Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
Does God exist? Part 2

Continued from part 1 « Click here for Angels Depart’s second statement; below is my response— Hello again Angels. I am briefly going to reply to some of your comments, before moving on to establish an argument proper. Since there are a number of issues you addressed in your statement which are incidental to the […]

Continued from part 1 «

Click here for Angels Depart’s second statement; below is my response—

Hello again Angels. I am briefly going to reply to some of your comments, before moving on to establish an argument proper. Since there are a number of issues you addressed in your statement which are incidental to the central thread of the debate, I have opted to address only those which seem most directly relevant. This is not because I don’t think any of these issues are necessarily worth discussing, or because I am unable to reply; rather, I would like to keep our discourse focused, and of a manageable length. Therefore, if I appear to have overlooked something, it is most likely because it did not seem central to the topic at hand. You are welcome to request specific responses in the event that I omit an item which seems of importance to you.

Now, to get to some ancillary items which seem to me worth discussing. You have cited some examples of evils conducted in the name of religion. Very well. If this is something you consider important in your evaluation of an ideology, then what of the over 100 million people killed by secularist regimes and ideologies in just the last century? According to Os Guinness, “more people in the 20th century were killed by secularist regimes, led by secularist intellectuals in the name of secularist ideologies, than in all the religious persecutions in Western history.”

What does this prove about the truth of any ideology, religious or not? Absolutely nothing, of course. I mention it because you brought it up as if it did prove something. Religion is often demonized by merit of its alleged role in enormous death-tolls and terrible atrocities. But obviously, even if this is so, it proves nothing about the truth of the propositions asserted by any given religion (in this case, Christianity). Neither does it fairly acknowledge the enormous positive influence it has had on the world. Really, it is a non-sequitur to even raise the topic at all.

Now, you say of war and atrocities that, “The Christian Bible certainly supports this kind of behavior.” Again, let me remind you that, even if it does, this is irrelevant to its truth. In order to get from the proposition The Bible approves wars and atrocities to the proposition The Bible is therefore false, some kind of second premise is required. You have provided no such premise. However, you have not proved the first premise either. In fact, excepting direct and specific commands from God in particular historical circumstances, the Bible commands us to love our enemies. It does not approve war or atrocity. I won’t explicate further, since this is really neither here nor there as regards the question, Does God exist? But I felt it important to briefly comment, lest I imply by my silence that Scripture approves actions which it does not.

I will turn now to empiricism, the discussion of which (one way or another) will constitute something of a foundation for the development of my argument—

You chastise me here for saying that evidence for god should be empirical and that empirical evidence is sound. You say that this premise is unjustified. In the previous quote you chastise me for not citing any empirical evidence. You do realize that you can’t have it both ways. If you are going to say that empirical arguments are not sound then you cannot attack me for not having one.

For the record, I can indeed have it both ways. My criticism was two-fold. Firstly, the standard of proof you were using—that is, empirical evidence—was unsound. Empiricism is founded upon logical fallacies, and therefore cannot produce justified claims to knowledge. However: if we accepted an empirical standard for the sake of argument, you nonetheless still failed to engage with what empirical evidence there is. So, although your standard was flawed in the first place, it was still your standard, and thus I may justly criticize you for failing to live up to it. To say that I can’t have it both ways is to assume that I was implicitly acknowledging the validity of empirical proofs when I criticized your failure to engage with them, which was not the case.

You seem to have a working knowledge of logical fallacies. The particular one you have used here is called Poisoning the well

In fairness, the thrust of my comment was, as per above, that you were being inconsistent. However, since this is now a proper debate and not merely a conversation conducted in the comments of your blog, permit me to apologize for any irrelevant ad hominem in my previous post.

There is nothing in any statements that I have made that assume that god does not exist. If nothing else I think I have been pretty clear about my position. My position is that no one can know.

Angels, I never suggested that you had assumed the premise that God does not exist. The question at hand was regarding whether there is proof for his existence (of whatever kind)—and it was the answer to this which you were assuming in the negative. You said in your opening statement that, “the topic of whether or not god exist [sic] is nearly an impossible question to tackle. You are being asked to disprove the existence of something that has absolutely no proof for its existence in the first place.” I objected to this statement on the basis that we have not established that no such proof exists—and that, by assuming this, you have effectively closed your mind to the affirmative position, making the debate moot (excuse the pun). As I will show, there is a positive abundance of proof for the existence of God.

You are saying that for your viewpoint to be true all you have to do is destroy the atheistic worldview. I did say that the Christian claim is fantastic and outrageous but I never claimed that the atheistic view was not. To put those words in my mouth makes you guilty of the strawman fallacy.

I am indeed saying that to prove my viewpoint all I have to do is destroy the atheistic worldview. However, this is not a false dichotomy, because the proof I will employ against the atheistic view is the same as that which I would use against any other. Since my proof is not specific to atheism, but disproves every worldview except the biblical one, it is perfectly accurate for me to say that I need only destroy the atheist’s arguments and let Christianity stand as the obvious truth. The biblical approach to disproving any worldview automatically establishes the truth of Scripture.

Now, my apologies if I misrepresented your position as regards the burden of proof. It seemed to me that you were stating that this burden rests purely on the Christian, which would imply that you consider the atheistic position to be reasonable and not, itself, in need of proof. Could I ask that you clarify your position regarding what burden of proof the atheist carries, and why?

In the same vein, but moving on, you state that claims about God healing the sick and raising the dead are outrageous because we have no record of such things occurring. The kind of record you are insisting upon is one which is “scientifically verifiable”, so I assume you mean this to preclude the historical records of, say, the New Testament. But there is, of course, no reason to doubt the New Testament records unless you have supposed, a priori, that miracles do not happen. If you have supposed this, then we ought to examine your reasons for doing so, since they eclipse the issue of your accepting eye-witness accounts in any case.

Nonetheless, your request for scientifically verifiable miracles does not make sense, either within your own worldview, or within mine. In my worldview, I contend that God upholds all things by the word of his power (Heb 1:3) and that in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Therefore, whenever someone is healed, whether by an apparently normal means or not, God is working. As Calvin pointed out, and I paraphrase slightly, not even an abundance of bread would be of the slightest use to us were it not divinely converted by God into nourishment. So the distinction between a normal event and a miraculous one is simply a question of whether God works in contravention to the normal means he has established. In the truest sense, everything about creation is miraculous.

Then, within your own worldview, if a healing occurred which appeared to be exceptional in some way—that is, if there was no explanation for it according to our current understanding of science—you would surely not recognize it as a miracle per se. You would deny that it necessarily proves anything supernatural, since perhaps further study would reveal what had happened; or perhaps in some time we would understand the laws of nature better, and be able to better explain the event in question. Thus, what appears now as miraculous may be explained perfectly adequately. In other words, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Since your worldview assumes from the outset that everything operates according to mechanical, natural laws, with no God involved (correct me if I am wrong), you have a priori precluded the possibility of miracles, and so anything which the Christian might claim as a miracle would be dismissed as a phenomenon which merely requires further study.

This moves us closer to the direction I will be taking in my argument, by emphasizing presuppositional bias, and the way in which there is no objective evidence—only data which we interpret. Allow me to expand on this by responding to your objection to the archaeological accuracy of the Bible.

In textual criticism, it is normal to treat an historical record as accurate until evidence arises which suggests otherwise. It is common sense to give the historian the benefit of the doubt—especially in the case of eyewitness accounts—since we are greatly more removed from the events he is describing than he is. Simply put, we assume that he knows better than we do what occurred. Yet, in the case of the Bible, it is frequently treated with the opposite bias: as inaccurate until proved otherwise. Many archaeologists, for example, were skeptical of the existence of cities like Bethel and Dan, even considering them to be myths, until these places were discovered and excavated. Similarly, John’s description of the Pool of Siloam (John 9) was widely considered to be a mere metaphor—until it was discovered accidentally during sewage works in 2005. The archaeological and historical veracity of the Bible is by no means weak, and indeed is greatly superior to other contemporary records which are treated with far less skepticism.

Unless you have reason for doing so, it is simply unwarranted prejudice to consider the Bible inaccurate in historical matters. Yet this is what you are trying to argue as regards the exodus: that, in the absence of any other evidence, the evidence provided by the Bible itself ought to be considered false! Surely absence of proof is not proof of absence. If it were some other document which described the exodus, and no evidence to the contrary existed, we would assume that it happened. Yet in the case of the Bible you assume the opposite? Why? I am certain that we have not discovered (and surely never will) all of the historical records the Egyptians ever produced, which alone makes it possible that attestation does exist. But is it even likely that a proud dynasty, whose ruler was supposed to be a god, would meticulously record a crushing defeat such as that under discussion? It is perhaps more probable that the next Pharaoh would declare the whole event be stricken from history.

As regards the accuracy of the New Testament, and its canon, you evidence similar prejudice. The original manuscripts of the New Testament were completed probably no later than 100 AD (not around 233 AD as you claim), and there is evidence to suggest that they are based on earlier written records. Furthermore, oral tradition need not be prone to error in the way we tend to assume. A little research into cultures in which oral tradition is maintained will reveal that it is remarkably accurate across vast periods of time—certainly one generation would not be a problem. The gospels were all written by eye-witnesses, and barring an existing prejudice there is simply no reason to doubt them as historical records. As regards the canon of Scripture, this was not decided by vote, as is so popularly suggested, but rather ratified by vote after extensive examination of existing traditions of acceptance within the church. The canon was, in fact, quite settled by 200 AD, with only minor variances (for a detailed but accessible historical discussion of the canon, I recommend F F Bruce’s book, The Canon of Scripture, ISBN-13 978-0830812585).

I am not going to engage with your list of “biblical contradictions”, since these are too lengthy to comment on here and are not necessarily integral to the topic. If you wish, however, I would be happy to interact with one or two of them that you choose, to show by way of example that apparent contradictions are formed when one has insufficient knowledge of textual criticism, Hebrew block logic, socio-linguistic context, and the like. Additionally, I would ask that you not cite examples taken from the Skeptics’ Annotated Bible, since it does not list discrepancies which are born out of genuine textual criticism, but transparently seeks to compile every possible example of passages which an ignorant and credulous reader might take, at face value, to be in variance (therefore violating the “benefit of the doubt” principle I mentioned before).

Now, you also accuse me of the composition fallacy as regards my description of God as not only loving, but also righteous, jealous, wrathful and the like. I must confess to being somewhat bemused by this, since it seems akin to my accusing you of the same thing if you described some basic tenet of evolution. I assume that we are both knowledgeable enough to be able to succinctly state those principles which are fundamental to our worldviews without needing to validate them with copious references. Again, however, if you believe there is an inconsistency between God’s character and his actions, then please be more specific as to the nature of it. I cannot respond to an objection which is couched so broadly as to omit all details.

I’d like to now continue into the crux of the argument as I see it, by using your caricature of the Flood as an entry point. I have focused already on presuppositional bias, so I would like to now elaborate on this, quoting your objection in full, and then pointing out the various assumptions upon which it relies which you have not justified or proved in any way. I’m not interested in a dialog regarding the actual science of the Flood, per se—rather, I am going to simply use the science as a means to interact with the philosophy; the ideas and assumptions which must be true for the science itself to be cogent.

Mount Everest is the highest mountain “under the whole heaven.” It reaches an altitude of 29,028 feet, which would be a height of 348,336 inches. For enough rain to fall in a period of 40 days to reach the peak of this mountain, the cloud formations would have to drop 8,708 inches of rain per day uniformly over all the earth. This would amount to 363 inches per hour or six inches per minute. Can any reasonable person believe that it once rained continuously for 40 days and nights at an average rate of six inches per minute? A rainfall of six inches in one day is a veritable downpour. What would six inches per minute sustained for 57,600 continuous minutes be like?

This entire calculation is predicated upon the assumption that Mount Everest existed in its present form when the Flood began. This assumption, however, is clearly at variance with the biblical worldview, since most Christian scientists believe that the large proportion of tectonic activity which the earth has experienced occurred during, and possibly shortly after, the Flood itself. The objection assumes a “stable state” earth onto which the Flood abruptly poured, ignoring that the Bible teaches that the earth is only perhaps 7-8,000 years old. And this itself is in obvious contradiction to orthodox scientific views, which would say that—

The Himalayas are among the youngest mountain ranges on the planet. According to the modern theory of plate tectonics, their formation is a result of a continental collision or orogeny along the convergent boundary between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Eurasian Plate. The collision began in the Upper Cretaceous period about 70 million years ago, when the north-moving Indo-Australian Plate, moving at about 15 cm/year, collided with the Eurasian Plate. By about 50 million years ago this fast moving Indo-Australian plate had completely closed the Tethys Ocean, whose existence has been determined by sedimentary rocks settled on the ocean floor and the volcanoes that fringed its edges. Since these sediments were light, they crumpled into mountain ranges rather than sinking to the floor. The Indo-Australian plate continues to be driven horizontally below the Tibetan plateau, which forces the plateau to move upwards. The Arakan Yoma highlands in Myanmar and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal were also formed as a result of this collision (Wikipedia, ‘Himalayas’).

This theory, of course, has been deduced by observing the current rate of convergence of the Indo-Australian plate, which is causing the Himalayas to rise at around 5 mm per year. If we assume that this has been going on for millions of years, and then divide 5 mm into the height of the Himalayas, we get an approximate age (of course, there are numerous other geological considerations; I am simplifying). So the objection listed above assumes these unbiblical tenets, and then sets up a biblical event within them. Obviously, trying to evaluating the Bible from within a non-biblical worldview is equivalent to setting up a strawman; the results will be absurd, but will in no way represent fairly the actual state of affairs.

Clearly, there is more disagreement between science and the Bible than just the Flood. Scientists consider the Flood improbable not because of the calculations in the example above, per se, but because of all the other ideas which sit behind it—such as the age of the earth itself. But these other ideas contradict other aspects of the Bible as well; so to focus on the flood is really to ignore the far more fundamental disagreements which we face.

The chief reason that scientists consider the age of the Himalayas to be measured in millions of years, instead of thousands, is that they have assumed the principle of uniformity. They have supposed that these mountains have been rising by 5 mm per year more or less since they started to form. But, as Shoemaker-Levy 9 aptly illustrated when it hit Jupiter in 1994, this assumption is entirely without reasonable basis. It could be just as possible that the Himalayas were formed in the space of days by a cataclysmic event. It used to be that a scientist would look at a series of sediment layers and say that they showed thousands or millions of years’ worth of deposits. Since Shoemaker-Levy 9, the principle of uniformity has been shattered, and numerous examples of such layers being deposited in hours and days have been discovered. Now, a scientist might equally say that the absence of a sediment layer in some area is proof of millions of years!

These are just examples to illustrate the point I am seeking to make: that, without some kind of record which tells us what happened, we really have no way of knowing. Evidence is simply data which has been interpreted according to some framework. It used to be that sediment layers were evidence for millions of years. Now that the interpretative framework has changed, they might be evidence for days, weeks, or months. However, again, the historical record of the Bible which allows us to correct our guessed framework against actual facts is dismissed with prejudice. Thus, we are left merely with data which is interpreted arbitrarily, with no way to know if our evidences are correct.

Now, you say,

If I am wrong about something and I admit it, correct it and present the new right answer to the world, then you would take issue with me? Science is a way of knowing things by testing and re-testing.

What “new right answer” do you mean? The entire history of science is merely a very long series of theories being postulated, proven wrong, corrected with a “new right answer”, and then disproven again. In other words, the history of science is all about being wrong. The principle of falsifiability itself is an open admission that a theory cannot be scientific unless it can be proved wrong. Any good scientist will acknowledge that no scientific theory can be proved “right”, nor should it be, because science is not about being right. Science is not, in fact, about knowledge at all. Rather, it is about finding a way to describe the world accurately enough to be useful. No one denies that it has done this quite successfully—but there is no necessary correlation between utility and accuracy.

I have started my argument by talking briefly about science, since this is where your statement has led us. In my next statement, I will elaborate in more detail on presuppositions in general, so as to completely formulate my argument. So, by way of closing now, allow me to ask you: what benefit do you see to the testing and re-testing in science, which you defend? You have implied that it is important, and that it makes science superior, but you have not stated why. What is the purpose of repeating an experiment, and why do you believe it is valuable?

Continued in part 3 »

1 comment

  1. angelsdepart

    Response #2 has been posted.

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