Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How Young Earth Creationists are not like Jesus Mythicists

It's not very often that I come across a truly novel argument against creationism. Just recently, though, I came across a headline that caused me to do a double-take. On FaceBook, Stephen Bedard posted an article comparing Young Earth Creationists and Jesus Mythicists. It just struck me as odd because I would never have viewed those particular beliefs in the same light. Obviously, I was curious about how anyone would consider them to be similar.

For anyone not familiar with Jesus mythicism, Bedard describes it as the belief there was no historical Jesus and that he is only another form of the common Horus/Dionysus/Mithras myth.” Weird, huh? Any way, as I read Bedard's article I saw that the claims he made weren't really novel at all. //Sigh//.  Before giving my opinion, let me highlight how Bedard sees Jesus mythicism as being similar to young-earth creationism. According to Bedard:
  • Both are views that a person would never get just by looking at the scientific/historical evidence.
  • [B]oth theories are highly suspicious of the scholarly consensus.
  • [B]oth YEC and JM are agenda driven rather than evidence driven. YEC start with their theory and then look to scientific evidence to see how it can be reinterpreted to fit the theory.
Bedard says in the article he was once a young-earth creationist, obviously intending to mean that he no longer is. He tries to deal politely with creationism and concludes his article by saying, I have tried to remain objective here. Either group could be correct.... My point is simply that two groups that have widely different belief systems actually go about their task in very similar ways. Bedard seems to be a nice guy so I will return the favor and not direct my comments toward him specifically. Rather, I will make my own observations of old-earth creationists or theistic evolutionists in general.

I'll start by saying that I agree with Bedard in some ways. For example, I am skeptical of scientific consensus. Just put me in the same category as people like Galiliei who argued against the “scientific” consensus of Ptolemy. Even the majority can be wrong.  Besides, truth is not decided by vote. If we stopped questioning anything after “the science is settled,” where would we be? Scientists are usually proud to say that we should question everything. However, when it comes to issues like evolution or global warming, they want critics to shut up because the science is settled!

At its heart, this is a question of our presuppositions. As people search for the truth, they have to decide what they will accept as evidence.  Personally, I have decided without exception that I will believe the Bible. Romans 3:4 says, let God be true, but every man a liar.  Even if the whole world were to disagree with me, I would like to think I would still stand firmly on God's word. If I'm wrong, then I'm wrong. And when I stand before God in judgment, let my plea be that I believed the Bible too much.

Bedard, apparently, has decided to put more faith in scientific consensus than the Bible. Such a belief has a direct impact on how a person interprets Scripture. An examination of the chronologies in the Bible, for example, suggests that history only goes back about 6,000 years. Of course, old-earth creationists can't accept that because “scientific consensus” says the earth is billions of years old. Therefore, even though the Bible says God made the universe in 6 days, it can't believe it really mean 6 days.

When people start doubting the clear meaning of the words in the Bible, I'm not sure where they draw the line. Hank Hanegraaff – aka, the Bible Answer Man – also believes in an old earth. However, he rejects evolution. That's curious. Why would he accept the scientific opinion on one subject but not the other? I've heard him talk about both subjects and he always appeals to science. He believes that distant starlight proves the earth is old but feels the scientific evidence for evolution isn't as compelling. It seems even the “Bible Answer Man” doesn't necessarily start with the Bible when looking for answers.

Besides the origins issue, what else might these people compromise for the sake of science? The virgin birth? The miracles of Jesus? The resurrection? Where does it stop? And on what grounds can we say science is wrong there but not here? The rate of atheism is a lot higher among scientists than the public. If we trust their opinions, why should we even believe in God at all?

I suppose the ultimate irony in Bedard's article is that it is his views that are more like Jesus mythicism. Neither old earth creationism nor Jesus mythicism are supported by a plain reading of the Bible. Both conclusions are reached by starting with opinions from outside of the Bible and then projecting these unbiblical beliefs onto Scripture. Think about it, Jesus mythicists claim Jesus wasn't a literal person; well, most theistic evolutionists also believe Adam wasn't literal. Neither was Noah. Jesus talked about Adam and Noah as real people from history yet TE folks say they are fictional! Why? Because of science? Many professing Christians also claim Abraham, Moses, and David weren't real. At what point does Luke's chronology from Adam to Jesus stop being fictional characters and start becoming real people?

Let me just say, I agree on a lot of things with folks lot Bedard or Hanegraaff or William Layne Craig and others of that stripe. However, when they allow science to shape their understanding of the plain meaning of words of the Bible, they're setting a terrible precedent. I will paraphrase Martin Luther who said that, if we ever lack understanding of how the Scriptures can be correct, let us merely grant that the Holy Spirit is wiser than we are.

Friday, November 4, 2016

God is evident in what we DO know

Answers in Genesis has a list of arguments they feel creationists should avoid using. I too have heard Christian apologists making very weak points and I just shake my head wishing they'd stop. I've thought about making a list similar to AiG's but many of the items would overlap and AiG has a much bigger audience than I so what would be the point? There is one particular argument, though, that I've heard used frequently and no one is telling them to stop. The argument goes something like this:

A Christian will hold up a piece of paper or draw a circle on a whiteboard. He asks an atheist to pretend the circle or the paper represents all the knowledge there is in the universe. He then asks the atheist to draw another circle inside the larger circle to represent all the knowledge we actually possess. I've never really seen an atheist actually draw a circle; usually an answer is provided by the apologist. The apologist might put a tiny circle or even a dot, meaning we only know a tiny, tiny bit of everything there is to know. In other words, of all the things there are to know in the universe, we probably know less than 1% of it. The Christian then delivers the “death blow” by saying, “If this paper represents everything there is to know, and we only know this little bit, how can you be sure there's no evidence for God among everything you don't know?!”

This video shows Glyn Barrett making this very argument, recounting a supposed debate he had with an atheist. I've seen other videos where Christians make the exact same argument and I don't want to embarrass them by calling them out. Here, however, Barrett sufficiently embarrasses himself by obviously inventing the entire debate so if he should object to my using it as an example, I say he's brought it on himself. But I digress.

I guess the teeth of this argument is that it illustrates the fallacy of claiming a universal negative. That is, I really can't say a certain thing doesn't exist anywhere in the universe unless I already know everything that exists in the universe. Note – many people claim it's impossible to prove a negative but that's not true. For example, I can prove I don't have $100 in my pocket by turning my pocket inside-out and showing you it's empty. I can prove I don't have $1,000,000 in my checking account by showing you my account balance on my smart phone. However, I can't prove life doesn't exist anywhere else in the universe because I can't show you everything else in the universe.

Most atheists understand the impossibility of proving a universal negative and so won't claim to know that God doesn't exist anywhere. Instead, they simply say that they've never seen evidence for God. In that case, what does the argument above accomplish? We're just basically telling the skeptic there could be evidence we haven't found yet and he'll probably say, “OK, I'll look at it when you find it.” You see? There's nothing compelling in just saying there could be evidence out there somewhere.

Besides not being convincing, this argument actually reinforces some of the criticisms of Christianity made by atheists. For example, critics often claim that Christians only have blind faith and not evidence. This illustration tacitly admits that the evidence for God still hasn't been discovered, we just believe it's out there. Critics also accuse Christians of believing in a god-of-the-gaps; this argument seems to do just that by saying the evidence for God exists in what we don't understand.

Instead of saying the evidence for God can be found in what we don't know, I assert that God is clearly evident in what do know! We know that everything that begins to exist has a cause. We know that life cannot rise spontaneously from non-living matter. We know that nature displays design and purpose which are characteristics of created things. From everything we know scientifically, there must be a transcendent, powerful, intelligent Designer who made it all.

Another claim made by skeptics is that our advances in understanding have continuously pushed back the need for God. Ha! If anything, we see more and more the need for God. Darwin, for example, believed a single cell was a “simple” blob of goo that could just fall together by a fortunate arrangement of amino acids. However, we now know that even a single cell is enormously complex. The more we learn about a cell, the more we realize such a thing requires a Creator.

The irony in all this is that it is the atheists who have put their faith in what we don't know. We know, for example, that matter/energy cannot be created naturally. How then can all the matter/energy in the universe have just appeared out of nothing? Even space and time had to appear out of nothing. So what must have happened flies in the face of what we already know can't happen yet atheists still cling blindly to the belief that an answer lies somewhere in what we haven't discovered. Neither have we observed a living cell form from non-living chemicals. Neither have we observed novel features appearing in a population. Many things necessary for secular theories of origins to be true have absolutely no evidence yet atheists sincerely believe the evidence for these things are going to be found someday.

I would say to all atheists that it's OK to ignore arguments that ask you to think evidence for God exists in what you don't know. Instead, I would ask you to think hard about what you do know and seriously question the evidence for what you believe. Do you have evidence that matter/energy/space/time can just appear out of nothing? Do you have evidence that life can rise from non-living matter? You know that you don't. Can you see that design and purpose are evidence for a creator? You know that it is. There's no need to wait around, wondering if clear evidence for God will someday be discovered. I'm saying that God is clearly seen in what you already know is true!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Textual criticism made amazingly easy

Critics often attack Christianity by attacking the integrity of the Bible. As is the case with any written work from antiquity, we no longer have the original writings of biblical authors. Critics point out that all we have are copies of copies transcribed over centuries and not all the copies agree with each other. They say the Bible has been copied, translated, and edited until we can no longer have any certainty about what it originally said. Have you heard any of this before? Well, I'm going to explain why we can have confidence in the integrity of the Bible in amazingly easy terms.

Trying to determine the original wording of a document is called, textual criticism. Here's a reading exercise. Below are five sentences that were copied from a single sentence. (OK, they weren't really copied, but let's pretend they were.) Each one contains an error.

The book si heavy
A book is heavy
The Bible is heavy
The book is hard
The book is not heavy

My question is this: if you only had these five sentences as a reference, do you think you could reconstruct what the original sentence was? Let's look at it word by word.

Four of the sentences say, “the” but only one says, “a.” Therefore, I would guess the first word in the original sentence was, “the.”

Four sentences say, “book” and one says, “Bible.” I happen to know that “Bible” is the Greek word for “book” so the person who copied that might have thought “Bible” when he saw the word, “book.” The second word in the original sentence was probably book.

Four of the sentences say, “is.” The fifth sentence says, “si” which is not an English word. It probably is simply a misspelling of the word “is” so the third word is probably, “is.”

One sentence says, “not” but none of the other ones do so I suspect “not” wasn't in the original sentence.

Finally, the last word in four of the sentences is “heavy.” One sentence says, “hard.” Both words start with “h” so it's possible the transcriber misread the original word “heavy” and wrote, “hard.” I think the fourth word in the original sentence was, “heavy.”

So, having compared every sentence and considered the differences, I believe the original sentence was, “The book is heavy.” Wouldn't you agree? I would be confident in that conclusion even though none of the sentences above actually say, “The book is heavy,” because there are enough similarities in just these five to justify that conclusion. Of course, if I had 10 sentences to compare, I would have even more confidence. If I had 100 or 1000 sentences to compare, there would no longer be any room for doubt. In this same way, we can have confidence in the integrity of the Bible – by comparing the manuscripts.

Now, suppose I'm a scribe and it's my job to make copies of the sentences above. But, for the sake of argument, I'm not a very dutiful scribe and I take it upon myself to change what the text originally said to what I think it should have said. I think it should say, “Reading the Bible is not hard.” That could be a problem. How would anyone reading my copy know I copied it faithfully? Well, there are still the 5 sentences above that could be compared against my copy. My edit is different enough from earlier copies that it would be easily identified as a fake. None of the earlier sentences even have the word, “reading,” for example. Of course, if I were especially nefarious, I could make 5 or 10 copies, hoping that the number of edited copies would overwhelm earlier copies. That might work if there were only 5 earlier copies. However, as was the case before, the more copies that exist, the harder it becomes to add intentional edits later. If there were 100 or 1000 earlier copies that did not resemble my edited copy, they would bear more weight than all of my later copies.

So you can see, the integrity of the Bible hinges upon the number of early manuscripts we have. The more manuscripts that we have to compare, the greater confidence we can have in determining what the originals said and the harder it becomes for forgers to edit the text later. How many manuscripts do we have of the New Testament, then? Greek scholar, Daniel Wallace, tells us the following:

As far as Greek manuscripts, over 5800 have been catalogued. The New Testament was translated early on into several other languages as well, such as Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, etc. The total number of these versional witnesses has not been counted yet, but it certainly numbers in the tens of thousands. At the same time, it should be pointed out that most of our manuscripts come from the second millennium AD, and most of our manuscripts do not include the whole New Testament. A fragment of just a verse or two still counts as a manuscript. And yet, the average size for a NT manuscript is more than 450 pages. At the other end of the data pool are the quotations of the NT by church fathers. To date, more than one million quotations of the NT by the church fathers have been tabulated. These fathers come from as early as the late first century all the way to the middle ages.... NT scholars face an embarrassment of riches compared to the data the classical Greek and Latin scholars have to contend with. The average classical author’s literary remains number no more than twenty copies. We have more than 1,000 times the manuscript data for the NT than we do for the average Greco-Roman author. Not only this, but the extant manuscripts of the average classical author are no earlier than 500 years after the time he wrote. For the NT, we are waiting mere decades for surviving copies.

I've written before that we have more evidence for the historicity of Jesus than any other person of antiquity. All we know about ancient people is what has been written down about them. The number of New Testament manuscripts dwarfs any other ancient writing. If we know anything at all about history, then we can be as certain of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as any other event in history.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Climate change is now an interstellar problem!

It's sad but true. Alarmists blame nearly every disaster on climate change. Hurricane Matthew? Climate change! A drought in California? Climate change! Steve Erwin getting stabbed in the heart by a sting ray? Climate change! (Yes, I really heard someone say that). But even I didn't know climate change had become a problem of galactic proportions. First, some back story.

A few years ago, I wrote about the Drake Equation. Introduced in 1961, the Drake Equation is a formula secular scientists have used to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations that might exist in our galaxy. Starting with a couple of assumptions, all grounded in evolutionary ideas about the age of the universe and the origin of life, some scientists speculate that our galaxy teems with extraterrestrial life – as many as 100,000,000 civilizations! Convinced that there is life out there, groups like SETI have spent 3 decades and millions of dollars trying to find evidence for it. So far, they've found nothing.

The reason we haven't found life beyond earth was the subject of a DailyMail.com article, recently. They described the problem this way:

It is one of astronomy’s great mysteries: Why, given the estimated 200bn-400bn stars and at least 100bn planets in our galaxy, are there no signs of alien intelligence?.... [A]ny life form with rocket technology could colonise the galaxy in a few million years, so why wasn’t there any evidence already?

If you start with the assumption that life will evolve on any planet that has liquid water; if you assume simple, reproducing cells will evolve over time to become more complex; if you assume there has been billions of years of time for life to evolve; then, yes, I can see why secular scientists are scratching their heads. There would have to be millions of intelligent civilizations out there. And given that our technology has virtually exploded in the last 100 years, it's hard to imagine what we will be able to do in the next 100 years. An intelligent life form that harnessed electricity 1,000,000 years ago could very possibly fly across the galaxy by now.

British physicist, Brian Cox, believes he knows why we haven't found any extraterrestrial life, and even says it's unlikely we ever will.

Professor Cox’s suggestion is that the rate of advances in science and engineering in any type of alien civilisation may outstrip the development of political institutions able to manage them, leading to a self-destruction model. So technology that allows the generation of power but produces greenhouse gases, or nuclear weapons, may destroy civilizations within a few thousand years of being developed, which could threaten ours too....

‘One solution to the Fermi paradox is that it is not possible to run a world that has the power to destroy itself and that needs global collaborative solutions to prevent that. It may be that the growth of science and engineering inevitably outstrips the development of political expertise, leading to disaster.’

There you have it! There are no aliens out there because they've all fallen victim to climate change. Burning fossil fuels and having nuclear weapons inevitably leads to self annihilation. It's already happened across the galaxy! It's just too bad the aliens didn't have the Democrat Party forcing them to lay down their guns and start using “green technology.”

I can't make this stuff up, folks! And they say creationists are science deniers? Please! From the same article, co-conspirator, Prof. Forshaw commented, “These seem outlandish ideas but they are based on solid evidence and reasoning.” Outlandish? Yes. Solid evidence and reasoning? Please, Dr. Forshaw, share this “evidence” with me. Have you found the ruins of an advance civilization somewhere? Have you intercepted radio signals of planets calling for help because they're on the verge of destruction? Have you found the escape pod Jor-El used to launch his son into space just before Krypton exploded? Come on, people! This isn't science; it's science fiction!

By the way, I believe there is no sign of life beyond our planet because there hasn't been millions of years, life hasn't formed on other planets, and so there's no chance that life evolved anywhere.

Now, please excuse me while I laugh my head off.