The Argument from the Bible in the Briefcase

Last night James Croft attended a lecture by famous Christian apologist (and Oxford Professor of Mathematics), John Lennox. James was struck by the especial susceptibility of the American audience to emotional appeals, which led them to give a charming but intellectually shallow, evasive, and unoriginal defense of belief a standing ovation:

This shows us something about the importance of Pathos and Ethos, about how much they affect audiences. And, I have to say, in my experience, how very open American audiences are to emotional appeals and to the likability of a speaker. Don’t get me wrong – I love this characteristic. As a speaker myself it is wonderful to have an emotional demonstrative audience. But it is striking to note how, in comparison to British audiences, Americans seem to get into stuff more. They audibly emote with sighs and swaying and facial expressions throughout stories, they laugh more at jokes – they are very generous with their emotions. And this is something for atheist speakers to consider – we can use this to our advantage.

But Lennox wasn’t all flash and no substance. He did have one powerful argument up his sleeve that seems to have had a life-changing effect on James:

The Argument from the Bible in the Briefcase

Many years ago, John Lennox was doing the Lord’s work, spreading the Gospel in Russia when he encountered a man on a train. They started to talk about God. Lennox was overcome with the sense that he should give the man a Bible – whence came this strange compulsion he knew not. He remembered that, but two weeks previously, he had been given a bible, in Russian, by someone else. He wondered if, by some strange and serendipitous alignment of circumstances, that Bible might still be in the briefcase where he had put it those two weeks prior.

He reached into the briefcase and, heart palpitating, his spirit fixed on the Lord, grasped the spine of a book. He pulled it from the bag, hand shaking, knees knocking, soul hoping.

Yay, verily, it was indeed the very same Bible, still in Russian, that he had himself placed there weeks ago!

Handing it to his interlocutor they were both overcome by the power of the Spirit of God – for surely it could only have been He, in his vast might, who ensured that the Bible had not been spirited from where it had previously been placed. The gentleman was so overcome by the presence of the Bible in its anointed place that he almost had a heart attack! Surely, God works in mysterious ways.

Praise Jesus!

It was at this point that I converted to Christianity. I asked afterward if Lennox had the very same briefcase in which the bible had been kept safe by God, that I might touch the Holy Relic, but sadly he had brought a different book bag that day. Perhaps The Briefcase is enshrined in a chapel on a high mountaintop, where it receives pilgrimages from newly-converted Russians daily.

This reminds me of my brother’s “Argument From The $20 He Had Thrown On The Floor”. It went something like this:

There came a time at which he, while holding forth in the School of Sunday, decided to illustrate the fleeting and vain nature of money by casting to the ground a bill of twenty dollars. Lo, though he had no other in his wallet, he did not retrieve this bill of twenty from whence he had cast it.  Erelong, he opened his wallet to discover the bill of twenty dollars had returned there of its own. Eftsoons, his telephone of cellularity rang and a stranger spake to him of an emergency with his automobile, saying that unto him my brother’s telephone number had been given, for my brother was a minister of the LORD. The LORD said unto my brother, “I have returned thy bill of twenty dollars to thee so that you may give it unto this stranger.”

Your Conversions?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Aratina Cage

    I wondered what the Bible in the Briefcase argument meant when James mentioned it on Twitter. So, thanks. I’ve heard stories like that, too, such as: The exact amount of change being given to someone in need who had just prayed for it, ergo God.

    What we really have here are a bunch of people who don’t believe in reality. They genuinely don’t believe that coincidences like that can happen in the real world. They honestly believe that there had to be some supernatural intervention to even allow certain events to happen, or else they never would.

    I try to get it across to people I know who are like that by explaining that coincidences like that are bound to happen and then sharing my experiences of very weird synchronicities like that in an attempt to show them how these coincidences are not unique to them or all that rare over the course of our lives. It hasn’t worked to change anyone’s minds so far, but I’ve tried.

    • Randy

      A guy is headed downtown and is late for a job interview. He is desperate to find a parking place, and so he rolls down his window and shouts to god, “If you find me a parking place, I promise I’ll never touch another drop of liquor.”

      Just then, a car pulls out, leaving a parking place right in front of his building.

      He leans out and shouts to god, “Never mind, I found one myself.”

    • Aratina Cage

      Hilarious!

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Same kind of ‘thinking’ that produces thoughts such as:

    “I was thinking about that person at the exact moment they decided to call me!”

    “I prayed that the traffic light would change when I wanted, and it did!”

    “I prayed for a close parking space, and one opened up just at the right time!”

    “Everything happens for a [supernaturally planned/manipulated] reason.”

  • David

    Do you have a link to the original article? I’d love to see what else Lennox had to say.

  • coragyps

    Hell, when I used to carry a briefcase it was rare that I would clean all the crap out of it every six months! A stinkin’ two-week stay was nuthin’!

    • Aliasalpha

      I was thinking something along those lines, its more like an “Argument from being too slack to throw out old junk”, wonder what else he had in there, a month old sandwich still wrapped in cling film?

  • BrianX

    I’ve got a Bible or four in my Kindle. Beats wasting shelf space on the damn things.

  • Cuttlefish

    Hell, I’ve got a dozen or so bibles in my office. I never let go of the damned things; you never know, a child could get hold of one and get hurt!

    • Artor

      Let me insert a quote from Mark Twain here.

      “The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted, but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was fifteen years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean, sweet breath again this side of the grave.”

  • peterh

    Conversion? At times like that my lunch converts to vomitus.

  • http://paperdove.org/ nigelTheBold, Abbot of the Hoppist Monks

    I shall praise the God that works in mysterious (and seemingly insignificant) ways, this God of the Lesser Miracles. While I would prefer the God Who Endeth Hunger and Pain, I’ll settle for the one who keeps beer in my fridge.

  • JenniferT

    This shows us something about the importance of Pathos and Ethos

    He missed out Aramis!

    Sorry… but not that sorry, obviously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002875298009 brettsaunders

    Maybe I’m understanding this wrong. Is the story seriously that it’s a miracle that the bible didn’t leave his briefcase in two weeks? That sounds like a parody of faith. Is there some aspect of the story I’m missing that makes it even remotely surprising that it would still be there?

  • Forbidden Snowflake

    How can I not convert if you use such charmingly silly words as “eftsoons”?

  • frankb

    My wife is beloved of a parking goddess who always provides her with a parking space near the door, a handicap sticker helps of course. When I am driving she tells me to have faith and instructs me to drive right up to the front. Most of the time we find a space except for the few times when we don’t. The gods surely demonstrate their powers to us mortals except for the times when they are busy with something else.

  • nerdC

    @10

    That sounds like a parody of faith.

    I was about to claim that the last paragraph of the quote qualified as a Poe but realized that it is too obvious to qualify. It is actually the story of the bible in the briefcase itself that is the Poe. I take it to be a true story with a lot of exaggeration to emphasize its basic silliness. Or he could have just made up the whole thing.

  • http://www.skepticfriends.org Reynold

    “The Bible in the Briefcase”…sounds like the title for one of those old-time horror radio programs!

  • http://www.friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    An American soldier on his last day of active duty was surrounded by the enemy, and he was down to one last bullet. Just before he fired his last shot, another American unit rushed over the hill and drove the enemy away. He saved the “lucky bullet” to remind him of how close he came to death, always carrying it over his heart in his shirt pocket.

    Back home years later, that same man was walking down the street past a crowd listening to a very loud and enthusiastic street preacher who was waving his arms around, holding his Bible. Just as the man drew near, the preacher’s Bible accidentally flew out of his hand and stuck the man directly in the chest.

    But the bullet stopped the Bible and saved his life!

    • mikmik

      That’s the funniest thing I have ever read. Thanks!

  • Ysanne

    Amazing. So God worked miracles in my school bag all the time. And in my arrogance, I thought it was just laziness on my part what kept all that useful stuff in my bag, and not divine intervention…
    I guess I should re-evaluate the $123.45 grocery bill that was the first transaction on my new credit card a couple of days ago. No way this was a coincidence! This card is blessed! (Now excuse me while I build an altar for it.)

  • grumpyoldfart

    Bibles are great gifts. The pages are really thin and ideal for rolling cigarettes.

  • Gregaryous42

    You gotta be fucking kidding me?
    Thats an argument?

  • peterh

    @ #12:

    Your parking experiences sound like a chance for a really groovy statistical analysis of Things Which Don’t Signify Very Much. Perhaps to be perverted by some babble-thumper into Incontrovertible Proof Supporting Stupid Assumptions.

  • mikmik

    I remember going to the store and wishing I still had the twenty I put in my jeans that morning. It was still there!

    Coincidence?

    @Gregaryous42 – my thoughts exactly.

  • mikmik

    I remember going to the store and wishing I still had the twenty I put in my jeans that morning. It was still there!

    And now, the rest of the story.
    That incidence occurred in the town in Canada that Mike grew up in, where the legal currency was Canadian dollars. The store he bought his smokes in only accepted Canadian dollars! THE MONEY HE PUT IN HIS JEANS WAS TWENTY CANADIAN DOLLAR$!

    Was this an act of God? A strange twist of fate?? The answer, my friends, is no.

    I am psychic!

  • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com Aoife

    And here was me thinking that the entire point of suitcases was that you could put things in them, carry them around, and have a reasonably expectation that they’d still be there when you opened up the case again.
    I mean, that’s how all of my cases work. How do this guy’s cases normally work?

  • cactusren

    brettsaunders:

    Maybe I’m understanding this wrong. Is the story seriously that it’s a miracle that the bible didn’t leave his briefcase in two weeks? That sounds like a parody of faith. Is there some aspect of the story I’m missing that makes it even remotely surprising that it would still be there?

    The story was told as part of a lecture by John Lennox (who believes it is an example of God acting in his life), and recounted on a blog by James Croft, who sees how ridiculous the story is. That’s why the telling of the story is over-the-top, to the point of sounding sarcastic. But yes, the believer actually thinks the fact that he happened to have a Russian-language bible with him, remembered this, and gave it to a Russian man he was trying to convert, is some sort of evidence of God’s existence. The re-telling of the story is a parody to play up it’s ridiculousness.

  • caravelle

    I had this bag of very cute tiny metal role-playing dice which I lost track of years ago, to my chagrin.

    Then while preparing to go on a skiing trip I got out my old winter coat, which I hadn’t worn in ages because I hadn’t been skiing since forever and I’d bought much nicer coats in the meantime.

    And as I was checking the coat’s pockets, Lo ! What did I find, but my bag of cute tiny metal dice ! It must have stayed in that coat pocket for years, ever since I’d stopped wearing it, and remained there through several moves ! It’s a good coat with solid pockets that can zip closed, and they stayed zipped that whole time, so you’d totally expect that little bag to have quantum tunnelled out of there or have been stolen by little fairies at some point. But no ! It was still there where I had put it !

    The only possible explanation I can see is divine intervention. Because I’m a two-month-old infant and haven’t grasped object permanence yet.

    All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster ! (… or is the god of role-playing someone different ? I lose track of all those geek divinities)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      It’s a good coat with solid pockets that can zip closed, and they stayed zipped that whole time, so you’d totally expect that little bag to have quantum tunnelled out of there or have been stolen by little fairies at some point. But no ! It was still there where I had put it !

      The only possible explanation I can see is divine intervention. Because I’m a two-month-old infant and haven’t grasped object permanence yet.

      This made me laugh.

      All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster ! (… or is the god of role-playing someone different ? I lose track of all those geek divinities)

      This made me think someone seriously has to get on the task of organizing the pantheon of Geek gods.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    Lol I only just got the pingback of this – thanks for the shout-out! I suspect that Lennx was more trying to point to the whole coincidence of him having a Russian bible at all, and meeting the man etc. but he made SUCH a big deal about wondering whether it would still be in his bag that it was literally hilarious. The (VERY Christian) audience surrounded me gave me dagger-eyes when I let out a very audible “No!” at the climax of the story. Somehow they thought I was mocking…


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