Monthly Archives: February 2008
Better late than never, right? Josiah Cast is all about women in the Bible this week. I show how the Bible is used to elevate women rather than denigrate them. I forgot to mention some website resources at the close of the program, so instead I’ll provide the links below. As usual, if you want a copy of the show e-mail me to make download arrangements. I’m still having difficulty finding a good host for the podcast. You may download the show here.
My podcast this Friday will be on how the Bible elevates women. The Pope has spoken on this controversial topic as well, according to Catholic News Agency. See the article here. The Pope agrees with me:
Criticizing male chauvinism, discrimination against women, and the undervaluation of women, he called for Christians to promote “a culture that grants women, in law and in everyday life, the dignity that is theirs by right.”
Thank you, Benedict XVI.
Vjack, the proprietor of Atheist Revolution, continues his series on reading the Bible from cover to cover. And so I continue my series which critiques his critique of the Bible. This post finds us on the book of Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel.
VJack sympathizes with Gideon when he exclaims,
Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, “Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?” But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian. (Jgs 6:13)
VJack wants to know where all of God’s miracles are today. In a related post, he laments:
The Christian bible is filled with miracles, direct communication between god and man, and tales of god regularly intervening in human affairs. So what happened, Christians? Did this god die, lose interest, go away on a long vacation, what?
A biblical definition of faith in God is loyalty based on past performance, rather than the modern definition of “blind faith.” That implies that this performance is in the past. This means that the Christian shouldn’t require God to perform all kinds of miracles in the modern world because He has already done so many. These are the miracles described in the Bible, especially the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Skeptics like VJack, however, seem to want God to perform miracles on a regular basis just to prove that He’s still there. I’ve seen this argument many times from many skeptics. I propose that God doesn’t perform large-scale miracles anymore because it won’t increase the number of His followers, nor will it convince the skeptics–they will simply look for a naturalistic explanation.
It isn’t inexplicable that God would return to Gideon after Gideon’s “groveling and animal sacrifice.” Before Christ, animal sacrifice was the shedding of blood necessary for forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22). Gideon is, as Judge of the nation of Israel, repenting of former sins on behalf of the nation. Many Bible stories prove that God is pleased by repentance (see the book of Jonah for a great example with the city of Nineveh).
The intensity of the superstition at this time is so great that human sacrifice is also needed to satisfy the bloodthirsty god created by this ancient people. In exchange for god’s help in his military campaign Jephthah sacrifices his own daughter (Judges 11:29-40).
Now this is just taken out of context. God never asked Jephthah to sacrifice his own daughter; Jephthah spoke a hasty oath, and his daughter’s death was the result of that oath. He made a vow and kept it–but it should be noted that what he did is in direct violation of Mosaic Law according to Leviticus 18:21 and 20:2-5.
Last of all, is it any surprise that God, who demands obedience, is going to punish people for disobeying his commands? The commands that VJack objects to are the commands to kill everyone and everything in the land except for the women who haven’t known a man. There are two reasons for this, and both have to do with preventing corruption. God wanted to prevent physical corruption, and He wanted to prevent spiritual corruption.
At this point, the Chosen People are chosen on the basis of physical descent, not on the basis of spiritual descent as we are today. God wanted nothing to make that line unclean.
The second reason was to avoid spiritual corruption, which if we pay attention to the Bible, we see does happen as a direct result of leaving much of those other cultures in tact. The people turn away from God and worship the other gods, the gods of the people who were spared by them. God, because He is omniscient, would have foreseen that and that is why He issued such a brutal command.
In a previous post, I made the following claim:
Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics believe that God should still be doing large and visible miracles every day so that we can see and believe that He exists. Most deny any miracles occurred in the past. So I’m left to wonder if it would make any difference if God were to perform a miracle before their eyes. I don’t think that it would; they’d probably run to the comforts of science to try to explain the miracle rather than believing in God. (source)
What I didn’t know is that Hemnant the Friendly Atheist was going to prove my point dramatically in his post, “If a Miracle Came, Would it Convince You?” Go ahead. Read the comments. You’ll see such gems as this:
To convince me that God existed, you’d not only have to show me something I couldn’t explain, you’d have to prove to me that the force behind it was a sentient being. Even then, I’d only know that a powerful being exists who can do things I can’t explain.
It [rearranging the stars in the sky to spell a message] would not convince me that anything “supernatural” is going on. For all I know, the entity is just a super-advanced extraterrestrial with nothing better to do than supervise my life. Again, for all practical purposes, that’s a god. But it’s not necessarily “supernatural,” and I’m not even sure that’s a meaningful concept in the first place. If you can provide evidence in the natural world for the existence of a supernatural world, can there really be a separation between them? Likewise, I can’t possibly tell you what supernatural evidence would change my mind, because if I could describe it, it wouldn’t be supernatural, now, would it? Even if this being does something that defies all known laws of nature, I will just assume there must be other laws yet unknown, and as a scientist I’d probably try to use this opportunity to learn more about them.
. . . I categorically deny the very concept of supernatural. That is, if something exists, it is — by definition and by its very existence — natural.
If the stars rearranged themselves, I would look for a natural explaination [sic].
Here is a true skeptic:
Moving stars is certainly impressive. Unfortunately, it only serves as evidence for something that can move stars.
In response to the true skeptic, someone said:
Well, it serves as evidence for something that can move stars and claims to be God. Given that it’s moving stars, I’d take the claim seriously, though I wouldn’t believe it at face value.
Another scientist weighs in:
To that, I’d be convinced if a theist could tell me what they mean by “god”, what predictions could confirm and disconfirm their hypothesis, and hopefully some reason to think that a god could exist. These are pretty basic, fundamental questions, but I don’t think any theist at any point in history has ever met even a single one of these point.
You can’t test the supernatural with natural sciences. Someone hasn’t done his critical thinking for the day.
Finally, in the “Theology Matters” column:
And as for a miracle that would make me believe? That’s easy. The being in question (supernatural or otherwise) would merely need to change my brain, my thought processes, so that I would believe. I would automatically accept that as proof, wouldn’t I?
Mankind is dead in sin. We are unable to come to God on our own. The very work of God is to do just what would prove to this atheist that God exists. God can and does change the hearts of people to believe in Him.
The logical problem is that God isn’t going to appear in front of this dude and work His heart over. It is a process that comes by time and discipline. It occurs over the natural course of a person’s life–God uses His elect and even the non-elect for this work. His Spirit convicts the person of his sin, and the person becomes willing to repent as a result of God drawing this person to Himself. This atheist, however, doesn’t want any of that–he wants God to appear in front of him and do that work Himself, right now. Presumably so that he knows that it is God and not just some “feeling.”
Another fulfillment of Romans 1? You decide.
It’s interesting how God defines himself. He told Moses that he is the God of your fathers; the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He did not define himself by his omnipotence or his omniscience but by his personal relationships with these common men. (source)
So reflects Albert Cardinal Vanhoye, leader of the Roman Curia’s Lenten retreat. I think that is absolutely fascinating because for many skeptics, God’s omnipotence and omniscience are not only God’s defining characteristics, but the logical basis by which many of them reject Him. The presence of an omnipotent and omniscient being can only lead to fatalism in their minds, regardless of the number of times that I’ve seen Christians refute this notion.
This is the ontological argument in reverse. Because the skeptic cannot conceive of how an omnipotent and omniscient being could exist within the framework of this universe, no such being can exist. Since God would be such a being, God does not exist.
But God doesn’t identify Himself on the basis of these characteristics. He identifies Himself on the basis of His relationship to His creation. How much more should we, then, identify ourselves on the basis of our relationship to Him. I think that the real problem is that the skeptic is ruled by his sin–and his sin is how he defines “fun.” Drinking, gambling, drugs, premarital sex–all of these things are “fun,” but all of these things have consequences.
Defining oneself on the basis of one’s relationship to God will have consequences, too. One must focus his thoughts on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable (Phil 4:8)–and it is easy to conclude even without a Bible (cf. Gal 5:16-24) that those things I just defined as “fun” from a secular point of view do not fit with that mode of thinking.
Defining oneself on the basis of a relationship with God brings with it freedom from sin (cf. Rom 6:14). Paul exhorts us not to use that freedom for sin, “but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal 5:13-14).
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, if God identifies Himself on the basis of a relationship to His creatures, why do the creatures not identify themselves on basis of a relationship to Him?
I missed Atheist Revolution proprietor VJack’s last two posts on his reading of the Bible. So I’m going to have to make up for lost time and quickly answer him.
Starting with the post dated December 14, I can see that my refutation of VJack’s assertion that the Bible commands Christians to kill unbelievers has made no impact whatsoever, as he is still printing this nonsense. In the verse that VJack cites, Deuteronomy 13:6-11, God is specifically talking Jewish people–descendants of Jacob. It is abundantly clear to anyone who reads it that this is not general permission for believers to simply kill unbelievers.
Deuteronomy is a suzerainty treaty between God and the ancient nation of Israel. This means that it terms are no longer binding because the nation they were binding on no longer exists. The Bible is our written source book for morality, but we are not under the law it contains (Rom 6:14-15; cf. 2 Cor 3:6).
With that in mind, none of VJack’s meanderings hold much water. However, I should take the time to address one concern:
A particularly fascinating insight had been brewing in previous books but finally solidified in Deuteronomy: this god can be argued with, bargained with, and even persuaded by humans. Moses repeatedly talks god out of inflicting certain types of punishment, utilizing all sorts of tactics. As one prominent example, it is Moses who talks this god out of slaughtering everyone over a golden calf. What are we to conclude about this supposedly divine being whose will is so frequently swayed by human persuasion? If we were given freewill as some sort of test, how does it make since that we are influencing this god’s behavior through our actions? Who really has the power here?
All this means is the same thing that James asserts in his letter: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Jms 5:16). These verses set the precedent that prayer produces a dynamic relationship with God. However, it should be noted that only a few people in history have had this sort of relationship with God–this does not mean that all of our prayers are going to be answered the same way that Moses’ were answered. God promises only to hear our prayers (Prov 15:29; cf. 1 Pet 3:2).
An atheist, intending to be sarcastic, has prayer figured out with the following rhetorical question, appearing as #50 on the “100 Impossible Questions for Believers” over at Richard Dawkins’s website: “Why pray asking God to do something for you; shouldn’t prayer be a way of offering yourself to God in order for her to make use of you?” The apostle Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). That is the essence of prayer: to accept God’s will and to request He make use of you as He sees fit. It is not to ask for cool stuff and great blessings.
Finally, VJack starts to realize what I have been saying all along:
And yet, the god of Deuteronomy does show some understanding of humanity. When instructing the people how to explain their religion to future generations, this god refers to the miracles and signs provided (Deuteronomy 6:20-25). Nobody is expected to believe on the basis of faith but because of what they have witnessed through their senses. I wonder what happened?
It falls apart at the end. Nothing happened differently now versus then: we still have Christ’s Resurrection as the ultimate victory over death. That sign is the ultimate proof that God is who He says He is. VJack, like most atheists, probably doesn’t believe that Jesus Christ existed, let alone Resurrected. Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics believe that God should still be doing large and visible miracles every day so that we can see and believe that He exists. Most deny any miracles occurred in the past. So I’m left to wonder if it would make any difference if God were to perform a miracle before their eyes. I don’t think that it would; they’d probably run to the comforts of science to try to explain the miracle rather than believing in God.
VJack offers this as an evaluation of Joshua:
I found Joshua far less remarkable than Deuteronomy, but I do have a comment regarding this part of the story which begins right after the death of Moses. Together with Deuteronomy, Joshua provides a justification for ideas such as manifest destiny, scorched earth, shock and awe, and the like. A nation with this god on its side can conquer all before them, especially when those before them worship other gods. In fact, it almost reads as if there would be an obligation to do so. Indeed, Joshua tells the story of the Israelite army moving through the land and slaughtering all in the way. Few are spared, and virtually none receive mercy. There seems to be no motive for this aggression other than the desire to expand their territory. It is no wonder that the Pat Robertsons of America read their bibles as justifying war!
So, is God a god of war or of peace according to the Old Testament? It appears that VJack would argue that God is a tribal war deity. God is definitely wrathful, there is no doubt of that. One can conclude that from reading any of numerous passages throughout the Old and New Testaments. But God’s love is only properly understood side-by-side with His wrath, not in opposition to it. Otherwise, the Atonement of Christ would never have been necessary.
As usual, VJack reads the Bible and comes to the wrong conclusions.
Matt, from Matt’s Notepad, has taken me on in the comments section of this post about historical inaccuracies in the Bible, the Christ Myth, and Biblical contradictions. I’ve decided to split off and answer the comments in the blog because this last comment is a long one and will require more space than I’m generally comfortable giving to my comments section. I also think that it will benefit many readers who otherwise don’t read the comments section.
The historical inaccuracies [of the Bible] are many. Shall we start with some of the bigger ones? The Global Flood … never happened. Physically impossible for it to have happened and there is no evidence for it happening.
The Exodus from Egypt. Again, there is no evidence for it. It would have left Egypt in economic and social ruin but there are no records of such, not even from nearby nations that were enemies of Egypt from which many writings have been found and archived.
What about Esther? There is no record of a queen by that name at all anywhere.
Moving on to the New Testament. No record of any sort of large scale census at the time ordered by the Roman Empire. The idea that such a census was carried out is silly anyhow, especially the part about people having to return to the towns of their ancestors.
Much work has been done on what is called Flood Geology, thinking that the Global Flood from Genesis is the cause of all the Earth’s features: separate continents, sedimentary rock layers, fossil fuels, etc. Though this work contradicts mainstream science and such has been dismissed as pseudoscience, we shouldn’t be so hasty to do so. Remember that flood geology is part of Young Earth Creationism and as such we would expect it to contradict mainstream science, which works strictly from an evolutionary perspective.
That said, what about the lack of evidence for a Global Flood? That is debatable. Many cultures have the same basic story. I would consider that evidence for a Global Flood. But there is a startling notion for why archeology and paleontology haven’t found any concrete scientific evidence: the Flood may not have been global, despite the claims of creationists.
As for the Exodus, I can’t recall anyone asserting that it was false before now. I don’t know what sort of evidence that you would expect to find from it.
Objections to the historicity of Esther are answered here. Since Persian kings could have multiple wives, we have no need to worry about Esther not being mentioned in other historical texts. As only one of many queens married to one king, history may not have seen fit to record her name. As she was significant to the history of Israel, it is therefore far more likely that she would appear in the Bible than in other historical texts. Her presence in a historical text, by the way, is sufficient grounds to accept her historicity. The only time that this seems to become a problem is when only the Bible mentions someone. “Accept the historicity of everything at face value except for the Bible–then you need bulletproof corroborating evidence from 5,000 sources and even then don’t believe it because it is, after all, still the Bible” seems to be the skeptical motto.
For more information on the reliability of the Old Testament, I recommend checking out Josh McDowell’s very thick but very excellent book, Evidence for Christianity.
The idea of the census has been explored here. For more on the New Testament’s excellent reliability as a historical document, check the same book I linked to above.
I say: The Bible never contradicts itself. Every apparent contradiction has been dealt with satisfactorily. Research it. Matt replies:
No, they really haven’t. From the contradictory timelines given in Genesis to the huge differences in the Jesus stories in the gospels – none have been able to be explained away without using human subjective perspectives/corrections/suppositions. And the moment you do that, you wipe out any sort of historical accuracy you might otherwise claim.
The contradictory timelines in Genesis are dealt with at length here. As close together as the two accounts appear, I can only conclude that any so-called contradictions are intentional on the part of the author. As for differences in the Gospels, none are given (the point is asserted with no corroboration) so I can’t answer any. All I can do is point you here for principles on harmonizing the Gospels. I could also recommend a good Gospel synopsis.
I say: The small army [of prophets from around the same time as Christ] that is a footnote in history, while Jesus Christ becomes the focal point of history? That small army of prophets? Matt replies:
Indeed. The world is always full of self labelled prophets. Even some of the worst murderers in modern times have called themselves such but they’ve not gone down in history. Why? Go figure. But then some of the smallest people in life go on to be hugely recognised in death. Visual artists are a prime example of this.
No argument to refute. None of those people literally divide the centuries into the time before their birth and the time afterwards. Even the secular world uses that same common mark, despite trying to change the designations into the “Common Era” rather than “in the year of Our Lord.”
I say: No one I know has ever claimed that any of the examples [of deities] you mention changed their lives. Matt replies:
Obviously that would be because your society consists mostly of people that share your beliefs. Go back to ancient greece, norway or rome and you’ll see and hear people dying for their gods, sacrificing to their gods and saying their gods changed their lives.
As for your claim your link refutes the Mithras theory, it does not even mention Mithras. Now have you ever considered the legend of Mithras is so extraordinarily similar to that of Jesus? Even down to the same miracles, birth date, etc?
It isn’t true that my society consists mostly of people who share my beliefs. In fact, at work, only one manager and one employee aside from me happen to practice anything remotely close to Christianity. I work mostly with agnostics and atheists. As for the claim that in ancient people would say the same sorts of things about their deities that I say about Jesus, that’s a safe claim to make since we can’t go back in time to witness that stuff. But show me some writings where people say how profoundly they have changed by surrendering to those higher powers. I haven’t seen any–but from the Resurrection to now, we can find numerous examples of just that from Christians.
Finally, I apologize for giving you the wrong link: this is the link that refutes the Mithra connection.
Christopher Hitchens’s book The Portable Atheist is a collection of “essential” writings for unbelievers. I’m currrently posting some of my miscellaneous thoughts about the various works in the book as I read them.
According to Hitchens, Percy Bysshe Shelley was a victim of the theocracy that once ruled Oxford and Cambridge universities. He wasn’t allowed to teach there because he did not profess faith in God. Hitchens sees this as a great tragedy, but after reading Shelley’s pamphlet “A Refutation of Deism,” I’m hardly moved to agree. Yes, Shelley had a great mind, but he focused it to the wrong ends. He came to simple, startling, and incorrect conclusions about the nature of God.
First, the pamphlet argues from the point of view of an eternal universe. This is because, according to Shelley, it is simpler to conclude that the universe is the Uncaused Cause than to reach outside the universe for that Cause. The flaw here is that modern science has unanimously concluded that the universe is not eternal–it had a beginning sometime in the finite past. The universe, because it came into being, must have a cause. Even Shelley concedes that point, and that it is one of the main reasons that he begins his argument with the assumption that the universe is self-existent and eternal.
Since that is not the case, the rest of the argument–founded upon a faulty premise–is incorrect.
However, it remains for me to point out one of the double standards of atheism, and that is the application of Occam’s Razor to the divine. The atheist applies Occam’s Razor to the universe, saying that the Big Bang is the Uncaused Cause–the First Mover that set the universe into motion.
The theist, however, has a much better argument here. The theist begins from the divine as the Uncaused Cause because all that begins must first have a cause. The universe began, and so therefore must have a cause. A cause cannot itself be a part of the effect–think of the Laws of Inertia here. Therefore, the Uncaused Cause is supernatural–outside the order of the universe.
Here is where the atheist retorts, “What created the Creator?” Using this retort is a vicious double standard. The atheist allows Occam’s Razor to be applied to the Big Bang, stating that is the Uncaused Cause. But he doesn’t allow the theist the same leeway to apply Occam’s Razor to the divine Creator. The divine creator, the atheist reasons, must Himself have a Creator, who also had a Creator, who also had a Creator, and so on backwards into infinity.
This is reasonable to the atheist. He doesn’t see the hole in his logic, however. He is using Occam’s Razor to make the Big Bang the First Cause. He refuses to give the theist the same ability to simplify to one deity, in effect requiring a multitude of deities when he only requires one Big Bang.
I also read Mark Twain’s essay, “Bible Teaching and Religious Practice.” More of the same old refuted notions–buffet style religion (the idea that we can pick and choose the laws that we follow), slavery, and witch hunts. I agree that religion is many times a very bad thing, but I only wish that atheists would at least represent our side without resorting to argument by outrage as they so often do. These notions are refuted in Lee Camp’s excellent book, Mere Discipleship.