one starts (belief in God is superstition) where one finishes (‘Superstition is not “complicated”’), one has gone nowhere except around in illogical circles. It has not dealt with the evidence about whether or not there is a supreme God.

This fallacy has been explained this way:

Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. This sort of “reasoning” typically has the following form.

a. Premises in which the truth of the conclusion is claimed or the truth of the conclusion is assumed (either directly or indirectly).

b. Claim C (the conclusion) is true.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious [logically unsound] because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion. Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim (Dr Michael C Labossiere, The Nizkor Project, Begging the Question).

So when David begins with a statement that belief in the supreme God is belief in superstition, he is not going to conclude differently unless he seriously addresses the evidence for the existence of the true God or no god. He has not demonstrated that in the Internet thread. He chooses not to engage with the evidence but to label it as ‘superstition’. This is a deceptive way to avoid getting into discussion about the evidence for God and Christianity. It’s a misleading way to avoid dealing with the evidence.

2. god is a major league tyrant and sadist

A second of his examples above was: ‘I was just referring to the persona or characteristics of the imaginary tyrant based on biblical descriptions – just as we ascribe certain characteristics or traits to the Greek gods, based on Greek mythology. The Christian god is a major league tyrant and sadist’.

Note his emphases:

  • ‘the imaginary tyrant based on biblical descriptions’;
  • ‘just as … the Greek gods, based on Greek mythology’;
  • ‘Christian god is a major league tyrant and sadist’.

Again, he is using a question begging logical fallacy because he commences with god, ‘the imaginary tyrant’, moves to the parallel with the Greek gods and Greek mythology’ and ends with god labelled as ‘a major league tyrant and sadist’. He has provided not one piece of evidence to support his claims except using the throw-away line, ‘based on biblical descriptions’. He gives not one example in that post of any description from the Bible.

However, Cheryl picked him up on this:

‘Quoting Dawkins’ claim about God and agreeing with it does not prove that his (or your) description of God of the OT is accurate. Please give us examples from the Bible (chapter and verse) on how each of these words apply (sic) to the character of God and we can discuss those passages in context to the entire Biblical narrative. Otherwise, Dawkins’ (or any other atheist’s) opinion about the Biblical God carries no weight in this discussion, at least with me’.[11]

However, David used another technique in these examples to avoid dealing with the evidence. He engaged in ridicule of the faith: ‘Imaginary tyrant’ who is in parallel with ‘the Greek gods, based on Greek mythology’. AND, the ‘Christian god is a major league tyrant and sadist’. He is scoffing at the Christian’s God. He is engaging in ridicule. He has committed the appeal to ridicule fallacy, which is also called the appeal to mockery or horse laugh. Here is one explanation:

The Appeal to Ridicule is a fallacy in which ridicule or mockery is substituted for evidence in an “argument.” This line of “reasoning” has the following form:

1. X, which is some form of ridicule is presented (typically directed at the claim).

2. Therefore claim C is false.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because mocking a claim does not show that it is false. This is especially clear in the following example: “1+1=2! That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!” (Dr Michael C Labossiere, The Nizkor Project, Appeal to Ridicule).

Keep a watch out for the use of logical fallacies to derail an argument. It happens online, in personal conversation, and can be used by public speakers and those in the mass media. An excellent overview, with examples, of some of the major fallacies used to promote illogical answers is in The Nizkor Project: Fallacies. I urge you to review them and be able to identify them. I recommend that you learn to recognise these fallacies by name.

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

B. The illogic of logical fallacies

As I respond to some of David’s replies, you will note that I try to identify his use of logical fallacies. What is a logical fallacy?

‘A fallacy is, very generally, an error in reasoning. This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts. To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support’ (Labossiere 1995).

Why should we even be concerned about people using logical fallacies in conversation or when they write? What is your response when a person doesn’t deal with the issues you are raising? They may give you the flick pass of avoidance, change the topic, reach a conclusion that is unrelated to the flow of the conversation, and may abuse you. Does that cause you to want to engage in discussion with them? Is it possible to have a rational conversation with people who do this? Politicians who face the media are experts at not answering the question asked and only giving the party line for that topic. What kind of fallacy is that?

When someone uses such a fallacy, it is almost impossible to have a logical conversation with the one who is committing a logical error. He or she is being illogical in the discussion. When discussions become irrational – because of false logic – there is no way to get back on track until the matter is addressed.

C. Tactics that fail

Let’s check on David again to see what he is up to. How does he attempt to derail a thread by other tactics?

1. Unthinking, primitive Iron Age religion

David wrote: ‘If we want to understand the mysteries of the universe, the last thing we should do is unthinkingly embrace the explanations recorded in primitive Iron Age texts. Imagine if we did that in other areas of life (medicine, architecture, human rights).  It’s 2015’. I replied: ‘That’s a question begging (circular reasoning) fallacy, David!’[12]

How would you expect him to reply? ‘How so, Spencer?[13] My response was:[14]

You started with this premise:

‘Stand to reason? No. If we want to understand the mysteries of the universe, the last thing we should do is unthinkingly embrace the explanations recorded in primitive Iron Age texts.

Imagine if we did that in other areas of life (medicine, architecture, human rights).  It’s 2015.

You start with ‘recorded in primitive Iron Age texts’ and then conclude, ‘Imagine if we did that in other areas of life’. That’s circular reasoning, a question begging logical fallacy. When you conclude with your premise that’s the essence of this kind of fallacy and you committed it. We cannot have a rational conversation when you do this. It’s a fallacious understanding.

2. Least educated children know more than Christians

David was up to his circular reasoning tricks, plus another one:[15]

‘Evolution was not recorded in Iron Age texts. Science does not rely upon the superstitions of ancient primitives, but religion often embraces them.

“Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody—not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms—had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion” (Christopher Hitchens)’.

My response was:[16]

Here you are promoting another question begging logical fallacy.

Christopher Hitchens also uses this fallacy but also uses a fallacy of ridicule with his use of language such as,

  • ‘bawling and fearful infancy’;
  • ‘babyish attempt’;
  • ‘infantile needs’;
  • ‘least educated of my children knows more … than any of the founders of religion’.

Both David and Hitchens have used logical fallacies that inhibit reasonable conversation. David’s response to me was:

I see. Unless we redefine language in a smokescreen of tangled and tortured academic rhetoric, to the point of meaninglessness, “reasonable conversation” is not possible.

I reject that notion. I’m sure that brand of mental gymnastics will go over well — and is even necessary — in defending a dissertation about the historicity of miracles in mythology, but in this casual setting, you might consider simply attempting to mount a plainly-worded counter-argument. If that’s possible.[17]

He’s scoffing at me and my replies (I’m only a couple of weeks away from defending my PhD dissertation and have mentioned it on the forum). He’s engaging again in the fallacy of ridicule. He’s not dealing with the issues I raise but ridiculing my views. Logical discussion cannot be pursued when a person does this and he needs to be challenged with the naming of his fallacies and showing how false illogic cannot be pursued to maintain a reasonable conversation.

#

3. Clownish arrogance

David is up to it again!

I think it’s clownishly arrogant for people to purport to explain the unknowable as if it were known, which is what religion does about things like life after death, eternity, etc.

I believe that mankind has some answers, and some partial answers, and that many things remain a complete mystery due to the infantile state of our science, and our still-feeble understanding of human psychology.[18]

How would you reply? This was my retort:[19]

Your ‘clownishly arrogant’ accusation (appeal to ridicule) and your other statements in this post indicate that your answers are restricted by your commitment to naturalism which you say includes ‘the infantile state of our science’.

When you start with naturalism, that also includes ‘our still-feeble understanding of human psychology’ (your language), you will not include that which will open up mysteries of the naturalistic unknowable, life after death, eternity, etc.

It will not allow you to consider how you can experience eternal life now and in the life to come. That needs you to be open to revelation from God through Scripture. That includes the testing of Scripture by the tests you apply to any literature to determine its reliability.

More implications flow from your belief about God than from any other subject. If you would reject your commitment to naturalism and be open to God’s revelation, you would find a remarkably new world that,

(1)  Shows from where you and the whole human race came;

(2)  That will lead you to understand who you are and why you are here on earth.

(3)  It will tell you the rights and wrongs of values. How you should live morally will come from this openness to God and his revelation.

(4)  And have a guess what? This will tell you where you are going. There is life after death because God has revealed it as so.

When you give up your naturalistic worldview (which does NOT require rejection of science), you will find that the revelation of the nature of the world through Scripture, fits like a hand in glove with reality.

If there is no God and He has not revealed his plans for you, me and the universe, there is no ultimate reason for living. I find no meaning and purpose in life; there is no right or wrong in life except my shaky opinion. Then it doesn’t matter how you or I live. We can eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

However, I urge you to consider the implications of your naturalistic worldview. It doesn’t prepare you for the Final Judgment (read about it in Matthew 25:31-46).

I know you won’t like what I’ve said here, but your commitment to the restrictive world of naturalism, leaves a big hunk of your world blank.

Thank you for considering these matters.

#

D. A worldview of a difference

A thoughtful person wrote:

‘I consider this discussion an example of contrasting worldviews – in this case, Naturalism vs Theism’. If we can’t agree on whether we live in an open system where there is a spiritual element or a closed system where there is no spiritual dimension, there will be no agreement.

Here is a chart of 5 worldviews which may help anyone reading this thread:

http://www.xenos.org/classes/papers/5wldview.htm’.[20]

This one hit the mark and I replied:[21]

Thank you for a thoughtful post.

Yes, this is a worldview issue of naturalism vs theism in this case between David and me.

However, there is another dimension: Each worldview needs to be checked against the evidence. Or, to put it another way: How does a worldview compare with the comprehensive reality available to us?

I consider that a major difference between David and me is that I want to examine the evidence available to me to reach a decision on whether that worldview matches reality.

I’ve checked out naturalism, theism, pantheism, panentheism, atheism and agnosticism and I’ve found that the most comprehensive understanding of reality is Christian theism. I have an open approach to considering evidence. I don’t exclude any of these -isms, but I compare their content with the evidence.

The Christian worldview answers prominent issues relating to:

1. The origin of the universe with its design;

2. Why there is evil in the world and how to deal with it.

3. Purpose for life;

4. Hope in life that prepares one for death.

I have not found acceptable answers to these 4 questions in the other -isms. The Scriptures confirm two areas for obtaining information about our world and human life: (1) Creation – the created universe (see Romans 1:16-32; Psalm 19:1-6), and (2) Scripture (see 2 Timothy 3:15-17).

E. Rational worldview – give up logical fallacies

David now decided to attack my exposing his logical fallacies with this post:

You will never be able to handle the Rational worldview until you give up your logical fallacies of (1) superstition dressed as history, and (2) sophistry.

It matters not at all to me whether you choose to participate in a rational examination of religious beliefs. But it’s unreasonable for you to assume or expect that rational people will redefine the language to accommodate your personal beliefs.[22]

My rejoinder was:[23]

Those are not logical fallacies that you mentioned. They are your presuppositions that you are imposing on me.

We cannot have a rational discussion when you continue to use logical fallacies such as the one you use regularly here – the fallacy of ridicule.

You have this added issue: ‘The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 2:14).

You will continue to ridicule Christians because you will not accept these things until Jesus changes you through repentance and faith in Jesus. I will continue to pray that the Lord will draw you to consider a holistic worldview that includes the dynamics of spiritual reality.

I continued:[24]

In case you have forgotten, David, the ‘Fallacy – Appeal to Ridicule’ (Michael C. Labossiere 1995, in The Nizkor Project), which you use regularly against me, other Christians, Christianity, and Christian beliefs, means:

Also Known as: Appeal to Mockery, The Horse Laugh.

Description of Appeal to Ridicule

The Appeal to Ridicule is a fallacy in which ridicule or mockery is substituted for evidence in an “argument.” This line of “reasoning” has the following form:

1. X, which is some form of ridicule is presented (typically directed at the claim).

2. Therefore claim C is false.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because mocking a claim does not show that it is false. This is especially clear in the following example: “1+1=2! That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!”

You use this fallacy of ridicule throughout your responses to me with statements such as,

  • ‘superstition dressed as history’;
  • ‘sophistry’;
  • ‘Your view of life strikes me as desperately sad, and wasted if it requires a crutch as unimaginative as that offered by organized religion’;
  • ‘To manufacture an artificial “purpose” oriented toward a fantasy life’;
  • ‘subservient to the imagined demands of some “loving” (but frankly, ugly) tyrant’;
  • ‘The childish belief that we need religion in order to have morality, to know right from wrong, is deeply flawed and erroneous’;
  • ‘You talk about the afterlife as if it were a known fact, because, God revealed it to us”;
  • ‘The bible is the word of God, because God has revealed to us that it is. Where did he reveal it to us? In the bible. ‘
  • ‘It’s lazy to reject all of science – a work in progress — in lieu of a magical story’ [This is not only part of David’s fallacy of ridicule but it is a false allegation. Not once have I stated that I ‘reject all of science’. I have said to the contrary that I accept the scientific enterprise. Go read my posts with accuracy.]
  • ‘If one needs the bible for morality, they have bigger problems than knowing right from wrong. ‘
  • ‘Your list above would only be remarkable if Christianity didn’t provide answers to all of them’;
  • ‘What good would a manmade religion be if….’, and
  • ‘Once emancipated from the crippling entanglements of Iron Age religions, humans are genuinely free to explore the answers to those 4 issues in a rational, more honest, more fulfilling way’

This is fallacious reasoning for the reasons given above and you do it constantly against me. When will you wake up to what you are doing? I don’t fall for fallacious reasoning.

When you make a statement like, ‘What good would a manmade religion be if….’, you are displaying your presupposition as your conclusion. Thus you are using a Begging the Question Fallacy.

I hope that you will get to the point of giving up your use of logical fallacies against Christians and deal with the evidence for their beliefs.

F. You have not called my bluff

At one point I decided to leave the conversation because of David’s constant use of logical fallacies. Reasonable discussion, dealing with the evidence of Christianity, is impossible with someone who refuses to acknowledge what he does with fallacious reasoning. So I came back with this response:[25]

Let’s get something clear. You have NOT called my bluff. I’ve called you for your regular use of logical fallacies against me. But you won’t admit to what you are doing.

For there to be ‘a reciprocal exchange’, there has to be an acknowledgement by both of us when we use illogical reasoning.  Logical fallacies, which you use, are false reasoning. You won’t admit what you do when you are called on the specifics.

I base my calling you for fallacious reasoning on the evidence you present. If you can agree to not use logical fallacies against others and me, we can have reasonable conversations. Up to this point, you have not admitted to this and your regular logical fallacies committed in your responses to me continue.

Will you agree to quit doing that so that we can discuss the evidence rationally? This especially includes quitting your ad hominem fallacies and fallacies of ridicule against the Christian faith and me. Can we agree to not use logical fallacies and call each other on them when we use them?

It seems to me that you are in such a habit of putting down the Christian faith by your use of logical fallacies that they come from you naturally without your giving too much thought to what you do. I could be wrong. Are you doing this, knowing what you are doing, to denigrate the faith of believers?

This is part of David’s response. He will not admit to what he does with his use of logical fallacies. He blames me. Take a read:

It’s absurd for you to predicate all “logical discussion” here on me pre-emptively “admitting” your charges. I don’t admit to your all-inclusive list of fallacies because it is a wholly-subjective and self-serving means for you to discount the very essence of my arguments without addressing them.

In other words, your litany of fallacies is not a reasonable critique. It is a rhetorical smokescreen to mask your unwillingness to engage on issues you presume to already know the truth about….[26]

He doesn’t like being challenged with his use of fallacies and accuses me of not giving ‘a reasonable critique’. I’ve been very reasonable with him. I know of many people who would have verbally assaulted him for what he is doing to me. However, it does affirm that it’s impossible to have a rational conversation with him.

I replied:[27]

‘[Logical] Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim’ (20WL Purdue University, Logical Fallacies).

Here you have resorted again to the Fallacy of Appeal to Ridicule against me.

You also did it in your statement to Noelle,

‘No. I was just referring to the persona or characteristics of the imaginary tyrant based on biblical descriptions – just as we ascribe certain characteristics or traits to the Greek gods, based on Greek mythology.’

You don’t seem to be aware of how you shipwreck discussion with others and me by your use of logical fallacies.

# G. Straw man argument

David wrote:

Luke was not an eyewitness, and if he spoke to eyewitnesses, we have no way of knowing. In fact, we don’t even really know who Luke himself was. The identity of the author of that gospel, and when it was written, remain conjecture.

An effectively anonymous second-hand (at best) account of supernatural events is not “evidence” that satisfies legitimate historical scholarship, and so cannot be considered a refutation of anything.[28]

I replied:[29]

Here you are responding with a straw man argument. Nowhere did I state that Luke was an eyewitness. That’s your invention – your straw man. This is what I did say:

Luke refutes your view:

‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught’ (Luke 1:1-4 NIV).

Luke has eyewitness accounts available to him. He had carefully investigated the issues and wrote an orderly account.  So your view that they ‘are unsubstantiated’ is refuted by Luke’s evidence.

You state: ‘If he spoke to eyewitnesses, we have no way of knowing.’ Again, this is a false assumption. We have the same way of knowing as we do with any other person from history. There are distinct methods of historical investigation by which we check historical reliability:

(1) The transmission of the MSS;

(2) External evidence, and

(3) Internal evidence.

There are criteria that historians use to determine historical veracity. When these are applied to Luke’s Gospel, they stack up well.

Craig Blomberg has articulated these and tested them in his publication, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Blomberg 1987). His conclusion was:

‘The gospels may be accepted as trustworthy accounts of what Jesus did and said. One cannot hope to prove the accuracy of every detail on purely historical grounds alone; there is simply not enough data available for that. But as investigation proceeds, the evidence becomes sufficient for one to declare that what can be checked is accurate, so that it is entirely proper to believe that what cannot be checked is probably accurate as well. Other conclusions, widespread though they are, seem not to stem from even-handed historical analysis but from religious or philosophical prejudice’ (Blomberg 12987:241).

It seems to me that Blomberg has hit the mark with assessment of your views. They ‘seem not to stem from even-handed historical analysis but from religious or philosophical prejudice’. You start out as a skeptic of the truth and reliability of the Gospels and that is where you conclude. It’s a question begging fallacy.

You claim: ‘In fact, we don’t even really know who Luke himself was. The identity of the author of that gospel, and when it was written, remain conjecture.’

That is partly true. The Gospel originally was anonymous but from the latter half of the 2nd century and onwards it has been identified with Luke, the ‘beloved physician’ (Col 4:14) and the Apostle Paul’s companion.

As for the date of writing, there are indicators. I Howard Marshall who has devoted extensive study to the Greek text (see his Greek Text commentary on Luke, Eerdmans1978) stated that Luke’s writing the Book of Acts before AD 70 (the fall of Jerusalem) indicate that ‘on the whole a date not far off AD 70 appears to satisfy all requirements’ for Luke (Marshall 1978:35).

Other historians have indicated that Luke is a first-class historian. Here is some of the evidence summarised:[30]

How reliable was Luke as an historian in his Luke-Acts documents? Others have gone before us who have assessed this.

See, ‘Luke the historian in the light of research‘ (Dr A T Robertson).

Here is a summary of some of the challenges to ‘Luke the Historian‘ (Stringer 2015) and the results:

Luke’s accuracy in historical and geographical matters is so thoroughly established that to deny it would be pure folly. This fact has not always been recognized.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a scholar named Eduard Zeller launched a severe attack on the historical accuracy of Acts. Among those who accepted his flawed conclusions was an eminent Scottish archaeologist named Sir William Ramsay. In fact, Ramsay led an archaeological expedition with the intention of proving that Acts was the error-filled product of a 2nd-century writer. It turned out, however, that Ramsay proved the opposite of what he had set out to prove. His years of research compelled him to describe Luke as “among the historians of the first rank” (St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, p. 4). In 1897 he published his conclusions in the famous volume just referenced, in which he defended the proposition “that Acts was written by a great historian” (p. 14).

Today, Luke is widely accepted as a remarkably accurate historian. The distinguished Roman historian A.N. Sherwin-White states: “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming…any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted” (Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament, p. 189). Colin Hemer’s comparison of Luke with the well-known historian Josephus is telling: “The work of Luke is marked by carefulness but that of Josephus by carelessness” (The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, p. 219).

Luke wrote of events that occurred over a geographical area ranging from Jerusalem to Rome, including such vastly diverse regions as Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. His history spans a period of about 30 years in which the political and territorial situations were always changing. Boundary lines and political offices were in a constant state of flux. And Luke did not write in generalities; he did not omit technical details so as to avoid mistakes. Yet, his detailed references have proved to be accurate. Rackham observes that such accuracy as is found in the book of Acts would have been impossible for one writing 50 years later (The Acts of the Apostles, p. xliii).

Critics have challenged Luke’s accuracy, but archaeological discoveries have overturned the challenges. One such instance was the charge that Luke erred in the term he used to designate the ruler of Cyprus in Acts 13:7. The term Luke used (translated “deputy” in the KJV) means proconsul. For many years critics argued that Luke should have used the term procurator because, they explained, Cyprus was an “imperial” province, and imperial provinces were ruled by procurators. Archaeology, however, has proved Luke to be right and his critics wrong. Cyprus was indeed an imperial province, and therefore governed by a procurator, when it first came under Roman jurisdiction. However, what Luke’s critics did not know was that in 22 B.C., Cyprus was made a “senatorial” province, and senatorial provinces were ruled by proconsuls. In fact, archaeologists have found coins and inscriptions on Cyprus using the term proconsul as the title of its rulers. According to Luke, the proconsul ruling Cyprus when Paul visited the island was named Sergius Paulus—an interesting point in view of the fact that an inscription discovered on the north coast of Cyprus included the words, “in the proconsulship of Paulus.”

A similar example is found in Luke’s account of events in Thessalonica. The word Luke used in Acts 17:6 for “rulers” is a specific title: politarchs. This word is not used as an official title anywhere else in Greek literature. Consequently Luke was charged with using the wrong title to refer to these city officials. However, once again, Luke has been proved right and his critics wrong. Archaeologists have found a number of inscriptions that unquestionably prove that the term politarch was an official title of certain city officials in ancient Macedonia. One of these inscriptions was found on the ancient arch that spanned the famous highway leading into Thessalonica. On this arch there is a listing of seven names of magistrates who wore the title politarch.

Luke’s historical accuracy has held up under the most intense and zealous scrutiny. All attempts to discredit this inspired author have themselves been thoroughly discredited’.

David is out of step with the research on Luke and his credibility as a historian. His philosophical and anti-Christian scepticism are coming through. I’m going with the evidence and not with his presuppositions.

H. Conclusion

This interaction with David has taught me some valuable lessons:

  1. Watch for the logical fallacies that opponents use to try to disrupt logical discussion. This means that …
  2. You need to know these fallacies and call them by name.
  3. There is a significant need among Christians in a declining Christian culture to know their product – the Scriptures and Christianity. I urge you to call upon your church to establish courses in apologetics to address issues that you are likely to find at work, university or in the market place. As a good starter, try Norman Geisler & Frank Turek, Is Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (2004). Apologetics courses deal with some of the major issues antagonistic to the faith. These include: (a) What is truth? (b) How do I know there is a God? (c) Why is there so much evil in the world and why doesn’t God stop it? (d) Is the Bible credible and reliable? (e) Why was it needed for a good man, Jesus, to die for sins? Why couldn’t God do that without the shedding of innocent blood?
  4. Please remember that it is only Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, who changes people from the inside out. Jesus saves! Human beings cannot save themselves and they need a proclamation of the Gospel in person or in a group. There is an urgent need to engage in proclamation of the Gospel.
For further discussions on logical fallacies, see also:

clip_image003Logical fallacies hijack discussions (Spencer D Gear)

clip_image003[1]One writer’s illogical outburst (Spencer D Gear)

clip_image003[2] Logical fallacies used to condemn Christianity (Spencer D Gear)

clip_image003[3] Christians and their use of logical fallacies (Spencer D Gear)

I have concluded that David fits into this category. He’s an ornery [stubborn], resistant, agnostic sceptic who responds like this:

Unwanted Truth

(Courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Blomberg, C 1987. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Geisler, N L & Turek, F 2004. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Labossiere, M C 1995. Fallacies. The Nizkor Project (online). Available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ (Accessed 8 June 2015).

Marshall, I H 1978. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (The New International Greek Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Stringer, J 2015. ‘Luke the Historian,’ in Answering Religious Error, April 3, Available at: http://www.answeringreligiouserror.com/inspiration/luke-the-historian/ (Accessed 20 June 2015).

Notes


[1] Christian Fellowship Forum, Public Affairs, ‘Superstition Vs. Eyewitness/Faith/Historical Document’, David Woodbury#1, June 1. Available at: http://christianfellowshipforum.com/ (Accessed 29 June 2015).

[2] Ibid., Woodbury#3.

[3] Ibid., Woodbury#11.

[4] Ibid., Woodbury#21.

[5] Ibid., Woodbury#29.

[6] Ibid., Woodbury#35.

[7] Ibid., Woodbury#37.

[8] Ibid., Woodbury#73.

[9] Ibid., Cheryl#2.

[10] Ibid., Woodbury #3.

[11] Ibid., Cheryl#75.

[12] Ibid., ozspen#22.

[13] Ibid., Woodbury#24.

[14] Ibid., ozspen#31.

[15] Ibid., Woodbury #32.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., Woodbury#36.

[18] Ibid., ozspen#42.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., Cheryl#34.

[21] Ibid., ozspen#45.

[22] Ibid., Woodbury#47.

[23] Ibid., ozspen#51.

[24] Ibid., ozspen#52.

[25] Ibid., ozspen#69.

[26] Ibid., Woodbury#71.

[27] Ibid., ozspen#74

[28] Ibid., Woodbury in ozspen#98.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., ozspen#99.
Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Logical fallacies used to condemn Christianity

Monday, June 8th, 2015

clip_image002

Logic portal (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

On a semi-regular basis, I meet a fellow on a Christian forum who delights in condemning other Christians and me by his use of logical fallacies.

Here are a few examples he used:

Christianity comes out of that primitive era, and unlike other fields of endeavor, philosophy, social systems, science — remains largely mired in Iron Age thinking. Hence my perfectly reasonable comment — imagine if we relied upon primitive Iron Age thinking when it came to medicine, etc.[1]

Here he uses a question begging logical fallacy.

What is a logical fallacy?

‘A fallacy is, very generally, an error in reasoning. This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts. To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support’ (Labossiere 1995).

Why should we even be concerned about people using logical fallacies in conversation or when they write? What is your response when a person doesn’t deal with the issues you are raising? They may give you the flick pass of avoidance, change the topic, reach a conclusion that is unrelated to the flow of the conversation, and may abuse you. Does that cause you to want to engage in discussion with them? Is it possible to have a rational conversation with people who do this?

When someone uses such a fallacy, it is almost impossible to have a logical conversation with that person who is committing a logical error. He or she is being illogical in the discussion. When discussions become irrational – because of false logic – there is no way to get back on track until the matter is addressed.

Begging the question fallacy

This is how I replied to David’s ‘Christianity comes out of that primitive era’ and is ‘primitive Iron Age thinking’:

This is your question begging fallacy again. Since you say Christianity ‘remains largely mired in Iron Age thinking’ you are inferring that ‘Iron Age thinking’ is what you will expect from Christianity today and you would NOT expect that to happen in medicine, etc.

You will never be able to handle the Christian worldview until you give [up] your logical fallacies of (1) question begging and (2) ridicule. When will you admit your use of logical fallacies against Christians and a Christian worldview on this forum?

I read your posts very carefully and I can see the fallacious reasoning. I’m no dummy when it comes to logic.[2]

God Eyes

ChristArt

Anti-Christian antagonist’s appeal to ridicule fallacy

The non-Christian, David’s, response was:

You will never be able to handle the Rational worldview until you give up your logical fallacies of (1) superstition dressed as history, and (2) sophistry.

It matters not at all to me whether you choose to participate in a rational examination of religious beliefs. But it’s unreasonable for you to assume or expect that rational people will redefine the language to accommodate your personal beliefs.[3]

My reply was:

Those are not logical fallacies that you mentioned. They are your presuppositions that you are imposing on me.

We cannot have a rational discussion when you continue to use logical fallacies such as the one you use regularly here – the fallacy of ridicule.

You have this added issue: ‘The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 2:14).

You will continue to ridicule Christians because you will not accept these things until Jesus changes you through repentance and faith in Jesus. I will continue to pray that the Lord will draw you to consider a holistic worldview that includes the dynamics of spiritual reality.[4]

David started this thread by citing a Christian, Judith, who wrote: ‘The supreme God of the universe is an enigma, therefore atheist (sic) find it too complicated to believe in him’. His response to her was:

Superstition is not “complicated.” It’s the easy way out — it doesn’t require education, or deep thinking, just an unquestioning adherence to cultural traditions, and a clownishly arrogant willingness to explain the unknowable as if it were known.

Little children love fairy tales and mythology, so indoctrinating them from their earliest years pays dividends for a lifetime.[5]

This kind of accusation against the Christian faith of ‘superstition’, ‘unquestioning adherence’ and ‘clownishly arrogant willingness’ cannot go unchallenged in my estimation as an evangelical Christian who believes the Gospel. So, my response to him was:

Your ‘clownishly arrogant’ accusation (appeal to ridicule fallacy) and your other statements in this post indicate that your answers are restricted by your commitment to naturalism which you say includes ‘the infantile state of our science’.

When you start with naturalism, that also includes ‘our still-feeble understanding of human psychology’ (your language), you will not include that which will open up mysteries of the naturalistic unknowable, life after death, eternity, etc.

It will not allow you to consider how you can experience eternal life now and in the life to come. That needs you to be open to revelation from God through Scripture. That includes the testing of Scripture by the tests you apply to any literature to determine its reliability.

More implications flow from your belief about God than from any other subject. If you would reject your commitment to naturalism and be open to God’s revelation, you would find a remarkably new world that,

1.  Shows from where you and the whole human race came;

2.  That will lead you to understand who you are and why you are here on earth.

3.  It will tell you the rights and wrongs of values. How you should live morally will come from this openness to God and his revelation.

4.  And have a guess what? This will tell you where you are going. There is life after death because God has revealed it as so.

When you give up your naturalistic worldview (which does NOT require rejection of science), you will find that the revelation of the world through Scripture fits like a hand in glove with reality.

If there is no God and He has not revealed his plans for you, me and the universe, there is no ultimate reason for living. I find no meaning and purpose in life; there is no right or wrong in life except my shaky opinion. Then it doesn’t matter how you or I live. We can eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

However, I urge you to consider the implications from your naturalistic worldview. It doesn’t prepare you for the Final Judgment (read about it in Matthew 25:31-46).

I know you won’t like what I’ve said here, but your commitment to the restrictive world of naturalism, leaves a big hunk of your world blank.

Thank you for considering these matters.[6]

To another poster, Cheryl, I wrote:

There is another dimension: Each worldview needs to be checked against the evidence. Or, to put it another way: How does a worldview compare with the comprehensive reality available to us?

I consider that a major difference between David and me is that I want to examine the evidence available to me to reach a decision on whether that worldview matches reality.

I’ve checked out naturalism, theism, pantheism, panentheism, atheism and agnostism and I’ve found that the most comprehensive understanding of reality is Christian theism. I have an open approach to considering evidence. I don’t exclude any of these -isms, but I compare their content with the evidence.

The Christian worldview answers prominent issues relating to:

1. The origin of the universe with its design;

2. Why there is evil in the world and how to deal with it.

3. Purpose for life;

4. Hope in life that prepares one for death.

I have not found acceptable answers to these 4 questions in the other -isms. The Scriptures confirm two areas for obtaining information about our world and human life: (1) Creation – the created universe (see Romans 1:16-32; Psalm 19:1-6), and (2) Scripture (see 2 Timothy 3:15-17).[7]

In another response to me, David wrote:

Has it occurred to you that one of the central purposes of a religion — more or less any religion — is to provide answers to life’s mysteries? Your list above would only be remarkable if Christianity didn’t provide answers to all of them.

What good would a manmade religion be if it didn’t have an origin story, or didn’t have a plan for thwarting evil, or didn’t give purpose to life, or didn’t give hope in life, or didn’t make one feel better about our inescapable deaths?

Islam answers those 4 questions. So do various Native American religions. So does Judaism, which doesn’t hold that Christ is the messiah.[8]

My reply was:

In case you have forgotten, David, the ‘Fallacy – Appeal to Ridicule‘ (Michael C. Labossiere 1995, in The Nizkor Project), which you use regularly against me, other Christians, Christianity, and Christian beliefs, means:

Also Known as: Appeal to Mockery, The Horse Laugh.

Description of Appeal to Ridicule

The Appeal to Ridicule is a fallacy in which ridicule or mockery is substituted for evidence in an “argument.” This line of “reasoning” has the following form:

1. X, which is some form of ridicule is presented (typically directed at the claim).

2. Therefore claim C is false.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because mocking a claim does not show that it is false. This is especially clear in the following example: “1+1=2! That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!”

You use this fallacy of ridicule throughout your responses to me with statements that Christianity is

  • ‘superstition dressed as history’;
  • ‘sophistry’;
  • ‘Your view of life strikes me as desperately sad, and wasted if it requires a crutch as unimaginative as that offered by organized religion’;
  • ‘To manufacture an artificial “purpose” oriented toward a fantasy life’;
  • ‘subservient to the imagined demands of some “loving” (but frankly, ugly) tyrant’;
  • ‘The childish belief that we need religion in order to have morality, to know right from wrong, is deeply flawed and erroneous’;
  • ‘You talk about the afterlife as if it were a known fact, because, God revealed it to us”;
  • ‘The bible is the word of God, because God has revealed to us that it is. Where did he reveal it to us? In the bible’.
  • ‘It’s lazy to reject all of science – a work in progress – in lieu of a magical story’ (this is not only part of your fallacy of ridicule but it is a false allegation. Not once have I stated that I ‘reject all of science’. I have said to the contrary that I accept the scientific enterprise. Go read my posts with accuracy.)
  • ‘If one needs the bible for morality, they have bigger problems than knowing right from wrong.’
  • ‘Your list above would only be remarkable if Christianity didn’t provide answers to all of them’;
  • ‘What good would a manmade religion be if….’, and
  • ‘Once emancipated from the crippling entanglements of Iron Age religions, humans are genuinely free to explore the answers to those 4 issues in a rational, more honest, more fulfilling way’

This is fallacious reasoning for the reasons given above.

When you make a statement like, ‘What good would a manmade religion be if….’, you are displaying your presupposition as your conclusion. Thus you are using a Begging the Question Fallacy.

I hope that you will get to the point of giving up your use of logical fallacies against Christians and deal with the evidence for their beliefs.[9]

God's Ears

ChristArt

Conclusion

David is but one example of a non-Christian who loves to ply his antagonism against Christians on a Christian forum and uses logical fallacies to try to side-track Christians from the real discussion. The core issues involve

a. the reliability of the Scriptures; see my articles:

clip_image004 Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

clip_image004[1] Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

clip_image004[2]Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

clip_image004[3] Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

b. the Gospel message, which includes

The Content of the Gospel . . . and some discipleship

c. eternal life or eternal damnation.

clip_image006Can people KNOW they have eternal life in this life?

clip_image006[1] Does a Christian experience eternal life NOW?

clip_image006[2] Continue in the faith to guarantee eternal life

clip_image008 HELL & JUDGMENT

clip_image008[1] Is hell fair?

clip_image008[2] Is there literal fire in hell?

clip_image008[3] Hell in the Bible

clip_image008[4] Are there degrees of punishment in hell?

clip_image008[5] Facts about Hell

clip_image008[6] Torment in Old Testament hell? The meaning of Sheol in the OT

clip_image008[7] ‘I will beat the hell out of God’

Christians also are capable of using logical fallacies in their discussions. See my article, Christians and their use of logical fallacies.[10]

For further discussions on logical fallacies, see also:

clip_image009 Logical fallacies hijack discussions (Spencer D Gear)

clip_image009[1] One writer’s illogical outburst (Spencer D Gear)

clip_image009[2] I highly recommend the site, The Nizkor Project, that includes a list and explanation of the many logical fallacies with exposition by Michael Labossiere (1995).

clip_image010

Works consulted

Labossiere, M C 1995. Fallacies. The Nizkor Project (online). Available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ (Accessed 8 June 2015).

Notes


[1] Christian Fellowship Forum, Public Affairs, ‘Superstition Vs. Eyewitness/Faith/Historical Document’, David Woodbury #37, June 6, 2015. Available at: http://christianfellowshipforum.com/ (Accessed 8 June 2015).

[2] Ibid., ozspen #41.

[3] Ibid., David Woodbury #47.

[4] Ibid., ozspen #51.

[5] Ibid., David Woodbury #1.

[6] Ibid., ozspen #42.

[7] Ibid., ozspen #45.

[8] Ibid., ozspen #50.

[9] Ibid., ozspen #52.

[10] Christian Forums is a very large forum at: http://www.christianforums.com/. I’ve encountered some who use various fallacies on this forum, but especially the red herring fallacy and the straw man fallacy. On this forum I normally hang out among Baptists, Salvation (Soteriology), Soteriology debate, and Christian Apologetics as OzSpen.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Are unthinking Christians normal for Christianity?

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Think

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

I was reading Bill Muehlenberg’s excellent article on the need for more Christians to think. It was his call to have a renewed mind and respond to the challenges of our secular world in, ‘Let my people think’.

Then came Kurt Skelland’s ‘troll’ by way of response:

If Christians starting thinking there would be no Christians left!

“Most people would rather die than think. And most do.”
Bertrand Russell.

Thinking is inimical to the fanciful claims of religion.[1]

Secularists’ false claims

It is not uncommon to read these kinds of statements on websites of skeptics or atheists. Take a read of a leading skeptic, Paul Kurtz, ‘Why I am a skeptic about religious claims’.

How do we respond to Kurt Skelland’s skeptical claims?

1. ‘If Christians starting thinking there would be no Christians left!’

This is a clear example of someone who doesn’t know the content of the Christian Scriptures. If Kurt’s claim were true, there would be absolutely no use for these Christian statements:

  • Luke 10:27, Jesus said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself’ (ESV).
  • Ephesians 4:22-24, ‘to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’ (ESV).
  • Romans 12:2, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (ESV)

It is obvious that the Bible teaches: (1) Loving God with our whole beings, and (2) After we become Christians, we are to put off the old way of thinking and be transformed by renewed thinking in the mind.

This is the problem which non-Christian people (unbelievers) face, ‘The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ (2 Cor. 4:4).

Kurt has another problem with the Christian faith.

2. Why choose a Bertrand Russell quote?

Honourable Bertrand Russell.jpg

Bertrand Russell 1916. Courtesy Wikipedia

Kurt cited Bertrand Russell, “Most people would rather die than think. And most do”. What’s significant about that? Russell is a friend of skeptics, agnostics and atheists.

On the practical level, this quote may be true for a lot of people. But who was Bertrand Russell? Was Russell an agnostic or atheist? This is what Russell stated:

I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”. It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God.[2]

Even in this article, Russell admitted, ‘On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods’.[3]

I have quoted Bertrand Russell at times, but this is to refute his claim on a topic. He said, ‘I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive’[4], and I cited it in my article, ‘Will you be ready when your death comes?’ Bertrand Russell now knows the truth of what happens after death and he will have found that it is very different from what his agnosticism/atheism taught him. Bertrand Russell died on 2nd February 1970.

How do I know? Jesus died and rose from the dead. He has assured all people of what will happen at the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). I commend to you Dan T. Lioy’s article, ‘Life and death in biblical perspective’.

Kurt’s Bertrand Russell quote would have only passing significance if it were not for his other emphases in his troll statement. His other emphasis was:

3. ‘Thinking is inimical[5] to the fanciful claims of religion’

In other words, thinking and Christianity do not go together. Notice what Kurt does. He provides not one shred of evidence to support his claim. He is into sloganeering by giving us his opinion. Whenever somebody does this, we need to call them to account by asking things like these:

  • So you are giving us your opinion in one foul swoop of a slogan. That carries as much weight as a car driver, with no engineering experience, going over Brisbane’s Gateway Bridge and saying, ‘That’s not the proper way to build a bridge. Those fanciful engineers didn’t know what they were doing when they built that bridge that way’. You know such a statement had fanciful, irrational overtones. So has Kurt’s claim about thinking being hostile to religion come with evidence?
  • You would never win good grade in any exam with that kind of evidence. You gave zero evidence to prove your point. You’ve made a nonsense statement because it is your idiosyncratic opinion that comes with nothing to back up your claim.
  • Get real. I’m a thinking Christian and I don’t buy into your thoughtless comments.
  • Your statement really is antagonistic to what you are trying to prove. Your statement is inimical (hostile) to thoughtful people who might want to take you seriously.

However, Kurt’s kind of statement can be found all over the www in relation to religion. These are a few grabs that Google helped me find quickly.

  • Freud, ‘religion was our “collective neurosis”’ (HERE);
  • ‘When it comes to magic, religion, politics, geography, on and on, you can write whatever you can dream up as long as you make it consistent within your world’ (HERE).
  • ‘Religion is fantasy. Everything that you have been taught about religion is wrong’ (HERE).
  • ‘The ties between fantasy and religion are quite strong’ (HERE).
  • ‘Religions, like everything else, evolved from earlier myths’ (HERE).

Kurt is echoing the statements of other skeptics. The Los Angeles Times published an article, ‘Thinking can undermine religious faith, study finds’ (April 26, 2012). The article begins with this statement:

Scientists have revealed one of the reasons why some folks are less religious than others: They think more analytically, rather than going with their gut. And thinking analytically can cause religious belief to wane — for skeptics and true believers alike.

The study, published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, indicates that belief may be a more malleable feature of the human psyche than those of strong faith may think.

Another report on this research stated,

In some ways this confirms what many people, both religious and nonreligious, have said about religious belief for a long time, that it’s more of a feeling than a thought,” says Nicholas Epley, a psychologist at the University of Chicago. But he predicts the findings won’t change anyone’s mind about whether God exists or whether religious belief is rational. “If you think that reasoning analytically is the way to go about understanding the world accurately, you might see this as evidence that being religious doesn’t make much sense,” he says. “If you’re a religious person, I think you take this evidence as showing that God has given you a system for belief that just reveals itself to you as common sense (The Huffington Post, 27 April 2012).

So religion is more of a feeling than a thought! That’s not what Jesus thought when he told us that we are to love God with our mind. Also, there is no point in the Christian renewing the mind if thinking is unimportant for the believer. I’m reminded of how the Bereans were commended for their Christian faith:

The brothers[6] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:10-11).

So these Bereans were thoughtful Jews who checked out the apostle Paul to see if what he stated agreed with their Scriptures. Jews/Christians who think have been part of Christianity from the beginning of the Christian era.

4. Conclusion

Kurt is an example of a fly-by-night sceptical, sloganeering person who is motivated to present slogans on a Christian website (Bill Muehlenberg’s Culture Watch). These kinds of people are stirrers who don’t want to present sustainable content with which we can dialogue.

In fact, they are self-refuting in their approach. Kurt wanted to condemn Christians for not being thinkers but his actual post demonstrated to us that he is the one who is not a thinker. If he were thinking about his post, he would be providing sustainable arguments to demonstrate that religion (Christianity especially) is fanciful. And these would be arguments with which we Christians could interact.

Kurt has demonstrated that he is not seeking truth and he did not present truthful statements about why he thinks that Christianity is fanciful.

What is truth?

See:

Preference or truth?’ (Greg Koukl)

What is truth?’ (Paul Copan & Mark Linville)

The nature of truth and exclusivity’ (Ravi Zacharias, YouTube)

Embodied truth’ (Ravi Zacharias)

Why truth matters’ (Os Guinness)

What is truth?’ (J P Moreland, YouTube)

Notes:


[1] Kurt Skelland, 14 September 2012, available at: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/09/13/let-my-people-think-2/comment-page-1/#comment-269299 (Accessed 15 September 2012).

[2] Russell, Bertrand. “Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? A Plea For Tolerance In The Face Of New Dogmas.” Positive Atheism Web Site, available at: http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell8.htm (Accessed 14 September 2012).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cited in Richard Dawkins 2006. The God Delusion. London: Black Swan (Transworld Publishers), p. 397. This is from Bertrand Russell’s 1925 essay, “What I believe”. It is available for free download HERE.

[5] ‘Inimical’ means ‘unfriendly; hostile’, according to dictionary.com at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/inimical?s=t (Accessed 14 September 2012).

[6] The footnote in the ESV at this point stated, ‘Or brothers and sisters’.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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Is Richard Dawkins an agnostic or an atheist?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Atom Of Atheism Wallpaper 10by16 by kg

(image courtesy Open Clipart Library)

By Spencer D Gear

Is Richard Dawkins an atheist[1] or an agnostic?[2] In a debate on evolution between eminent scientist and atheist, Richard Dawkins, and Rowan William, Archbishop of Canterbury, The Independent [UK] reported:

Could Dawkins disprove the existence of God? He could not, he confessed, describing himself not as an atheist but as an agnostic – to gasps from Twitter, where the unlikely #dawkinsarchbishop hashtag was trending. On his own atheism scale of one-to-seven, the Professor suggested, “the probability of any supernatural creator existing is very, very low, so let’s say I’m a 6.9″….

“I am baffled,” responded Dawkins, “by the way sophisticated theologians who know Adam and Eve never existed still keep talking about it.” God, he said, “cluttered up” his scientific worldview. “I don’t see clutter coming into it,” Williams replied. “I’m not thinking of God as an extra who has to be shoehorned into it” (Walker 2012).

Here is a clip from the debate on YouTube, where Dawkins admits he is an agnostic and not an atheist: See HERE.

The Daily Mail [UK] reported the debate this way:

Professor Richard Dawkins today dismissed his hard-earned reputation as a militant atheist – admitting that he is actually agnostic as he can’t prove God doesn’t exist.

The country’s foremost champion of the Darwinist evolution, who wrote The God Delusion, stunned audience members when he made the confession during a lively debate on the origins of the universe with the Archbishop of Canterbury….

But when Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams suggested that Professor Darwin is often described as the world’s most famous atheist, the geneticist responded: ‘Not by me’.

He said: ‘On a scale of seven, where one means I know he exists, and seven I know he doesn’t, I call myself a six.’

Professor Dawkins went on to say what he believed was a ‘6.9’, stating: ‘That doesn’t mean I’m absolutely confident, that I absolutely know, because I don’t’….

This latest admission by Professor Dawkins comes after he was left lost for words [to] name the full title of his scientific hero’s[3] most famous work during a radio discussion last week in which he accused Christians of being ignorant of the Bible.

In his frustration, he resorted to a helpless: ‘Oh God’ (Hills 2012).

However, this is not a new perspective from Dawkins. As we shall see, this is a similar view to what he has already promoted in The God delusion (2006).

A.  The reaction of other atheists to Dawkins’ claim

How have Dawkins’ atheistic followers reacted to his acknowledgement that he is a 6.9 agnostic on a scale of 1-7 (1 being God exists and 7 being God does not exist)? Some of the comments made by posters following the Mail Online article show the defensiveness of atheists:

An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God. Dawkins doesn’t believe in God. Dawkins is an atheist. Dawkins, like practically every other atheist I’ve ever met, has the humility to admit he doesn’t know everything, and therefore allows for the possibility that he is wrong. Technically, that makes him agnostic; but by that standard every Christian who ever has a moment of doubt is also agnostic. This isn’t a change in what Dawkins believes. The only news here is that the author of this article doesn’t understand the subject she’s covering. And really, that’s not news. (James Huber, Oakland, USA, 26/2/2012) [Walker 2012][4]

Professor Dawkins has ALWAYS said he is an agnostic atheist, which is distinct from a simple agnostic. The Mail is engaging in sensationalism, yet again. (Joseph Martin, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, 26/2/2012) [Walker 2012].

Another perspective in these comments was:

This is a U-turn in his rhetoric. Remember Dawkins wrote a chapter in The God Delusion called “The Poverty of Agnosticism”? Is he now impoverished?? (Juan, Slough, UK, 26/2/2012).

Another used it as a reason to attack the credibility of the Bible:

Comparing religion with science is misrepresenting science. Science is simply the logical application of thought to problems – processing what you currently know to explain things better. It isn’t an alternative belief system, it is a way of teasing out truth from ideas. One truth we have discovered is that lots of things are unprovable. I cannot prove my desk exists but we accept this as a proven ‘fact’. Arguing otherwise is just untenable. We have worked out that the earth is billions of years old. If Jesus is the son of God, the Bible wouldn’t describe the earth as a few thousand years old and there wouldn’t be so many other factual errors. Common sense tells you that, if the writers didn’t know any more than the smart guys of the day, there is no need to look for a supernatural explanation. We may not be able to prove God doesn’t exist, but we *have* proved the Bible to be wrong on many fundamental points (even theologians agree). Belief based on the Bible is untenable (Dave, Cambridge, UK, 26/2/2012) [Walker 2012].

In a Christian apologetics site, Theo-sophical Ruminations (online): Agnostic Front, there is an article, ‘Dawkins is an agnostic? Why certainty is irrelevant to defining atheism’. The author makes this assessment:

During his dialogue-debate with Rowen[5] Williams (the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church under the Queen of England), Richard Dawkins was asked by the moderator why, if he admits that He cannot disprove God’s existence, he doesn’t just call himself an agnostic.  Dawkins response was, “I do.”

This is interesting, particularly in light of his past identification as an atheist, as well as his remarks that on a scale of 1 to 7, with one being “I know God exists” and seven being “I know God doesn’t exist,”  he ranks himself a 6.9.  He is only 0.1 away from being absolutely certain God does not exist, and yet he thinks that is good reason to adopt the agnostic label.  I disagree.

The presumption here is that to be an atheist one must be 100% sure that God does not exist, and if one is not 100% sure then they are agnostic (Christians often make this same mistake in reasoning).  But since when has atheism described the level of certainty one has regarding the non-existence of God?  Atheism describes the position of those who think the proposition “God exists” is false, regardless of their level of confidence that this is so.  Whether they are 99% or 51% sure the proposition is false, it is the mere fact that they think it is false that makes them an atheist….

If one must be 100% certain that God does not exist before it is appropriate to designate one’s position as “atheism,” then I think most philosophers would agree that no one could be an atheist.[6]

In spite of the atheistic promoters disappointment with Dawkins ‘agnostic’ position (even if only 0.1 out of 7.0), he did have a section in The God Delusion on ‘the poverty of agnosticism’ (Dawkins 2006:69-77), but he admitted

the view that I shall defend is very different: agnosticism about the existence of God belongs firmly in the temporary or TAP [Temporary Agnosticism in Practice] category. Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question: one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something very strong about the probability….

God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice. If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour (Dawkins 2006:70, 73, emphasis added).

However, he did write that he was agnostic about the existence of God ‘only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden’ (Dawkins 2006:74). So Dawkins, even in The God delusion (2006), was admitting his temporary agnostic position that, by definition, will lead to full-blown atheism one day when the scientific evidence is eventually found to deny the existence of God.

Dawkins’ examination of evidence is inhibited by his rejection of all kinds of evidence, as exemplified in strident statements such as,

(1) ‘It is impossible to overstress the difference between such a passionate commitment to biblical fundamentals and the true scientist’s equally passionate commitment to evidence’ (2006:19).

(2) ‘Dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature (whether by evolution or design) [2006:28].

(3) ‘The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe “religious liberty”’ (2006:45, emphasis added).

(4) ‘Not surprisingly, since it is founded on local traditions of private revelation rather than evidence, the God Hypothesis comes in many versions’ (2000:52).

(5) ‘There is nothing wrong with being agnostic in cases where we lack evidence one way or the other. It is the reasonable position’ (2000:69).

(6) ‘If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour’ (2006:73, emphasis added).

(7) ‘I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence of any kind of deity’ (2006:122-123).

(8) ‘It would be interesting to know whether there was any statistical tendency, however slight, for religious believers to loot and destroy than unbelievers. My uninformed prediction would have been opposite’ (2006:261).

(9) ‘Adherents of scriptural authority show distressingly little curiosity about the (normally highly dubious) historical origins of their holy books’ (2006:267).

(10) ‘Much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and “improved” by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries’ (2006:268).

(11) ‘Let’s charitably put it down again to the ubiquitous weirdness of the Bible’ (2006:273).

(12) ‘The Bible may be an arresting and poetic work of fiction, but it is not the sort of book you should give your children to form their morals’ (2006:280)

(13) ‘when you have been taught that truth comes from scripture rather than from evidence’ (2006:379).

B.  The scientific method: How to determine scientific facts

What is the scientific method? Experiment-Resources.com has provided this brief and helpful overview of the scientific method:

1.  The scientific process[7]

A scientific process or scientific method requires observations of nature and formulating and testing the hypothesis. It consists of following four steps.

1. Observe something and ask questions about a natural phenomenon (scientific observation)

2. Make your hypothesis

3. Make predictions about logical consequences of the hypothesis

4. Test your predictions by controlled experiment, a natural experiment, an observational study or a field experiment

5. Create your conclusion on the basis of data or information gathered in your experiment.

Here it is summarised with this graphic:

clip_image002

Matt Slick, while acknowledging the differences of opinion regarding the exact definition of the scientific method, stated that the main elements of the method are:

  1. Observation – a perception, viewing of phenomena.
  2. Hypothesis – a proposed explanation is developed to account what has been observed.
  3. Experimentation – tests are developed to validate or invalidate the hypothesis.
  4. Prediction – after tests and validation of the hypothesis, predictions are made based upon the evidence gathered in experimentation.
  5. Theory – a theory is based upon a hypothesis, verified by testing, and is generally accepted as being an accurate explanation of phenomena.

What should be emphasised more in this overview is that the scientific method deals with in the measurable, the observable and the repeatable. Therefore, it is used primarily with experiments in the present time that can be observed, have hypotheses created, data accumulated to confirm or disconfirm the predictions of the hypothesis, and further hypotheses proposed to be tested for verification or falsification.

I do not consider that ultimate questions can be decided through use of the scientific method in its strictest sense. In my view, the existence of God and their being reason and purpose in the universe, cannot be analysed according to the scientific method’s use of observing things in the present time and testing them.

Yet, Dawkins regards science as the primary evidence for investigating our world. Take statements like:

  • ‘The implication that the scriptures provide a literal account of geological history would make any reputable theologian wince’ (Dawkins 2006:377);
  • A promotion of a young earth by a creationist in teaching science was designed ‘to subvert evidence-based science education and replace it with biblical scripture’ (Dawkins 2006:378);
  • ‘… when you have been taught that truth comes from scripture rather than from evidence’ (Dawkins 2006:379);

Because of this exclusive priority given by Dawkins to the primacy of science, scientist and theologian, Alister McGrath, has stated of Dawkins’ view:

Science is the only reliable tool that we possess to understand out world. It has no limits. We may not know something now—but we will in the future. It is just a matter of time. This view, found throughout Dawkins’s body of writings, is given added emphasis in The God Delusion, which offers a vigorous defense of the universal scope and conceptual elegance of the natural sciences…. The point is simple: there are no “gaps” in which God can hide. Science will explain everything—including why some still believe in such a ridiculous idea as God. Yet it is an approach that simply cannot be sustained….

Dawkins does, I have to say with regret, tend to portray anyone raising questions about the scope of sciences as a science-hating idiot (McGrath & McGrath 2007:35-36).

Dawkins has confirmed his short-sightedness with his support for the exclusivity of natural explanations, and he is subject to severe critique as McGrath & McGrath (2007) have demonstrated. I highly recommend McGrath & McGrath’s analysis of Dawkins’ worldview. It is devastating as they conclude that

The God Delusion is a work of theatre rather than scholarship…. Many have been disturbed by Dawkins’s crude stereotypes, vastly oversimplified binary oppositions (science is good; religion is bad), straw men and hostility toward religion. Might The God Delusion actually backfire and end up persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant, doctrinaire and disagreeable as the worst that religion can offer?… Yet the fact that Dawkins relies so excessively on rhetoric rather than the evidence that would otherwise be his natural stock in trade clearly indicates that something is wrong with his case…. Might atheism be a delusion about God? (McGrath & McGrath 2007:96-97, emphasis in original).

C.  God himself could clinch the argument

Let’s get back to Dawkins challenging statement about God: ‘If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour’ (2006:73).

So Dawkins is the master of evidence on the existence of God and he challenges God to ‘clinch the argument’, not in just some robust fashion, but God could do it ‘noisily and unequivocally’ and this would be in God’s favour – if only God would take Dawkins’ advice and do it as Dawkins wants.

D.  Wait a minute, Richard Dawkins!

God has already revealed Himself unequivocally and Dawkins does not accept the evidence. Why? His presuppositional bias to atheism, naturalism, and the scientific method, prevents him from accepting God’s unequivocal evidence that is available elsewhere and in ways that God states are available to all. This is some of how God has stated the evidence:

  • ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (Psalm 19:1 NIV).
  • ‘Since what may be known about God is plain to them [godless, wicked people], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse’ (Romans 1:19-20 NIV, emphasis added).
  • They [Gentiles, non-Jews] show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:15 NIV).
  • Jesus said, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9 NIV).

The Scriptures have stated that God has revealed himself, noisily, unequivocally in his own favour and not one human being in the world can make excuses like: “God I’m a 6.9 points out of 7 agnostic and I didn’t know for sure you exist”. “I’m a 99.9% atheist and I don’t believe in your existence”. “I was in a country where I never heard your Gospel and there was no Bible, so how can you send me to the place where the ungodly go?”

The Bible verses above confirm that God has done all he is ever going to do in three ways:

  1. He has revealed Himself through natural revelation – in the heavens, through what has been made in the natural world.
  2. A person’s heart/conscience has the law of God on it.
  3. If you’ve had knowledge of Jesus through the proclamation of the Gospel and through access to the Scriptures, you have seen God, the Father, in action. You know of God’s invisible attributes and you know some of what he does. To be a 99.9% atheist is not acceptable before the holy and just God who ‘does not show favoritism’ (Romans 2:11).

Therefore, Richard Dawkins and all of the ungodly people in the world, you are without excuse. Not one person who has ever existed will be able to stand before God on judgment day and say, ‘You did not reveal yourself to me, God, to clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in your favour’.

E.  What are Richard Dawkins and all unbelievers up to?

Former atheist, scientist and now historical theologian at Oxford University, Dr. Alister McGrath, admitted his disillusionment with Dawkins’ antagonism towards God. He wrote:

When I read The God Delusion I was both saddened and troubled. How, I wondered, could such a gifted popularizer of the natural sciences, who once had such a passionate concern for the objective analysis of evidence, turn into such an aggressive antireligious propagandist with an apparent disregard for evidence that is not favorable to his case? Why were the natural sciences being so abused in an attempt to advance atheist fundamentalism? I have no adequate explanation. Like so many of my atheist friends, I simply cannot understand the astonishing hostility that he displays toward religion. Religion to Dawkins is like a red flag to a bull—evoking not merely an aggressive response but one that throws normal scholarly conventions about scrupulous accuracy and fairness to the winds (McGrath & McGrath 2007:12)

Terry Eagleton is a cultural and literary critic. His blistering critique of The God Delusion (2006) begins with these words:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be (Eagleton 2006).

Eagleton describes Dawkins as being ‘theologically illiterate’ and Dawkins has provided ‘vulgar caricatures of religious faith’ (Eagleton 2006).

Well said, Terry, and your entire review is a scintillating assessment of Richard Dawkins’ ineptitude when it comes to theology.

F.  How reliable is the Bible?

When discussing the Christian Gospel and defending Christianity, I have often heard comments such as: ‘You can’t depend on the fairytales of the Bible. Go tell somebody else your nonsense’; ‘Try that on somebody else. I’m not that gullible. Your Bible is a bunch of trash’. Let’s see how Dawkins attempts to undermine the reliability of the Bible:

  • ‘How many literalists have read enough of the Bible to know that the death penalty is prescribed for adultery, for gathering sticks on the sabbath and for cheeking your parents? If we reject Deuteronomy and Leviticus (as all enlightened moderns do), by what criteria do we then decide which of religion’s moral values to accept? Or should we pick and choose among all the world’s religions until we find one whose moral teaching suits us? If so, again we must ask, by what criterion do we choose? And if we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?’ (Dawkins 2006:81, emphasis in original)
  • ‘To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird’ (2006:268).
  • ‘Despite the good intentions of the sophisticated theologian, a frighteningly large number of people still do take their scriptures, including the story of Noah, literally. According to Gallup, they include approximately 50 per cent of the US electorate’ (2006:269).
  • ‘Scientists may think it is nonsense to teach astrology and the literal truth of the Bible’ (2006:367).
  • ‘Jesus was not content to derive his ethics from the scriptures of his upbringing. He explicitly departed from them, for example when he deflated the dire warnings about breaking the sabbath. “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” has been generalized into a wise proverb’ (2006:284).
  • ‘There are other teachings in the New Testament that no good person should support. I refer especially to the central doctrine of Christianity: that of “atonement” for “original sin”. This teaching, which lies at the heart of New Testament theology, is almost as morally obnoxious as the story of Abraham setting out to barbecue Isaac, which it resembles’ (2006:284).
  • ‘What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?’ (2006:285).
  • ‘The Christian focus is overwhelmingly on sin sin sin sin sin sin sin. What a nasty little preoccupation to have dominating your life’ (2006:285).
  • ‘I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sadomasochistic and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitous familiarity which has dulled our objectivity. If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment?’ (2006:287).
  • ‘Adam, the supposed perpetrator of the original sin, never existed in the first place: an awkward fact -excusably unknown to Paul but presumably known to an omniscient God (and Jesus, if you believe he was God?) – which fundamentally undermines the premise of the whole tortuously nasty theory [of the atonement] (Dawkins 2006:287).
  • ‘The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Those of us schooled from infancy in his ways can become desensitized to their horror’ (2006:51).
  • ‘For a more sophisticated believer in some kind of supernatural intelligence, it is childishly easy to overcome the problem of evil. Simply postulate a nasty god – such as the one who stalks every page of the Old Testament’ (2006:135).
  • Begin in Genesis with the well-loved story of Noah, derived from the Babylonian myth of Uta-Napisthim and known from the older mythologies of several cultures. The legend of the animals going into the ark two by two is charming, but the moral of the story of Noah is appalling. God took a dim view of humans, so he (with the exception of one family) drowned the lot of them including children and also, for good measure, the rest of the (presumably blameless) animals as well’ (2006:269).
  • ‘Why should a divine being, with creation and eternity on his mind, care a fig for petty human malefactions?’ (2006:270)
  • ‘Look it up in Judges 19:29. Let’s charitably put it down to the ubiquitous weirdness of the Bible’ (2006:273).
  • ‘Yet the legend [of Abraham] is one of the great foundational myths of all three monotheistic religions’ (2006:275).
  • ‘Modern morality, wherever else it comes from, does not come from the Bible’ (2006:279).
  • ‘And the Bible story of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho, and the invasion of the Promised Land in general, is morally indistinguishable from Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein’s massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. The Bible may be an arresting and poetic work of fiction, but it is not the sort of book you should give your children to form their morals’ (2006:280).

Those assaults by Richard Dawkins should stir you to realise that there is a tirade of antagonism, not only from Dawkins, but also from others. That should give you enough ammunition to indicate that there are people in university land who have a deep hostility towards the Bible and the God of the Bible. In being an apologist for the Christian faith in the twenty-first century, you’ll need to defend the reliability of the Scriptures. I refer you to my four articles that deal with this matter in an introductory way.

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

For further reading on the reliability of the Bible, I recommend: Blomberg (2007); Bruce (1960); Kaiser Jr (2001); Kitchen (2003); Montgomery (1984); Montgomery (1986).

G.  God has declared!

God has declared exactly what Richard Dawkins and all the ungodly are doing with their denial or rejection of the existence of God. All the evidence they will ever need is before them, but this is what they are doing:

  • ‘God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Rom 1:18 NLT, emphasis added).

Suppression of the truth of God’s evidence in creation, conscience and through Jesus, is what is being done by Dawkins and everyone else who rejects the evidence for God’s existence.

However, God needs more than release from the suppression of the truth, to effect reconciliation with God Himself. This is God’s requirement: “Repent and believe the good news [the Gospel]” (Mark 1:15). Jesus said to his disciple, Thomas, ‘Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”’ (John 20:29).

I pray that Richard Dawkins and all ungodly people will have their eyes opened to the evidence that is unequivocally before them and they will repent of their sins and believe in Christ for salvation (eternal life). As long as they have breath, they have the opportunity to respond in faith to Christ.

H.  References:

Blomberg, C L 1987. The historical reliability of the gospels. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Bruce, F F 1960. The New Testament documents: Are they reliable? rev ed. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Dawkins, R 2006. The God delusion. London: Black Swan (a division of Transworld Publishers).

Eagleton, T 2006. Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching (a review of Richard Dawkins’ The God delusion) [online], 19 October. London Review of Books, vol 28, no 20. available at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching (Accessed 23 March 2012).

Hills, S 2012. ‘I can’t be sure God DOES NOT exist’: World’s most notorious atheist Richard Dawkins admits he is in fact agnostic. Mail Online, February 24. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2105834/Career-atheist-Richard-Dawkins-admits-fact-agnostic.html (Accessed 20 March 2012).

Kaiser Jr., Walter C 2001. The Old Testament documents: Are they reliable & relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois / Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

Kitchen, K A 2003. On the reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

McGrath, A & McGrath, J C 2007. The Dawkins delusion. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books.

Montgomery, J W 1984. The testimony of the evangelists, examined by the rules of evidence administered in courts of justice. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Montgomery, J W 1986. Human rights and human dignity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Walker, T 2012. Science vs God: Richard Dawkins takes on Archbishop of Canterbury. The Independent (online), February 24. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/science-vs-god-richard-dawkins-takes-on-archbishop-of-canterbury-7440051.html (Accessed 20 March 2012).

I.  Notes:


[1] An atheist is ‘a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings’ (dictionary.com), available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/atheist?s=t (Accessed 26 March 2012).

[2] An agnostic is ‘a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience’ (dictionary.com), available at: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/agnostic?s=t (Accessed 26 March 2012).

[3] This was Charles Darwin and the full title of On the Origin of the Species was, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The correct spelling is ‘Rowan’.

[6] The article was written on 2 March 2012. Available at: http://theosophical.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/dawkins-is-an-agnostic-why-certainty-is-irrelevant-to-defining-atheism/ (Accessed 20 March 2012).

[7] Scientific observation. Experiment-Resources.com, available at: http://www.experiment-resources.com/scientific-observation.html (Accessed 25 March 2012).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 July 2016.

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Spong’s swan song — at last! [1]

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

By Spencer D Gear

John Shelby Spong (public domain)

blue-corrosion-arrow-smallReview & Analysis: John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001

This is a shocker! It is vintage Spong – extremely readable but heretical at its heart! He throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement (an “offensive idea”, p. 10) and the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I believe passionately in God. This God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions” (pp. 3, 64, 74).

blue-corrosion-arrow-smallHe rejoices that “the blinding idolatry of traditional theism [read, supernatural Christianity] has finally departed from my life” (p. 74). More than that, he proclaims, “Theism is dead, I joyfully proclaim, but God is real” (p.77).

Spong’s version of God

But what kind of God is he or it? He admits that his God-experience is a “God-concept that I grope to find words to convey” (p. 76). He’s not the only one groping. Throughout the book’s 276 pages, I tried to understand what Spong’s God was like, but all I could conclude was that this mystical “God-experience” is filled with unique Spongian content.

For prayer, he proposes “substitute words” that have been identified down through the centuries “with the mystical disciplines of spiritual development—words such as meditation and contemplation” that will include “centering prayer” and breathing exercises (p. 193).

He’s against evangelism and missionary enterprises, the latter being “base-born, rejecting, negative, and yes, I would even say evil” (p. 178). This shocking redefinition of missions as “evil” is associated with his universalism and theory that “we possess neither certainty nor eternal truth” (p. 179).

What would cause him to come to conclusions that are so contrary to classical Christianity? He’s all for life and love because they “transcend all boundaries” but “exclusive religious propaganda can no longer be sustained. The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema [a curse] and even dangerous in our shrinking world” (p. 179).

Beginning at the conclusion

When we throw out the Scriptures as the standard for theology, where do we go for answers? Here we have a new kind of religion, out of the minds of Spong himself and his friends. Their goal is to try to tell the world through the mass media and extensive publications that conservative, Bible-believing (“fundamentalist” is his term) Christians are out of touch for a postmodern, scientific world. When a religion comes out of the mind of Spong, it means that almost anything goes, religiously.

Spong claims that theism is dead. Is this true? He has not provided concrete evidence of churches supporting supernatural Christianity that are dying and his breed are growing. As we shall see, the facts do not support the death of theism. It’s the other way round. Spongism is killing faith and churches.

Spong’s first chapter is titled, “A Place to Begin”, but he begins with his conclusions. That’s cheating! His assumptions are: God is not a being; there is no literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead or a literal star at the birth of Jesus or a virgin birth — that’s mythology! There’s no ascension of Jesus Christ and Christ did not found a church. We are not born sinful. The fall into sin by Adam and Eve is mythical. Women are not less human and less holy than men (I agree!). Homosexuals are not morally depraved; the Bible is not the literal word of God and certainly is not inspired. Forget about absolute Christian ethics because “time makes ancient good uncouth” (p. 6). The colour of one’s skin or ethnic background does not constitute grounds for making one superior or inferior (I agree!). This kind of teaching amounts to Spong’s conclusions, but he claims it is where he begins.

The heresy continues with his repudiation of baptism and the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. “Since the diagnosis (sinful human nature) was wrong, the prescribed cure (atonement) cannot be right.” Since the fall into sin is a wrong diagnosis, baptism “to wash away the effects of a fall into sin that never occurred is inappropriate.” As for the eucharist, this “reenactment of a sacrifice . . . becomes theological nonsense” (p. 124).

Jesus redefined

Spong’s primary question to answer in this book is: “Can a person claim with integrity to be a Christian and at the same time dismiss, as I have done, so much of what has traditionally defined the content of the Christian faith?” (p. 7) He sees his “task of seeking to redefine Jesus” as something that he does not take “easily or lightly” (p. 130).

Spong raises the question of whether he can be a person of integrity in his answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16).

Spong answers with further questions, “Is it still possible for me to use these same words? How flexible are they? How open to new meanings? Is it honest to wrench these words out of that past and to open them to new meanings?” His reply is, “I believe that it is. Words change” (p. 130). But he also is aware that he might be open to the charge that the “genuine reformation of Christianity” that he is seeling may be understood that he is “deluded and in my suppressed fear attempting to hid from or to cover up the death of Christianity” (p. 130).

In the early history of the church when it was fighting for doctrinal survival and the promotion of orthodoxy, it took a hard line on false doctrine. If Spong had been Arius, Apollinarius, Eutyches or Nestorius in the early centuries of the Christian church, his views on the nature of Christ and other doctrines, would have been condemned at a General Council of the Church such as at Nicea, Ephesus, Constantinople or Chalcedon.

But not so with Spong! Even though the Episcopal Church USA did not denounce his views as heretical, the former Archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth (now Governor General of Australia), prevented his preaching in Brisbane Anglican churches on Spong’s visit to Australia in 2001. Instead, he spoke in Uniting Churches.

Space limitations prevent a refutation of Spong’s view in support of the genetic cause of homosexuality, that it is “more like left-handedness”. He considers those evangelical organisations that advertise that “they can cure homosexuality” are “not just ignorant, but actually fraudulent” (p. 14). Sexual orientations are “morally neutral” and he “cannot imagine being part of a church that discriminates against gay and lesbian people on the basis of their being” (p. 6). There is contrary scientific and biblical evidence to this view.

What is Spong’s biggest beef with the church? He can’t stand “the literal way that human beings have chosen to articulate that faith” (p. 7). Instead, he wants to continue as part of the church as “I seek the God-experience” (p. 8). Pity help me if I read his book with the same disdain for literal interpretation as he gives to the Bible.

Why would Spong believe that theism is dead? He wraps it in a package with his commitment to Darwinian evolution. The survival of the fittest means that we must move beyond supernatural Christianity to a more modern view – his view. Spongism enlarges on the ideas of people like his mentor and theological liberal, the late John A. T. Robinson, who wrote an assault on biblical Christianity in 1963, Honest to God. What was the bud in Robinson is in full bloom in Spong.

He says that it will “probably be the final theological book of my life and career” (p. xxi) – his swan song at last! I almost shouted, Praise the Lord, except that I know that his kind of “radically reformed Christianity” (p. 18) will continue with others and get continuing mass media coverage.

What are the characteristics of Spong’s new Christianity? The fundamentals are gone. He throws out the inspired and literal Scripture, the miraculous virgin birth, Christ as the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins, the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the Second Coming of Christ (p. 2).

The church of tomorrow

What will his “ecclesia (church) of tomorrow” look like? The supernatural is out. There will be no singing praises to a theistic deity. “I treat the language of worship like I treat the language of love. It is primitive, excessive, flowery, poetic, evocative. No one really believes it literally” (p. 204). There will be his ill-defined, mystical “God-experience”. We could do that in a mosque, temple, synagogue, holy place, or ecclesia (his preferred word). There will be no confessing our sins to a “parental judge” (p. 206). There will be no literalised faith story. It will “never claim that it already possesses truth by divine revelation” (p. 214).

The ecclesia of the future will be a place for “Catholic and Protestant, orthodox and heretic, liberal and evangelical, Jew and Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu” and where worship of this “god” will not be “bounded by our formulas, our creeds, our doctrines, our liturgies, or even our Bible, but still real, infinitely real” (p. 214). God is not a personal being, not even the highest being but the one he experiences as “the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary” (pp. 59-60). This is the rejuvenated liberalism of Paul Tillich.

This new community, the ecclesia, “must be able to allow God and Satan to come together in each of us. It must allow light and darkness to be united. It must bind good and evil into one. It must unite Christ with Anti-Christ, Jesus with Judas, male with female, heterosexual with homosexual” (p. 167).

This is a church built in cloud cuckoo land – out of the minds of Spong and his friends! It is beyond radical. It is blasphemous!

Is theism dead?

What’s the truth about the death of theism? Wherever theological liberalism has taken hold, church numbers have crashed. Based on The Episcopal Church Annual (USA), membership fell from a high of 3.6 million baptised Episcopalians in 1965, to 2.3 million in 1997– a loss of fully one-third of its membership (based on Crew, 2001). The average Sunday attendance in the year 1998 was 843,213 (Fairfield, 2001). Two years later (the year 2000), it had further declined to 839,760 (Crew, 2001a). The Episcopal Church USA has shown “30 years of membership decline and over a million members lost” (Episcopal Action, 2001; see also Crew, 2001). “Mainline [church] membership is down (by nearly 6 million members) since 1965” in the USA. “More than 20 million Americans still hold membership in mainline churches. The largest mainline denominations are the United Methodist Church, with 8.7 million members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with 5.2 million members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), with 2.6 million members; the Episcopal Church, with 2.5 million members; and the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ, each with 1.5 million members” (Wuthnow, 2001).

Jeffrey Walton’s assessment of the decline in the USA Episcopal Church was:

The 2013 reporting year saw a continuation of the downward trend, with a membership drop of 27,423 to 1,866,758 (1.4 percent) while attendance dropped 16,451 to 623,691 (2.6 percent). A net 45 parishes were closed, and the denomination has largely ceased to plant new congregations.

The new numbers do not factor in the departure of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, of which the church continues to report over 28,000 members and over 12,000 attendees, despite the majority of South Carolina congregations severing their relationship with the Episcopal Church at the end of 2012. If South Carolina departures were factored in, the membership loss would be closer to 50,000 persons’ (Walton 2014).

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett), worldwide “around 17 million people become church members each year through conversion, and some 7 million leave the church.” This leaves an annual net growth of approx. 10 million people. We would love to see more, but this is hard evidence against Spong’s death of theism (Long, 1998).

There are some other strong indicators that Jesus is alive and well and the church is growing. In the Ukraine, in the past three years, some 70 new house churches have been planted in Crimea, most in places previously without a church (Ukraine, 2001).

In the city of Xinjiang, China, there were 20-30 small churches with about 300 believers in 1994. Through courage, vision and the Lord’s direction, five couples have been used to enable rapid growth. Over a period of three years, the growth has been so strong that there are now almost 500 churches with about 100,000 members in four districts. This growth has so concerned the Government that it has infiltrated the churches, persecuted the believers, and gone on television, accusing the groups of being a cult (China, 2001).

During the last 10 years of the “Decade of Harvest” among the Nigerian Assemblies of God in Africa, there has been extraordinary growth. The church has not only gained 1.2 million new members, but also ordained 5,026 new pastors and planted 4,044 new churches in Nigeria. The emphasis on reaching previously unreached people groups led to 75 churches being planted in areas previously untouched by Christianity (Nigeria, 2001).

The Pew Research Center has found this about Pentecostal and charismatic church growth in Nigeria:

The Forum’s 2006 pentecostal survey suggests that renewalists – including charismatics and pentecostals – account for approximately three-in-ten Nigerians. The survey also finds that roughly six-in-ten Protestants in Nigeria are either pentecostal or charismatic, and three-in-ten Nigerian Catholics surveyed can be classified as charismatic (Pew Research Center 2006).

Worldwide, the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has grown from no adherents in 1901 to “well over 420,000,000 persons in 1993” (Synan, 2006). Yet Spong has the audacity to say that “Christianity as we have known it increasingly displays signs of rigor mortis [the stiffness of death]” (p. 8).

Lee Grady wrote that:

Third-World Christianity kept growing. There are now about 600 million Christians in Africa. Protestant Christianity grew 600 percent in Vietnam in the last decade. In China, where a 50,000-member megachurch was raided in Shanxi province a few weeks ago, there are now an estimated 130 million churchgoers.

“We have no reason to fear the future. Whatever challenges loom ahead, the same God who carried us through this past decade will give us sucess in the next one.”

Astounding church growth has occurred in Guatemala, Brazil, India and Ethiopia. In Nepal, which had no Christians in 1960, there are now a half-million believers. The Christian population of Indonesia has mushroomed from 1.3 million to 11 million in 40 years.

Smug scholars in Europe and the United States love to cite Islam as the world’s fastest-growing religion, but observers know the facts: Christianity, while waning especially in Europe, is growing faster than ever in the Southern hemisphere. Philip Jenkins, who wrote The Next Christendom in 2002, declared: “The center of gravity has moved to the global south. So if we’re looking for the religion that is going to affect the largest number of lives in the 21st century, it is almost certainly going to be Christianity (Grady 2015).

There certainly are areas where the Christian church is showing significant decline, especially in the Western world. About 100 years ago, Wales experienced a heaven-sent revival. The proportion of the total Welsh population attending church has declined from 14.6% in 1982 to 8.7% in 1995. This report went on to say that “the Church in Wales congregations (Anglicans) report that there has been a slight increase in the size of their congregations in the last five years [i.e. prior to 1997]. The report also found that Churches identifying themselves as Anglo-Catholic or Broad, or Charismatic were growing the most” (Wales, 1997).

Many of these statistics on church growth were obtained from the DAWN website.

Spong’s dislike of evangelicals

Spong is not interested in “confronting or challenging those conservative, fundamentalist elements of Christianity that are so prevalent today.”  Why? He believes they will “die of their own irrelevance” as they cling “to attitudes of the past that are simply withering on the vine” (p. 12).

He goes to great lengths in denigrating traditional, evangelical Christianity, even to the point of making blasphemous statements such as these: “I am free of the God who was deemed to be incomplete unless constantly receiving our endless praises; the God who required that we acknowledge ourselves as born in sin and therefore as helpless; the God who seemed to delight in punishing sinners; the God who, we were told, gloried in our childlike, groveling dependency. Worshiping that theistic God did not allow us to grow into the new humanity” (p. 75).

Among Spong’s 205 items in his bibliography, there is not one that refutes his views or presents a scholarly evangelical perspective. I looked for Don Carson, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III., N. T. Wright, J. P. Moreland, Ravi Zacharias, Australia’s Paul Barnett, and other leading defenders of the evangelical faith., but they were absent. Dixon and Torrey’s, The Fundamentals, is included but Spong’s overall thrust is to denigrate these essentials of Bible-believing faith.

Early church leader of the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo, gets a mention because Spong believes he is seeking “some experience inside my life” that “is that restlessness about which Augustine spoke that remains unresolved until we rest in God” (p. 193). I think Augustine would turn over in his grave if he considered his restlessness was anything akin to Spong’s mystical inner experience.

His partners in postmodern theological liberalism from the “Jesus Seminar” and other liberals are everywhere – John Crossan, Marcus Borg, Robert Funk, Michael Goulder, John Hick, John A. T. Robinson, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Don Cupitt. Spongism is one-eyed religion that is intolerant of opposing views, especially those of the “fundamentalists”.

Spong’s religion linked to death

God’s church is being persecuted around the world, but is showing growth internationally. Spong’s thesis is dead in the water. It is his ideology, a la John A. T. Robinson, radical theological liberalism, that kills churches.

The Episcopalians of Spong’s diocese voted with their feet while he was bishop there. One report said that

Spong [had] been the Episcopal Bishop of Newark [New Jersey] since 1976. He has presided over one of the most rapid witherings of any diocese in the Episcopal Church [USA]. The most charitable assessment shows that Newark’s parish membership rolls have evaporated by more than 42 percent. Less charitable accounts put the rate at over 50 percent. (Lasley, 1999).

What can we learn from Spong?

Is there anything of value for evangelicals in reading Spong? I exhort leaders to be familiar with his views for several reasons:

1.    These kinds of perspectives will continue to command mass media coverage. On his recent Australian visit, there were articles by Spong in The Agenewspaper, Melbourne (eg., Spong, 2001), The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney. There also was significant television and radio coverage. You must know the enemy.

2.    For the sake of all Christians committed to the Gospel, but especially for the young, we need a strong apologetic against his views — from the pulpit and in other teaching ministries. Spong sees “a new portrait of Jesus” (p. 131). It’s an heretical view against which there is a substantial refutation in the Almighty Lord God, the Christ of the cross, the God-breathed and inspired Bible, and the living Christ (through the Spirit), who lives in every true believer and among the people of God. The ministry of apologetics has fallen on hard times in many churches and Bible-training institutions in Australia. This must change with this new breed of Bible-bashers from the liberal theological establishment.

3.    What’s the truth? Evangelical, Bible-believing Christianity is growing throughout the world, not Spong’s brand of “Christianity”.  Spong’s views need to be refuted with solid evidence.

4.    Spong has a point when he says that “most churches will die of boredom long before they die of controversy” (p. 125). Solid biblical teaching must communicate with today’s generation. I observe that some of today’s preaching is boring. This is a call to vigilance in the training of pastor-teachers and the practice of preaching that connects with people.

5.    Christ always is relevant to any people, but sometimes the dirge of the church service turns people off. I believe Spong is correct in observing, “For vast numbers of modern people, including modern religious people, the church is less and less an option” (p. 126). We must investigate why this is so, especially in the West, and begin to address it — immediately. Examining what we do is often difficult for the church. This must change. Does Spong have a point when he says that “premodern symbols do not work in a postmodern world. To do nothing is to vote for death” (p. 126)?

6.    The time is long overdue for the church to become more proactive in addressing some of the big questions of today. Spong does this from his liberal theological view. Some of the big questions include: Why is suicide becoming an option for more people, especially the young? Why is divorce on the rise? How can the church help with better parenting in families? Is the Bible trustworthy for a modern world? How can I be genuinely Christian in a multicultural Australia? What does it mean to proclaim “Jesus is Lord”? Why are evangelicals not as strong as the liberals in the areas of social responsibility? Is the CEO pastor biblical? When we gather as a church, why are most Christians mute? What can we do about teenage rebellion? Is there a biblical perspective on the use of drugs? Is the Holy Spirit too often just a force to be noticed for some Christians? How can relevant Christianity be communicated without froth and bubble or dry irrelevance?

Spong does not want to deal with conservative, fundamentalist Christianity, and believes that it has no application to life today. He comments that “nowhere is this better seen than when one observes how the word Christianis used in our contemporary world” (p. 12). This is the pot calling the kettle black! It is Spong who has demolished the Bible’s definition of a Christian.

Yet he thinks his views are the future of faith, a new Christianity for a new world! Welcome to Spongism, “Christianity” with a killer instinct.

Endnotes:

1.  A version of this article was published in the British magazine, Vanguard, June 2002.

Works consulted

China 2001. 100,000 new believers in Xinjiang in 3 years, Pulpit Helps, September.Available at: http://www.pulpithelps.com/www/docs/988-5476 (Accessed 31 March 2015)

Crew, L 2001. Charting the Episcopal Church (online). Available at: http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/chartecusa.html (Accessed 4 November 2001). This URL unavailable online, 31 March 2015.

Crew, L 2001a Growth and decline in ECUSA [Episcopalian Church USA] attendance, 1991-2000 (online). .Available at: http://www.andromeda/rutgers.edu/~/lcrew/growthdecline90-00.html (Accessed November 17, 2001). URL unavailable online, 31 March 2015.

Episcopal Action [The Institute on Religion and Democracy] 2001. Available at: http://www.ird-renew.org/Episcopal/Episcopalmain.cfm (Accessed November 14, 2001). URL unavailable, 31 March 2015.

Fairfield, L. P. 2001. Modernist decline and biblical renewal: The Episcopal Church from 1870-2000,” American Anglican Council. January 24. Available at: http://www.americananglican.org/Issues/Issues.dfm?ID-91 (Accessed October 15, 2001). URL unavailable, 31 March 2015.

Grady, J L 2009. Where is God going? Seven spiritual trends of the ‘00 decade. Charisma magazine (online), 29 December. Available at: http://www.charismamag.com/blogs/fire-in-my-bones/8433-where-is-god-going-seven-spiritual-trends-of-the-00-decade (Accessed 31 March 2015).

Lasley, D. M. 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, for Anglican Voice (online) , posted June 2 1999. Available at: http://www.anglicanvoice.org/voice/spong0699.htm (Accessed November 4, 2001). On 31 March 2015 it was available as, ‘Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian – A Baptist looks at Spong’, David Virtue (June 2, 1999). Available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html (Accessed 31 March 2015).

Long, J. 1998. World Christian Encyclopedia:David Barrett (Assoc. Ed.). Worldwide statistics plus news from Bulgaria, Chile, Brazil, DAWN Fridayfax 1998 #04. Available at: http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/1998/dawn9804.html (Accessed November 4, 2001). URL unavailable, 31 March 2015.

Nigeria 2001. Assemblies of God plant 4,044 new churches in 10 years, DAWN Fridayfax 2001#3 (online). Available at: http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn03.html (Source: AoG news, January 3, 2001) (Accessed November 14, 2001). URL unavailable, 31 March 2015.

Pew Research Center 2006. Historical overview of Pentecostalism in Nigeria (online), October 5. Available at: http://www.pewforum.org/2006/10/05/historical-overview-of-pentecostalism-in-nigeria/ (Accessed 31 March 2015).

Spong, J. S. 2001. Meditation on the reason for prayer. The Age, October 6. Available at: http://theage.com.au/news/state/2001/10/06/FFXAEOBCFSC.html (Accessed October 11, 2001). The URL was unavailable, 31 March 2015.

Synan, V. 2006. The origins of the Pentecostal movement. Holy Spirit Research Center (Oral Roberts University). Available at: http://www.oru.edu/library/special_collections/holy_spirit_research_center/pentecostal_history.php (Accessed 31 March 2015).

Ukraine 2001. 70 new house churches in the Crimea. National Pastors’ Prayer Network: Global Update (online), 13 July. Available at: http://www.nppn.org/images/GlobalNews/Global07132001.htm#a21 (Accessed 31 March 2015).

Wales 1997. Church decline generally but slight increase for Anglicans, Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), 7 March. Available at: www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/acnsarchive/acns1100/acns1153.html (Accessed 3 November 2001).

Walton, J 2014. Episcopal church continues shedding members. Juicy Ecumenism: The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Blog (online), October 14. Available at: http://juicyecumenism.com/2014/10/14/episcopal-church-continues-shedding-members/ (Accessed 31 March 2015).

Wuthnow, R 2001). Still toeing the mainline.  Available at: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/31/story_3171_1.html (Accessed November 14, 2001).


Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated, 7 October 2015.

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Does agnosticism work?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Can the worst of people be changed – without God?

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By Spencer D Gear

In my work with abused children and abusers, I often hear statements like, “There is no hope for the paedophile. Once a molester, always a molester.” As I see it, rebellious behaviour is in plague proportions in Bundaberg. Parents say things to me like, “She’s been a difficult child from birth, a rebel all her life. She’s heading for the clink. She’s out of control. You fix her.”

6pointblue Can a leopard change its spots? Definitely not! But there is Someone who can change paedophiles into people with true love. Prostitutes are being remade. The dishonest can become people of integrity. Rebels can be turned into law-abiding citizens and cons into upright, Christian citizens. But self-effort won’t do it.

I am reminded of an event in the life of Dr Harry Ironside, an evangelist and Bible teacher of renown in the USA in the early part of the 20th century. He was walking past a Salvation Army open-air meeting in San Francisco when he was recognised by the Salvos. They invited him to share how Christ had changed him.

As Dr. Ironside finished his testimony, a known lecturer on socialism provoked the doctor with this challenge: “Sir, I dare you to debate me. The subject will be, ‘Agnosticism versus Christianity.’ We’ll meet in the Academy of Science Hall next Sunday afternoon at 4 o’clock. I will pay all expenses.”

Dr. Ironside agreed, but on two conditions. First, the agnostic must promise to bring with him one man who was once a no-hoper. The exact nature of what wrecked his life did not matter. He could find a drunkard, criminal, sex pervert, or any other such person. That person had been changed into an upstanding citizen by becoming an agnostic. Righteousness and goodness came flooding into his life through pursuing the ideals of “I don’t know if there is a God.”

Second, Dr. Ironside asked the agnostic to promise also to bring with him one woman who was once an outcast, slave to evil passions and a victim of corrupt living. She was ruined and wretched but had been turned around. She had attended a meeting where the agnostic was proclaiming the benefits of agnosticism and was ridiculing the message of the Bible.

As she listened to him, new hope was born in her life. She concluded that the agnostic message could deliver her from her ways and she has now become an intelligent agnostic who no longer lives in her depraved lifestyle. She now lives a clean, virtuous and happy life — all because she is an agnostic.

Dr Ironside offered the challenge: “If you will promise to bring these two people with you as examples of what agnosticism can do, I will promise to meet you at the Hall of Science at 4 o’clock next Sunday. I will bring with me at the very least 100 men and women who for years lived in just such sinful degradation as I have tried to depict, but who have been gloriously saved through believing the gospel which you ridicule. I will have these men and women with me on the platform as witnesses to the miraculous saving power of Jesus Christ and as present-day proof of the truth of the Bible.”

Dr. Ironside turned to the Salvation Army officer in the open-air meeting, a woman, and asked, “Captain, have you any who could go with me to such a meeting?” The Captain offered at least 40 such people from just one Salvation Army Corps and said she would bring a brass band to lead the procession.

Dr. Ironside said that he would have no difficulty picking up the 100 radically changed people from the Salvos, other missions, gospel halls and evangelical churches. He said that the Salvation Army band would play “Onward Christian Soldiers” as they led the procession to the debate.

6pointblue The enthusiastic agnostic who wanted to big-note himself at the open-air meeting and brashly challenge Dr. Ironside to the debate, smiled wryly, waved his hand and left the meeting, as if to say, “Nothing doing!” He edged his way through the crowd as these bystanders clapped enthusiastically for Ironside and the other Christians.

The power of the living Christ is changing lives today, even the lives of the most wicked. He has done it throughout history. John Newton, the British slave trader, became a preacher of the gospel. Chuck Colson, former President Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, was sent to jail for his part in the Watergate scandal in the USA. He met the risen Christ and has been engaged in an active prison and public ministry since then.

I wish you could have met my Bundaberg friend, the late George Clarke. He’s in heaven now. This gangster was changed into a child of God and an honourable family man. Talk to his family members and they’ll verify that Jesus Christ does change lives.

The worst of people can be changed. Many Bundaberg people can confirm that. The apostle Paul, the persecutor of the early Christian church, was threatening to murder believers. Then the turning point came. He tells how it can happen for anybody: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”


Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.

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