October 1, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.”

I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after virtually begging and pleading to dialogue with me in May 2018) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make, then, of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique?

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, “25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 12)” (7-27-16), Bob wrote, in his characteristically misguided zeal:

Stupid Argument #40: Interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones.

This argument is an attempt to wriggle away from Bible verses that are unpleasant or that contradict each other. “Interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones” is advice from Josh McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (page 48). McDowell makes clear that difficult isn’t the issue at all—it’s contradictions that are the problem. They’re not difficult to understand, only to reconcile. For example, the epistle of James says that salvation is by works but Romans says that it’s by grace. The trick, McDowell tells us, is to find the interpretation that you like in the constellation of competing verses, bring that one forward, and either ignore the others or reinterpret them to be somehow subordinate or supportive of your preferred interpretation. That’s not quite how he puts it, but that’s what he means.

The quest for the “clearer” passage has become a quest for the most pleasing one.

The mere existence of what McDowell euphemistically calls “difficult” passages is an unacknowledged problem. How could verses conflict in a book inspired by a perfect god? If conflicting verses exist, doesn’t that make the Bible look like nothing more than a manmade book? How could God give humanity a book that was at all unclear or ambiguous?

I’m glad he gave a specific example. That means it can be examined and scrutinized. And when it is, guess who comes out looking “stupid”? Yes, you guessed right.

I think Bob is clever and informed enough to know that Catholics and Protestants have wrangled about the relationship of faith to works, and of each to salvation, for 500 years, and so he exploits that to his purposes. It’s a real and important debate, and I have devoted plenty of effort to it as a Catholic apologist, but, the differences are not nearly as great as one might think at first glance, and there is very significant common ground, as I shall show below.

Bob’s claim is that the inspired Bible contradicts itself in this regard, and that’s just not so. He’s not even accurate in how he describes the views of the books of James and Romans. Bob’s bias is so profound that inevitably, he can’t even get simple biblical facts correct (“what does book x teach about y?”). If he wants to wrangle about biblical interpretation, with one experienced in Bible study, he will lose every time, and the present case is definitely no exception to that pattern.

Bob states flat-out: “the epistle of James says that salvation is by works.” But this is simply not so. In the RSV, “works” appears 13 times in the book of James. Here they are, categorized for ease of interpretation:

Faith and Works are Connected and Inseparable

2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?

2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

2:18 But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

2:20 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? 

2:22-23 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, [23] and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. 

2:24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 

2:26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead. 

The following passage also applies, even though the word, “works” isn’t present. The concept is (healing and salvation):

5:15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 

Justification by Works (But Not Works Alone)

2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? 

2:25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 

Works Simply Mentioned 

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

What is striking in the above data of “works’ in James , is that it is never stated to be efficacious for salvation by itself (which would be “salvation by works” or the heresy of Pelagianism, which all Christians condemn). In the first category above, we see that works are directly and intimately tied to faith, to such an extent that faith considered by itself without it is indeed “dead” (2:17, 26), “barren” (2:20), and cannot “save” (2:14). The truth of the matter, according to James, is that works are necessary to “show” or exhibit or manifest faith (2:18), and to complete faith (2:22).

James 2:24 (“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”) seems to be capable of two simultaneous interpretations. It sounds like “justification by works [alone?]” but it can just as plausibly be taken to mean “faith alone is not enough for justification, works are also required”. This interpretation is strongly reinforced by all the other passages in the first category above, that are in the same context and chapter, save for 5:15. Indeed, the “faith + works” connection is asserted two verses before, and two verses after. All non-fiction literature has to be interpreted in context.

Beyond that, justification is not the same as salvation. I delve deeply into the interpretation of James compared to other books, with regard to faith and works, justification, and salvation, in the following papers (suffice it to say here that Bob is way over his head, arguing about this, and in very deep waters with no “life jacket” of reason or hermeneutical ability):

Justification in James: Dialogue [5-8-02]

Justification: Not by Faith Alone, & Ongoing (Romans 4, James 2, and Abraham’s Multiple Justifications) [10-15-11]

“Catholic Justification” in James & Romans [11-18-15]

Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in Chapter 20 of His Book, The God Who Justifies [10-9-13]

This leaves James 2:21 and 2:25 (second category), which seem at face value to assert at least “justification by works” (but not salvation by works) but they prove nothing. But they do not, because the immediate context in both cases proves that works cannot be isolate by themselves. 2:21 and 2:25 simply mention works only, but that is not contradictory to the other passages. They would be if they used the language of “works alone”: because that would preclude faith. In the cases of both 2:21 and 2:25, the verses immediately before and after both connect works to faith.

It couldn’t be any clearer than it is. But ol’ Bob proceeds like a bull in a china shop, ignorantly claiming that “James says that salvation is by works.” If the above data isn’t enough to disprove this claim, then we can do more word-searching. “Salvation” never appears in the book. “Saved” or “save” does five times:

James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. [the “word” or the gospel saves]

James 2:14, seen above, states that works and faith save. It logically precludes faith either by works alone or faith alone.

James 4:12 There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor? [God saves; i.e., His grace saves]

James 5:15, seen above, also reiterates that works and faith together save. It’s a prayer, which is a work by another, but it’s a “prayer of faith“: so that faith is also present.

James 5:19-20 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, [20] let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. [this is salvation by means of the divine grace passed along by evangelistic effort: probably including also prayer, given the immediate preceding context of praying (5:13-18, where prayer is mentioned in every verse).

Conclusion: salvation by works alone, without faith, is never ever taught in the book of James. Bob needs to get his basic facts right, in order to make claims that he thinks will establish biblical contradiction. Even despite his gross ignorance of the Bible, hermeneutics, and Christian theology, he could have done the simple word searches that I just did. It wouldn’t have put him out.

Bob also stated:Romans says that it’s [salvation] by grace.” All of Scripture asserts salvation by God’s grace. All Christians believe that. I’ve written many times about it:

St. Paul on Grace, Faith, & Works (50 Passages) [8-6-08]

Grace Alone: Perfectly Acceptable Catholic Teaching [2-3-09]

Grace, Faith, Works, & Judgment: A Scriptural Exposition [12-16-09; reformulated & abridged on 3-15-17]

Bible on Participation in Our Own Salvation (Always Enabled by God’s Grace) [1-3-10]

Monergism in Initial Justification is Catholic Doctrine [1-7-10]

Grace Alone: Biblical & Catholic Teaching [12-1-15]

Catholics and Protestants Agree on Grace Alone and the Necessity of the Presence of Good Works in Regenerate and Ultimately Saved Persons; Disagree on Faith Alone [5-4-17]

But this doesn’t preclude works (nor, of course, faith in grace). Thus, Romans, like all the other books, mentions salvation or justification by grace, but it also mentions works as non-optional and intimately connected to faith (precisely as James does). In my paper, “Catholic Justification” in James & Romans, I noted:

St. Paul opposes grace and/or faith to works in Scripture, only in a particular sense: the “works” of Jewish ritualism by which the Jews gained their unique identity (e.g., circumcision).

The Apostle Paul doesn’t oppose grace, faith, and works, and in fact, constantly puts them together, in harmony. Here are two typical examples:

1 Corinthians 15:10 (RSV, as throughout) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

Grace and works are for Paul, quite hand-in-hand, just as faith and works are. . . . 

St. Paul states:

Romans 3:28 For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. (cf. 3:20; 3:24: “justified by his grace as a gift”)

But “justified by faith” is different from “justified by faith alone”. The “works of the law” he refers to here are not all works, but things like circumcision. In other words, we are saved apart from Jewish rituals required under Mosaic Law. Paul makes clear that this is what he has in mind, in referencing circumcision in 3:1, asking rhetorically, “Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all” (3:9), multiple references to “the law” (3:19-21, 28, 31), and the following statement:

Romans 3:29-30 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, [30] since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.

Paul is not against all “works” per se; he tied them directly to salvation, after all, in the previous chapter:

Romans 2:6-8 For he will render to every man according to his works: [7] to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; [8] but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.(cf. 2:13: “the doers of the law who will be justified”)

Paul uses the example of Abraham in Romans 4, in emphasizing faith, over against the Jewish works of circumcision as a supposed means of faith and justification (hence, he mentions circumcision in 4:9-12, and salvation to the Gentiles as well as Jews in 4:13-18).

Here are other passages in Romans, where Paul connects faith and works and sees no dichotomy between them (“works” portions highlighted in blue):

Romans 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 

Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 

Romans 3:22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;

Romans 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Romans 6:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

Romans 8:13 for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. 

Romans 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

Romans 14:23 But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Romans 15:17-18 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed,

Romans 16:26 but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith —

Thus, we can readily observe that Bob’s description of the teaching in the epistle to the Romans is dead-wrong, too. What a shock!

Earlier, I alluded to Protestant-Catholic differences about justification. Yes, they are real. But they don’t mean that the Bible contradicts itself. I have shown above in great detail that there is no contradiction in this regard. The two sides wholeheartedly agree about the following:

1. Salvation is by ultimately caused by God’s grace alone.

2. Man cooperates with or at least accepts this free grace in order to be saved.

3. Justification is by faith.

4. Good works are absolutely necessary in the Christian life. It’s questionable that someone is or will be saved, or in the state of grace if these works are not evident in their life

Protestants go on to say that justification is by faith alone, which Catholics deny (and it’s a very involved, confusing discussion). Protestants formally separate works from justification, and place them in a separate category of sanctification (while Catholics essentially conflate justification and sanctification). But it’s also good Protestant teaching to assert the absolute necessity of good works in the saved or elect person, as proof of an authentic faith (which basically brings us back to the emphasis of James again):

Catholic-Protestant Common Ground (Esp. Re Good Works) [4-8-08]

Martin Luther: Good Works Prove Authentic Faith [4-16-08]

John Calvin: Good Works Manifest True Saving Faith [9-4-08]

Martin Luther: Strong Elements in His Thinking of Theosis & Sanctification Linked to Justification [11-23-09]

Martin Luther: Faith Alone is Not Lawless Antinomianism [2-28-10]

Moral of the story: don’t trust atheist and anti-theist polemicist and sophist Bob Seidensticker to be any sort of accurate or reliable guide to Bible teaching. Go to someone who has actually studied the Bible and who understands it, and how to interpret it. In case anyone is wondering, I’ve been intensely studying the Bible for 41 years: 37 of them as an apologist, and the last 17 as a full-time Catholic apologist, with strong credentials and 50 published books and hundreds of “officially” published articles.

I know what I’m talking about in this area. Bob doesn’t; and I highly suspect that his profound ignorance (when someone who actually knows the subject matter confronts him) is a prime reason why he hasn’t uttered one peep in reply to my first 21 installments in this series. It’s virtually certain that he will ignore this reply, too. Just watch and see! If he replies, and I’m made aware of it, I’ll note that here, and will counter-reply, since I (very unlike Bob) am quite confident of my views.

If I am proven to be wrong, I change my mind. After all, I was once a Protestant for my first 32 years (I’m now 60), so I have changed my mind in massive ways, in terms of theology (as well as in many other major moral and political issues).

***

Photo credit: The Good Samaritan, by Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

September 25, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18: “I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make, then, of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique?

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, “The Great Debate: Theism vs. Naturalism. Where Does the Evidence Point?” (11-17-16), Bob, in his infinite wisdom and profound biblical expertise, “informed” his readers:

Any scientific statement within the Bible that’s true was known by the culture that produced that part of the Bible, and all other scientific claims within the Bible are false.

As will see, Bob frequently thinks the Bible is making a “scientific” claim when it is not doing so at all. That’s one huge problem. If I say, for example, “the stars are twinkling” or “the tide is high” or “lions roar” or “boats float on water” I am not necessarily making scientific statements, but rather, pre-scientific observational ones (that a smart three-year-old could also make. This is what the Bible does as well. One can say all these things without understanding one whit about the science of astronomy, of light and light years, tides (i.e., a result of gravity), feline vocal chords, or buoyancy. Likewise, today we say, “I turned on the light” or “I started my car” without the slightest thought or knowledge of the workings of electricity or the internal combustion engine.

Bob links from his sentence above to another paper of his: “Yet More on the Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science” (11-30-15). This screed is a goldmine of stupefied non-comprehension of elementary biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. I’ve noted time and again that when atheists approach the Bible, they very often (almost always) assume that all interpretation of it is supposed to be woodenly literal and utterly simplistic as well. This leads them into all kinds of insuperable difficulties and they end up looking very foolish indeed (if they run across an actual Christian apologist who will expose their tactics). I think they usually do this based on one of the following two reasons:

1) They assume that the ancient Hebrews were a bunch of Neanderthal dolts, who couldn’t imagine such a thing as poetry or non-literal literary genre.

2) They follow (consciously or not) their own past fundamentalist Christian methods of highly flawed hyper-literalistic biblical interpretation.

I marvel at how often this occurs. Atheists seem almost constitutionally unable to undertake even a rudimentary study of hermeneutics, biblical genre, ancient near eastern / Mesopotamian culture, meanings of Hebrew words, consultation of many online commentaries for any given scriptural passage, or the use of a Bible dictionary, etc. Instead, they approach a Bible passage or theme, assuming that they are the “smart / sophisticated ones” and that ancient Hebrews and Christians en masse are troglodytes, imbeciles, and ignoramuses. Well, some Christians are quite undereducated, having been raised in vastly inferior strains of Christianity. But that is not all Christians. It’s only a small minority of a minority (Protestantism).

Atheists are either aware of these facts, in which case, they are deliberately bashing the straw man of fundamentalism and equating it with all of Christianity, or the best of Christian thinking: seeking out the worst cases of Christian thinking rather than the best, in their ongoing crusade to present a caricatured, warped version of Christianity to the world, to be mocked and ridiculed and dismissed.

The other possibility is that they don’t understand that fundamentalism does not equal Christianity, in which case, they are massively ignorant, both sociologically and in terms of Church history. Oftentimes, they were raised in these environments, and casually assume that they represent what Christianity is. In other words, they think anti-intellectual fundamentalism is the sum of Christianity. They rejected a gross distortion or stunted, miniscule version of Christianity, thinking that it was the Real Thing.

We will see how Bob — again and again — makes the fundamental mistake (no pun intended) of interpreting every passage hyper-literally, when there is no intrinsic need to do so, when the ones who wrote the passage clearly did not think  in that way (nor did historic Christian exegesis), and where every exegetical or cross-referenced or linguistic indication is that the passage was not intended to be absolutely literal.

It’s the “dum-dum” approach: the ancient Hebrews were dumb, and so are Christians (so atheists blithely assume); thus, the Bible is a dumb and stupid document, only fit for mockery and not serious consideration. This leads atheists into all kinds of silly, inexcusable errors in approaching the Bible, as will become abundantly clear in our examples below. If we greatly underestimate our opponent (whether in military matters or in competing worldviews), we will fail and look silly to boot.

Thankfully, Bob manages to stumble upon an intelligent Christian (Augustine), writing about the Bible and science:

Augustine (354–430) rejected the quest for science in the Bible. He said, “We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said, ‘I am sending you the Holy Spirit, that he may teach you about the course of the sun and the moon.’ He wished to make people Christians not astronomers.”

But many Christians ignore Augustine, and the flurry of claims continues. 

Yes, and many atheists ignore him, too, along with folks like Galileo, who correctly observed that “the Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heaven goes.” If Bob would only understand that, he would do much better, but instead, he barges onward, doing the very thing that he just decried.

Let’s move on to . . . science claims within the Bible that don’t line up with what modern science tells us. Do they reveal startling insights into science, or are they simply the superstitions of primitive pre-scientific people? . . . 

Let’s start with claims about cosmology and the structure of the earth.

1. The earth is immoveable

The world is firmly established, it will not be moved (Psalm 93:1; see also Ps. 96:10, 1 Chronicles 16:30).

Real science tells us that the earth is anything but fixed; it orbits the sun, the entire solar system orbits the galactic center, and the Milky Way galaxy itself moves through space.

Now let’s see what an actual Bible scholar teaches about such passages. Dr. Justin Rogers serves as an Associate Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He holds an M.A. in New Testament from FHU as well as an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Hebraic, Judaic, and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. His superb and extremely helpful article, “Does the Bible Teach a Flat Earth?” (2017) explains, in wonderful detail:

A number of biblical passages assert the immovability of the Earth (e.g., 1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalm 93:1; 96:10; 104:5). . . . even if they might be cited as evidence for geocentricity, note that each of them occurs in a poetic context. . . .

Since each passage employs similar language and is applied for the same purpose, we shall examine just one as representative. The relevant part of Psalm 96:10 states, “The world is fixed; it cannot be moved.” Two Hebrew words in particular deserve attention. One is the word “fix” or “establish” (כון, kūn). This term does not fundamentally refer to being fixed in position, but rather to being fixed in permanence. Such can be said of David’s kingdom being “established” forever (1 Samuel 20:31; 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 2:12), or of cities that are “established” (Habakkuk 2:12). These are acts of intended permanence.

In reference to the physical world, the term is not used of the Earth alone, but of the heavenly bodies as well. The Sun, Moon, and stars “are established” by God (Psalm 8:3), as are the “heavens” (Proverbs 3:19). Does this mean the Bible envisions no movement among the heavenly bodies? If one took these passages literally, he or she would be required to say there are no orbits or movements of any astral body anywhere in the Universe. This is, of course, untrue, for even the earliest astronomers could map the stars and motions of the various heavenly bodies, as they serve to mark “seasons, days, and years” (Genesis 1:14). So, if these poetic passages are pressed literally, the Bible teaches that the Earth and all cosmic bodies are static. Is this what the Bible intends to communicate? Of course not. In fact, Scripture elsewhere affirms the movement of heavenly bodies (Jude 13). The Bible simply means to teach that God has programmed His creation to act according to determined, reliable patterns; in that sense, he has “fixed” the world. . . .

The Earth is “set” in the sense that it is well-designed and well-constructed, and therefore functions without deviation, exactly as the Maker intended. It is secure, dependable, and reliable. The season for sowing and reaping, consistent rain, the course of the astral bodies—these are all evidence that the Earth is “immovable” in the author’s intended sense. Derek Kidner appropriately observes: “The first and last lines of verse 10 [Psalm 96] make it additionally clear that this is a prophecy of perfect government, not a pronouncement on—of all things!—the earth’s rotation.” [Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms in Tyndale Old Testament Commentary (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: IVP, 1975, p. 349) ]. . . . The “fixed Earth” Scriptures are best read as poetic reflections on a world designed for the flourishing of life.

2. The earth rests on a foundation

For the foundations of the earth are Jehovah’s; upon them he has set the world (1 Samuel 2:8; see also Ps. 102:25, Ps. 104:5, Zechariah 12:1).

We’re also told what this foundation is made of.

He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble (Job 9:6; see also Job 26:11).

Apologists might say that “pillars” simply refers to mountains or bedrock, but a more plausible conclusion is that the literal interpretation was the intended one and that the Hebrew cosmology imagined a flat earth surrounded by or suspended on an ocean, as was popular in ancient Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India.

Baptist Bible scholar Bernard Ramm, in his classic work, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1954, 96-102: section on “Biblical Cosmology”), offers a reply to this silliness:

It is improper to construct a so-called modern or scientific cosmology from the Biblical evidence; and it is also improper to try to model one after Babylonian concepts. In that there is no systematic exposition of a cosmology in the Bible, and in that the Bible abounds with either popular expressions or poetic expressions, it is not capable of a systematic construction with reference to a cosmology. The best we can do is to (i) indicate the freedom of the Bible from mythological polytheistic or grotesque cosmologies; (ii) note the general hostility of the Bible to cosmologies which are antitheistic; and (iii) clearly present the theocentric view of the Bible towards Nature.

It is typical of radical critics to play up the similarity of anything Biblical with the Babylonian, and to omit the profound differences or gloss over them. When the Biblical account is set side by side with any other cosmology its purity, its chasteness, its uniqueness, its theocentricity are immediately apparent.

I wrote at length about many related issues of this sort, in my paper, “Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching?”

3. The sky is solid

The cosmology in Genesis makes clear that the earth rests between water underneath and more water in a dome above. We see this in the Noah story when “the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11). . . . 

That dome must be solid to hold up the water. We also see this elsewhere in the Old Testament:

Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies (Ps. 148:4).

When He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed (Proverbs 8:28).

What is this dome made of? Job suggests that it’s made of metal:

Can you, with him, beat out the skies, strong as a mirror of cast bronze? (Job 37:18)

“Beat out” (“spread out” in some translations) is the verb used for hammering out metal.

Dr. Ramm refutes this inane, fatuous nonsense, too:

The cosmology of the Bible is not systematized and is not postulational. It is neither for nor against any of the current and ancient theories of the universe except where they might be polytheistic or in conflict with basic Christian metaphysics. But the Bible does not support Aristotle or Ptolemy or Copernicus or Descartes or Newton or Einstein or Milne . . . it gives us no positive cosmology.

We must consider the efforts of radical critics to impose a cosmology on the Bible as an artificial, stilted, and abortive effort.

. . . [William Fairfield] Warren claims that their approach to the cosmology of the Bible is so wooden, artificial, and literal that the Bible writers would not recognize such a cosmology if it were handed them all written out on a piece of paper. If, he continues, you follow this wooden and artificial approach to the Bible you would have the Bible writers believing in a heaven made of wax or silk or goatshair! [The Earliest Cosmologies, 1909, pp. 24-32]

. . . Orr writes:

The error is to be avoided of forcing the language of popular, often metaphorical and poetic description, into the hard-and-fast forms of a cosmogony which it is by no means intended by the writers to yield. [“World, Cosmological,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, V, 3106]

. . . Gaenssle, a Semitic scholar, takes the radical critics to task likewise for imposing on the Bible a stilted, artificial cosmology that is nowhere clearly and systematically taught in Scripture [“A Look at Current Biblical Cosmologies,” Concordia Theological Monthly, 23:738-749]. He singles out two basic ideas of this reconstruction of the radical critics to show that their contentions are baseless. (i) He examines the word raqia (firmament) which critics have taken to mean a solid something and indicates that its basic idea is that of thinness or tenuity. Citing Isaiah 40:22, Psalm 104:2 and Isaiah 34:4, he asks:

Can anyone with these texts before him seriously and honestly believe that the writers of these words entertained the crude inept notion of a metallic canopy above their heads? [Footnote 38: Ibid., p. 743 . . . the greatest Hebrew scholar of the fifteenth century, Paginus, writing well before modern science translates raqia by expansionem]

The best meaning of raqia is expanse or atmosphere. (ii) He also attacks the notion that the world floats on a vast subterranean ocean . . . As for the word under in the phrase “under the earth” the Hebrew word tachath means not only under but lower. In our own day we speak of lowlands . . . :

Consequently, when the earth is said to be founded on the seas and spread out upon the waters, there is no reason to assume that the Psalmist is singing of an invisible ocean on which the earth rests or is spread out, but only of earthly waters on which the earth touches and over which it is elevated.

. . . The upper, terrestrial ocean satisfies all requirements and it lies below or beneath in the same sense as the Dead Sea lies under Mount Pisgah and the land of Moab. [Ibid., p. 747, 749]

4. The earth is flat

We’ve seen a flat disk of earth before.

[God] sits above the circle of the earth (Isaiah 40:22).

Our previous analysis showed that this is no reference to a spherical earth (they had another word for “ball” or “sphere”) but simply a flat disk.

Nonsense. See my paper on the falsely alleged biblical assertion in a flat earth. Dr. Rogers also makes mincemeat of this:

One notices instantly that almost every passage cited in favor of the flat-Earth position occurs in a poetic context. To be responsible readers of the Bible, we must respect the genre of literature we are reading. Poetry is to be read differently than prose; it is more expressive, emotional, and metaphorical. . . . a common-sense understanding of how poetry functions prevents us from making erroneous interpretive deductions. To insist that metaphorical language must be interpreted literally is to contradict the original authorial intent. . . .

[W]e cannot locate a single verse in the Bible that teaches the Earth is flat. Neither in prose nor in poetry, neither by means of phenomenological language nor metaphor, do we find Scripture communicating a flat Earth. The flat-Earth theory is an interpretive deduction, usually based on poetic hyperbole. But is a flat Earth even an accurate interpretive deduction? As we will see, it is far from obvious that the Bible teaches the Earth is flat. . . .

[S]uch a literal reading [of Isaiah 40:22] ignores the poetic context and the obvious anthropomorphism. . . . the ancient Greek translation renders the term γῦρος (gūros), or “ring.” Further, the term “on” (על, ‘al) can also be translated “above,” without implying contact with an object (e.g., NASB, ESV). So this passage does not necessarily communicate a spherical Earth, but neither does it imply a flat Earth. . . .

Again, these passages occur in poetic contexts, and it can be dangerous to impose a literal meaning on figurative language, as we have discussed. Unlike God, Job’s friends [Job 22:14; 26:10; 37:18] did not necessarily have a perfect scientific understanding, and are, in any case, speaking hyperbolically in Hebrew poetry. Their words simply reflect a popular expression of God’s complete sovereignty over nature. Nevertheless, one thing is sure: there is no thought of a flat Earth anywhere. The “circle of the earth” is a metaphor to be sure, but not even metaphorically is it understood as flat.

It should be noted that the Hebrew Bible does not have an equivalent for the term “sphere,” which in modern Hebrew is the loanword ספירה (sefîrāh). The word “ball” (דור, dūr) occurs in English translations in Isaiah 22:18, but it is clear from Isaiah 29:3 (the only other place the noun occurs) that it refers to a “roll” of items that have encircled a central object. A related verb form is found one other time in the Bible to describe stacked and perhaps “bound” wood (Ezekiel 24:5). In other words, the shape of such an object is beyond the scope of the term. So, the authors of the Hebrew Bible simply lacked the vocabulary to describe a perfectly round object. We cannot expect them to say what they did not have the words to communicate.

We also find other clues:

And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day (Gen. 1:13).

The six-day creation story assumes a flat earth because a time reference would’ve been necessary on a spherical earth. To see this, suppose God began creating the plants in the morning on Day Three based on the time in Mesopotamia. This means that God began this project in the evening of Day Two in much of the rest of the world (western North America, for example). Only with a time standard (“according to Mesopotamian Standard Time”) would this be unambiguous. . . . 

6. Confused creation order

God created the earth and land plants in the first three days, but the sun wasn’t made until the fourth. Photosynthesizing plants obviously couldn’t survive without the sun.

Compare the order of creation in Genesis with the order we’ve learned through science. In Genesis, it’s first earth, then land plants, sun and moon, fish, birds, land animals, and finally humans. Science instead tells us that the evidence points to the sun being first, then the earth, then the moon. Single-celled organisms were the only life for several billion years. Then photosynthesizing organisms, then land plants, fish, land animals, and finally birds. But Genesis is right that humans came last—yay.

This is absurd, based on reasons already given, as to the Bible’s view of the earth and cosmology. Secondly, it’s well-known that Christians since at least St. Augustine have interpreted “day” in these passages (Hebrew yom) as not confined to a 24-hour period. As usual, Bob merely assumes without argument that “day” here must be a literal 24-hour day. This is not the case at all. St. Augustine wrote:

The narrative does indeed tell us that light was created by God, and that God separated that light from the darkness, and gave to the light the name of ‘day’, and to the darkness the name of ‘night’. But what kind of light that was, and with what alternating movement the distinction was made, and what was the nature of this evening and this morning; these are questions beyond the scope of our sensible experience. (City of God, translated by Henry Bettenson, edited by David Knowles, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1972, 436, Book XI, ch. 7)

Furthermore, Bob interprets the Genesis accounts as both 1) absolutely literal in all respects, and 2) chronological (in the sense that we view sequential chronology today). Neither is necessarily the case at all. I delve into this question at length, citing scholars writing specifically about Hebrew thinking and views of time, in my paper, “Genesis Contradictory (?) Creation Accounts & Hebrew Time.”

We also find a flat earth in the New Testament.

The devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor (Matthew 4:8).

A high spot to see all the world is possible on a flat earth but not on a spherical planet. And consider that a mountaintop from which you could see everywhere on the earth could itself be seen from everywhere on earth. So go outside and look around. It’s there—the claim that it’s on the horizon somewhere is as reliable as the Bible itself.

Give Bob an E for effort, anyway . . . But what wasted brain power! Once again, Bob engages in his relentless wooden hyper-literalism, when the text does not at all require or even suggest it. Barnes’ Notes on the Bible comments on this passage:

All the kingdoms of the world – It is not probable that anything more is intended here than the kingdoms of Palestine, or of the land of Canaan, and those in the immediate vicinity. Judea was divided into three parts, and those parts were called kingdoms; and the sons of Herod, who presided over them, were called kings. The term “world” is often used in this limited sense to denote a part or a large part of the world, particularly the land of Canaan. See Romans 4:13 [RSV: “The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, . . .”] where it means the land of Judah; also Luke 2:1 [“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.”: obviously meaning the Roman Empire], . . .

Likewise, atheists and fundamentalists alike assume that the Bible teaches a literally universal Flood, covering the whole world. This is not true, either, as I explain in my paper, “Old Earth, Flood Geology, Local Flood, & Uniformitarianism.” The Bible doesn’t require the Flood (an actual historical event, as indicated several times in the NT) to have been literally global, as we see in the treatment of the Flood in The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913. That’s another case where an atheists sees the word “world” and automatically assumes that it literally means the entire earth or world. It’s simply more woefully inadequate biblical exegesis.

5. The earth is at the center of not just the solar system but the universe

Here’s another verse we’ve seen before that makes clear that the sun moves around the earth.

The sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again (Ecclesiastes 1:5; see also Ps. 19:6).

Really? This is beyond ludicrous: descending to a level of cluelessness rarely observed, even among atheists who regularly butcher the Bible. Of course this is phenomenological language, which the Bible routinely uses, and which we ourselves use today (in the very same manner), all the time. Watch any weather report and you will hear words like, “the sun will rise at 6:02 tomorrow morning; it will set at 8:30 . . .” According to how Bob interprets the Bible, then, every weather reporter and anyone who says “I saw the sun rise” or “the sun will be going down pretty soon” and similar terminology, is asserting geocentrism. As that is obviously absurd, so also is his contention here. Now why couldn’t he figure that out?: is the question and the marvel. Dr. Rogers comments:

In addition to respecting the author’s intent, we must also respect the audience’s understanding. We often hear cosmic complexities expressed in phenomenological language. In other words, the world is explained as it appears on Earth, or in terms we can understand. Even today, we speak of the Sun “rising and setting,” even though virtually every fourth-grade science student knows that, scientifically, this is not the case. Thus, it should not surprise to find the Bible speaking in similar terms (Genesis 28:11; Joshua 10:13; the Hebrew idiom is the Sun “going”). . . . For God to teach modern scientific astronomy and meteorology to an ancient Hebrew audience would do little good. . . . To hold the Bible’s language to modern scientific standards is a failure to appreciate the original audience of Scripture. The authors were divinely inspired, but the audience was not.

Two more examples are when God played games with the sun, stopping its motion for hours so Joshua could continue killing Amorites (Joshua 10:13) and then moving it backwards to give a sign to King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:8–11). It’s no big deal for God to move things across the sky, but it gets complicated in a heliocentric solar system when “stopping the sun” actually means stopping the earth’s rotation.

Could God have used magic to stop the earth’s rotation so that its inhabitants didn’t notice the deceleration and subsequent acceleration (and report it in the biblical accounts)? Could he have maintained the earth’s protective magnetic field that would’ve been lost if the molten iron core stopped rotating? Sure, but why imagine that instead of the heliocentric solar system known to science since the early sixteenth century?

This is an exceedingly involved discussion, with equally devout Christian commentators holding to several different theories, and this article is already lengthy enough, so I will defer to an extremely in-depth treatment: Glenn Miller’s article, “What about ‘The Fivefold Challenge’?” Readers — after following the link — need to do a word search to get to the relevant section: “Miracle Two: The stopping of the sun by Joshua.” Glenn is delightfully thorough and comprehensive in his reasoning, as always. It’s a feast for Bible students, and perhaps at least some challenge and food for thought for skeptics like Bob.

Suffice it to say in summary that several of the theories do not entail stopping the earth’s rotation or  movement around the sun, etc., and posit far less “cosmologically dramatic” events. This is common in biblical interpretation: reasonable folks can have honest disagreements. But what Christians have in common is an approach to the Bible of high respect, rather than the goal to mock and ridicule, distort and dismiss it: as seen over and over in Bob’s endless anti-Christian, anti-biblical rhetoric and sophistry.

***

This is the 21st installment in my series of critiques of Bob’s arguments. I note that (to my knowledge) he has not made the slightest response to any of them, despite having initiated a challenge that I record in my Introduction above. If he has responded at all, he certainly didn’t make me aware of it; nor did any of his fan club, who love to mock and deride Christians and Christianity as much as he does. It looks, then (at least so far), that Bob is either afraid or unable to defend his own viewpoints against strong critique. One would never guess that, judging by his ostensibly “confident” and “triumphalistic” attitude in his articles. But there it is . . .

***

See my web page: Philosophy, Science & Christianity.

See my book: Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies? (Oct. 2010, 301 pages; only $2.99 as an e-book)

***

Photo credit: God as Architect of the Universe (c. 1220-1230): frontispiece of Bible Moralisee. Science: particularly geometry and astronomy, was linked directly to the divine for most medieval scholars. The compass is a symbol of God’s act of creation. He created the universe after geometric and harmonic principles. Therefore, to seek these principles was to seek and worship God. The Lutheran heliocentrist astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) stated that his scientific work was “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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September 18, 2018

God’s Omnipotence, Omniscience, & Omnipresence in Early Bible Books & Ancient Jewish Understanding

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make, then, of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique?

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, “Response to ‘Nine Not-so-Good Reasons To Be an Atheist’ “ (8-13-18), Bob opined:

The Bible evolved over time. In the early years, the Bible’s religion was polytheistic [I decisively refuted that in my last post!]. Yahweh was similar to the Greek and Roman gods, only gradually becoming omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

This is a false and ignorant claim. In order to refute it (similar to my last paper), we need only find indications from earlier Old Testament  books (I will be using the RSV) of God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence: thus showing that these traits were not ones that merely slowly (“gradually”) evolved over time. 

 

Omniscience (all-knowing)

Job 11:6-9 [Bob calls it “one of the Bible’s oldest books”] and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding. . . . [7] “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? [8] It is higher than heaven — what can you do? Deeper than Sheol — what can you know? [9] Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.

Job 34:21-22  For his eyes are upon the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps. [22] There is no gloom or deep darkness where evildoers may hide themselves.

Job 36:4  . . . one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.

Job 37:16 . . . him who is perfect in knowledge,

Psalm 44:21 would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Psalm 139:1-4, 6  O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me! [2] Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. [3] Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. [4] Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. . . . [6] Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:16  Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 147:5 . . . his understanding is beyond measure.

Proverbs 15:11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD, how much more the hearts of men!

1 Kings 8:39 . . . each whose heart thou knowest, according to all his ways (for thou, thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men); (cf. 2 Chr 6:30)

1 Chronicles 28:9 . . . the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought.  . . .

[for much more, see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Omniscience”]

 

Omnipotence (the power to do all that is logically possible)

“Almighty” or “God Almighty” appears 48 times in the Old Testament (excluding the deuterocanonical books): 45 of them in the earlier books (seven times in Genesis and Exodus).

Genesis 18:14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? . . .

Job 5:9-13 who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: [10] he gives rain upon the earth and sends waters upon the fields; [11] he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. [12] He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. [13] He takes the wise in their own craftiness; and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.

Job 9:4-10 He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength — who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded? — [5] he who removes mountains, and they know it not, when he overturns them in his anger; [6] who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; [7] who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; [8] who alone stretched out the heavens, and trampled the waves of the sea; [9] who made the Bear and Orion, the Plei’ades and the chambers of the south; [10] who does great things beyond understanding, and marvelous things without number.

Job 11:10  . . . who can hinder him?

Job 38:12 [God speaking] Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place [?]

Job 42:2 I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted.

Psalm 33:9-10 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth. [10] The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nought; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.

Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.

Psalm 135:6-7 Whatever the LORD pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. [7] He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

Psalm 147:4-5 He determines the number of the stars, . . . [5] . . . abundant in power . . .

Nehemiah 9:6 . . . Thou art the LORD, thou alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and thou preservest all of them; . . .

[for much more, see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Omnipotence”]

 

Omnipresence (present everywhere)

Job 28:24 For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.

Psalm 139:7-8 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? [8] If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!

Proverbs 15:3 The eyes of the LORD are in every place, . . .

1 Kings 8:27 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee . . .

2 Chronicles 2:6 But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? . . .

2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, . . .

[for much more, see International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Omnipresence”]

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Photo credit: image by Schueler-Design (June 2018) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

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September 18, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make, then, of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique?

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article, “The Great Debate: Theism vs. Naturalism. Where Does the Evidence Point?” (11-17-16), Bob pontificated:

The Bible itself documents how God’s fundamental properties have evolved. . . . God was initially part of a pantheon, and only later do we get a clear statement of monotheism (Isaiah 43:10, for example). [“. . . Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me”: RSV]

He links to a full treatment of this latest falsehood that he seeks to promulgate about the Judaeo-Christian God and the Old Testament: “Biblical Polytheism” (2-13-13; rev. 1-6-16). He’s filled with self-deluded “confidence” in this one. He clearly thinks he has hit a home run. So sorry to disappoint him . . . Biblical ignorance “triumphs” yet again.

The first of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). (There are two very different sets of Ten Commandments in Exodus, but let’s ignore that for now.) [yeah, I refuted that ludicrous claim, too, not long ago]

Have you ever thought much about the wording of this commandment? Why doesn’t it say that Jehovah is the only god? It’s because this section of the Bible was written in roughly the 10th century BCE, the early days of the Israelite religion, when it was still polytheistic. . . . The next commandment notes, “I, Jehovah, your God, am a jealous God”—jealous because there were indeed other viable options, and Jehovah insisted on a commitment.

Sure, I’ve thought about it. The answer is simple: people were in fact worshiping other [nonexistent] gods; polytheism was the norm in the cultures surrounding the ancient Israelites, so God addressed the issue in this fashion. It’s another way of saying, “Don’t worship any other gods.” We Christians talk in this way all the time. We might say, for example, “Joe has replaced God in his heart with the god of money [or fame, or hedonism, or power, or lust or any number of other idols]”. This is idolatry: putting anything else in place of the one true God; usurping His preeminence over all. This sort of thinking will be explained further as we go along.

The notion of God being “jealous” is clearly anthropopathism: a very poorly understood aspect of the Bible and God’s revelation of Himself (condescending to human understanding) that is virtually never understood by atheists (nor — unfortunately — by many undereducated Christians, for that matter). A search of that word yielded nothing whatsoever on his voluminous blog. He does, however briefly allude to the related concept of anthropomorphism in one post: put up just about a month ago (showing the potential of perhaps actually understanding it to some extent). In the same post, he opined: “The Bible evolved over time. In the early years, the Bible’s religion was polytheistic. Yahweh was similar to the Greek and Roman gods, . . .”

Jewish Henotheism

Let’s use the proper term for this, henotheism. Polytheists acknowledge many gods and worship many gods, while henotheists acknowledge many gods but worship only one. In this view, different gods ruled different territories just as kings did, and tribes owed allegiance to whichever god protected them.

This is asinine. Yes, non-observant Jews who went astray and didn’t follow the Mosaic Law may have done / believed this (as a species of idolatry), but the Bible (even the early — first five — books, or Torah) clearly doesn’t teach it. It teaches monotheism: one true God and no other gods, no matter how many people may worship them. I will elaborate upon this as we proceed.

The Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 is considered to be some of the oldest material in the Bible—dating to the mid-13th century BCE. We have several somewhat-inconsistent copies, the oldest being from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

When Elyon divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he established the borders of the nations according to the number of the sons of the gods. Yahweh’s portion was his people, [Israel] his allotted inheritance. (Deut. 32:8–9)

Here we see Elyon, the head of the divine pantheon, dividing humankind among his children, giving each his inheritance. The idea of a divine pantheon with a chief deity, his consort, and their children (the council of the gods) was widespread through the Ancient Near East.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are not the Bible, and so should not be discussed in a debate about same. The RSV version (which I shall use here when I cite Scripture), reads:

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. [9] For the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

Verse 9 refers to the notion of “God’s chosen people” (Ex 3:7, 10; 6:7; 7:4; Lev 26:12; 2 Sam 3:18; many more). Perhaps Bob has heard of that? Or is that not in the Bible, either? Now since Bob brought up Deuteronomy 32, and indeed, states himself that it issome of the oldest material in the Bible,” he might be interested in discovering another portion of it that decisively refutes his silly hypothesis of “early biblical polytheism”:

Deuteronomy 32:39 See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

That’s one God, folks: monotheism: right in what Bob concedes is a very old portion of Scripture. His case is virtually demolished already, but I have much more and am not nearly done! There is more in the same chapter:

Deuteronomy 32:17, 21 They sacrificed to demons which were no gods, . . . They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked me with their idols. . . . 

Huh?! This reinforces the point I made earlier. The Bible refers to other gods, but in the sense that they exist in other religious belief-systems: not because they exist in fact or reality. This verse proves this sort of understanding among the Jews, in (again) a very early passage and part of the Torah. Deuteronomy 28:64 refers to “other gods, of wood and stone” (cf. 28:36 and 4:28, which adds, “the work of men’s hands”). Obviously, the text is saying (along with the noted related ones) that this is all these supposed “gods” are: wood and stone. They have no conscious existence. It’s classic idolatry: that the Jews were judged for again and again throughout the period of the Old Testament.

The Bible consistently condemns other reputed gods as actually no gods at all (i.e., merely imaginary; pieces of wood and stone):

2 Kings 19:15-19 And Hezeki’ah prayed before the LORD, and said: “O LORD the God of Israel, who art enthroned above the cherubim, thou art the God, thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. [16] Incline thy ear, O LORD, and hear; open thy eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennach’erib, which he has sent to mock the living God. [17] Of a truth, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, [18] and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone; therefore they were destroyed. [19] So now, O LORD our God, save us, I beseech thee, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou, O LORD, art God alone.” (cf. Is 37:19; 45:20)

2 Chronicles 13:9 . . . Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods.

Jeremiah 2:11  Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? . . .

Jeremiah 5:7 . . . Your children have forsaken me, and have sworn by those who are no gods. . . . (cf. 10:14)

Jeremiah 16:20 Can man make for himself gods? Such are no gods! (cf. 51:17)

1 Corinthians 8:4-6 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” [5] For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — [6] yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Galatians 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods;

The Old Testament is full of clues pointing to multiple gods. Genesis is a good place to start.

Then [Elohim] said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

We also see plural gods when Jehovah warns them that man mustn’t eat the tree of life (Gen. 3:22) . . . 

[Genesis 3:22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever” –]

The nearly magisterial Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament states at Genesis 1:22:

No other explanation is left, therefore, than to regard it as pluralis majestatis , – an interpretation which comprehends in its deepest and most intensive form (God speaking of Himself and with Himself in the plural number, not reverentiae causa, but with reference to the fullness of the divine powers and essences which He possesses) . . .

Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics explains pluralis majestatis:

The term ‘majestic plural’ or pluralis majestatis refers to the use of a plural word to refer honorifically to a single person or entity. It is also called the ‘plural of respect’, the ‘honorific plural’, the ‘plural of excellence’, or the ‘plural of intensity’. In the Hebrew Bible such plural forms are most commonly used when referring to the God of Israel, e.g., אֲדוֹנִ֣ים אָנִי֩ ʾăḏōnīm ʾå̄nī ‘I am a master (lit. ‘masters’)’ (Mal. 1.6), although it can also be used when referring to a human, e.g., אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֲדֹנָ֑יו ʾaḇrå̄hå̄m ʾăḏōnå̄w ‘Abraham his master (lit. ‘masters’)’ . . . [Genesis 24]

Wikipedia, “Royal we (the English equivalent) further explains:

The royal we, or majestic plural (pluralis maiestatis), is the use of a plural pronoun (or corresponding plural-inflected verb forms) to refer to a single person who is a monarch. The more general word for the use of a weus, or our to refer to oneself is nosism. . . .

It is commonly employed by a person of high office, such as a monarch, earl, or pope. It is also used in certain formal contexts by bishops and university rectors. William Longchamp is credited with its introduction to England in the late 12th century, following the practice of the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs.

A Jewish article, “The Genesis Plurals,” by Paul Sumner, takes a different view: “Historically, most Jewish commentators have said the Creator is here speaking to the angels of the heavenly assembly, his divine court.” Either way, a reasonable non-polytheistic interpretation is possible and plausible.

Bob anticipates the angelic interpretation and replies as follows: “[W]hy imagine an angelic assembly when the polytheistic interpretation of Genesis simply growing out of preceding Canaanite culture is available and plausible?”

Well, it’s because that interpretation has already been blown out of the water by the arguments above. Deuteronomy 32: believed by Bob to besome of the oldest material in the Bible,” expressly renounces polytheism and asserts monotheism (32:17, 39; cf. 4:28; 28:36, 64). 

Psalms is another old book that has fossilized the earliest forms of Judaism. We see the assembly of the gods mentioned several times.

[Elohim] stands in the assembly of El; in the midst of the gods he renders judgment (Psalm 82:1). . . . 

And many more verses celebrate Jehovah while acknowledging the existence of others.

For [Jehovah] is the great God, and the great King above all gods (Ps. 95:3).

All the gods bow down before [Jehovah] (Ps. 97:7).

I know [Jehovah] is great, and our Lord is superior to all gods. (Ps. 135:5)

All of this has already been explained, too. It’s simply a manner of speaking (more poetic). The bottom line, in any event, is that there is but one true God, and other reputed “gods” “are no gods,” as we saw above: stated repeatedly in the Bible. The Psalms include this understanding as well (thus are neither polytheistic nor henotheistic, as Bob claims):

Psalm 40:4 . . . those who go astray after false gods!

Psalm 83:18 Let them know that thou alone, whose name is the LORD, art the Most High over all the earth.

Psalm 86:10 For thou art great and doest wondrous things, thou alone art God.

Psalm 89:6 For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,

Psalm 96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the LORD made the heavens. (cf. 97:7; 115:4; 135:15)

In a recent post, we’ve seen where the Bible documents how Yahweh lost a fight with the Moabite god Chemosh (2 Kings 3:27).

Nonsense. I have already refuted this “exegesis” in installment #12 of this series.

Deuteronomy [apparently excluding the Song of Moses / chapter 32 portion: according to Bob] was written after the conquest of Israel and before the conquest of Judah, in the 7th century BCE. The philosophy has now moved from henotheism to monolatry. Like henotheism, many gods are accepted and only one is worshipped, but now worship of other gods is forbidden.

Hogwash. The other “gods” of other cultures were never accepted — never allowed to be worshiped in the Mosaic law — and were renounced as nonexistent, as I’ve already shown from Deuteronomy 4:28 and 28:36, 64. Moreover, Exodus and Deuteronomy clearly teach an exclusive monotheism:

Exodus 8:10 . . . there is no one like the LORD our God. (cf. 1 Chr 17:20; 2 Chr 6:14)

Deuteronomy 4:35, 39 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. . . . [39] . . . the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (cf. Neh 9:6; 2 Sam 7:22; 1 Kgs 8:23; Is 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5-6, 14, 18, 21-22; 46:9; 47:8; Hos 13:4)

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD

Second Isaiah (the second part of Isaiah) was written later, near the end of the Babylonian exile. Here we find the transition to monotheism is complete.

Monotheism and the forbidding of worshiping other imaginary “gods” was already in place in the Torah, as shown above and below.

The very idea of an idol is ridiculed in Isaiah 44:9–20. Can a man cook his meal over a fire made from half of the tree he used to carve his idol and imagine that an idol from so unrefined an origin is really a god?

What explains this migration to monotheism? A major factor was the Babylonian exile. 

There was no “migration” because the mockery of false, nonexistent gods and material idols representing them was already present in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy:

Genesis 31:19 . . . Rachel stole her father’s household gods.

Genesis 35:2, 4 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; . . . [4] So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.

Exodus 20:23 You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.

Leviticus 19:4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 4:27-28 And the LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD will drive you. [28] And there you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of men’s hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. (cf. 29:17; 1 Chr 16:26; Is 2:8, 20; 31:7; 37:19; 44:10, 15, 17; 46:6; Jer 1:16)

The Babylonian exile (after 586 BC) took place after even Bob’s dating of Deuteronomy (7th c. BC). Therefore it can hardly have caused this supposed “migration” or evolution into true monotheism.

Checkmate. Game, match, set.

***

Photo credit: Duncan Hull (8-9-08): “Greek gods, take your pick” [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]

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September 11, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make, then, of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique?

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his article: “The Irrelevant Wisdom of the Ten Commandments” (3-9-12; rev. 2-14-14), Bob writes:

[C]hapter 34 has this savage claim, “[God] will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Ex. 34:7). And yet, three books later, we get this contradiction: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16).

I’ve heard this rationalized this way: Deut. 24 is talking about what man must do. Man needs to treat people fairly and punish only the wrongdoers. Ex. 34 is talking about what God will do. God has a long memory and will hold a grudge against you to punish your descendants. It’s odd that Christians would imagine that God does something that is clearly immoral in our eyes. Anyway, God figures it out later: “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

This passage and its erroneous interpretation are old chestnuts of anti-Christian polemics. But at least it is understandable that it would be a difficulty (at face value), because this is a somewhat complex concept to fully understand. Thus, this is a much more serious and worthy objection than the sheer nonsense I dealt with in my previous installment, about two supposed sets of Ten Commandments.

It so happens that I thoroughly dealt with this “problem” eight years ago, in my article, “God’s ‘Punishing’ of Descendants: Is it Unjust and Unfair?” The arguments there are involved and complex, so I urge readers interested in this topic to read the whole article. But I’ll highlight some of the major themes here (and add a few new things to “flesh out” the Christian argument even more).

Exodus 20:5-6 (RSV) you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, [6] but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (cf. identical passage Deut 5:9-10)

John W. Haley, in his book, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Springdale, Pennsylvania: Whitaker House, n.d.; possibly 1992, originally published in 1874, pp. 86-87), provides perhaps the best short summary of this theme that I’ve seen:

[W]e may say that Jehovah “visits” the iniquity of the fathers upon their children, in that he permits the latter to suffer in consequence of the sins of the former. He has established such laws of matter and mind that the sins of parents result in the physical and mental disease and suffering of their offspring. . . . “injustice” is no less chargeable upon the author of “the laws of nature” than upon the Author of the Bible.
*
Even if the above text conveys the idea not only of suffering, but also of punishment, yet the language, “unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,” indicates children who are sinful like their parents . . . Plainly children are intended to imitate and adopt the sinful habits and practices of their parents; hence, being morally, as well as physically, the representatives and heirs of their parents, they may be, in a certain sense, punished for the sins of those parents.
I think passages of this sort are (at least to some extent) of an anthropomorphic nature: they exaggerate God’s traits in a non-literal way in order to make Him more understandable to man. Another (I think, rather close) analogy would be the theme of “God hardening hearts”: which I have shown to be another way of saying that “God in His providence allowed Person X to harden his own heart.” All the relevant biblical texts along those lines, when considered as a whole, show this clearly. Bob made this argument and I refuted it in my earlier paper in this series: “Seidensticker Folly #3: Falsehoods About God & Free Will.”
*
As in that instance, the present one is a matter of precisely understanding the literary nature and intent of the “difficult” passages in conjunction with many other passages that clarify it as “not nearly as bad as it sounds at first.” Even Bob — albeit in his usual sneering way –, in a sense acknowledges that other passages “balance” the “hard sayings.”
*
He sees it, of course, as absurd contradiction (one motif is wicked and evil, the other good); we see it as the key to understanding the whole thing: the more obscure passages are explained and interpreted by many more clearer ones. Bob always looks for contradictions and absurdities in the Bible, and so (surprise!) he “finds” them. We assume (in our Christian belief in inspiration of Scripture, as God’s revelation) that passages can ultimately be harmonized, and so we usually conclude that this is in fact the case in particulars.
*
In my paper on this issue, I listed (in their entirety) twenty Bible passages that clearly teach that every man is judged for his own sin, not that of another. For example:

2 Kings 14:6 But he did not put to death the children of the murderers; according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses, where the LORD commanded, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, or the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall die for his own sin.” (cf. parallel passage 2 Chron 25:4)

Jeremiah 31:30 But every one shall die for his own sin . . .

2 Maccabees 7:32 For we are suffering because of our own sins.

1 Peter 1:17 . . . who judges each one impartially according to his deeds . . .

Moreover, by consulting all related passages, we find at least three in which both concepts are present together (inter-generational punishment and individual accountability):

Exodus 34:6-7 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Numbers 14:17-20 And now, I pray thee, let the power of the LORD be great as thou hast promised, saying, [18]`The LORD is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.’ [19] Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray thee, according to the greatness of thy steadfast love, and according as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” [20] Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word;

Jeremiah 32:17-19 `Ah Lord GOD! It is thou who hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for thee, [18] who showest steadfast love to thousands, but dost requite the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God whose name is the LORD of hosts, [19] great in counsel and mighty in deed; whose eyes are open to all the ways of men, rewarding every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings; (cf. 31:30 above)

This suggests that such punishment “to the third and fourth generations” applies only to children who deliberately choose to follow the sinful ways of their parents, and is not stated in any absolute sense that would preclude individual pardon. Thus, the two strains are not ultimately contradictory, once one understands the sense of the passages. These three passages provide the interpretive key within themselves: God forgives repentant sinners, but punishes the individually guilty. Note that Exodus 34:6 provides a counter-balance of mercy to Exodus 34:7. Bob cites 34:7 while ignoring 34:6.

If we are to make much of God talking about punishment over three or four generations (setting aside how to interpret that, for a moment), then we ought to also notice three passages that strikingly highlight God’s extraordinary mercy:

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

1 Chronicles 16:15 He is mindful of his covenant for ever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, (cf. identical Ps 105:8)

So the “good stuff” and the mercy is described as lasting for a thousand generations, and the “bad stuff” for only four. That’s 250 times longer for the good things, compared to the bad. The merciful motif is much more prominent (even in the Old Testament) than the judgmental / wrathful God motif. But if one read only atheists blasting God and the Old Testament, they would get the distinct impression that it is the other way around.

For much more on this issue, see the superb article, “Generational Curses: Biblical Answers to Questions Raised by the phrase ‘visit the inquities to the third and fourth generation’ “ (Bob DeWaay, Jan/Feb. 2002). That wonderful examination is an example of serious Bible study and exegesis. By strong contrast, Bob (like so many atheists) merely “toys with” the Bible in a superficial, non-serious, fallacious way.

He doesn’t get it, and he obviously refuses to be corrected (as he claimed in his words that I cite at the top). We’re now up to 16 papers of this series, and we have not heard one peep back from Bob.

***

Photo credit: God the Father, by Guercino (1591-1666) [public domain / Wikipedia]

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September 10, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make, then, of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique?

Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

This is one of the most bizarre and desperate of a long string of vapid anti-Christian arguments from Bob that I’ve critiqued. He opines in his post, “Atheist Monument Critique: Ten Commandments and Ten Punishments” (9-18-13; rev. 1-26-17):

The other Ten Commandments

. . . Let’s review the story. Moses gets the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20, but the anxious Israelites make a golden calf during his long absence. When Moses sees this, he’s furious and smashes the tablets of the law. He gets a new set in Exodus 34. At the conclusion of this list, we read:

And [Moses] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28).

This is the first time the phrase “Ten Commandments” is used in the Bible, and this version of the law was placed in the Ark of the Covenant. It couldn’t be the other set, since it was destroyed. But this law bears only a vague similarity to the set popularly portrayed as the Ten Commandments: make no covenants with the Canaanites (#1), God gets all firstborn (#5), never boil a young goat in its mother’s milk (#10). Read them yourself.

He links in his last three words to another article: “The Irrelevant Wisdom of the Ten Commandments” (3-9-12; rev. 2-14-14), where he pontificates in elaboration:

Moses goes up Sinai a second time in Exodus 34. God says, “I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered,” so we know that this nothing new, just a replacement set of commandments. But the contents are very different:

  1. Make no covenant with the Canaanite tribes
  2. Destroy their altars
  3. Make no idols (“molten gods”)
  4. Observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread
  5. “The first offspring from every womb belongs to me”
  6. Rest on the seventh day
  7. Celebrate the Feast of Weeks
  8. No leavened bread during Passover
  9. Bring the first fruits of the soil to the Lord
  10. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk”

*

The chapter ends with these words: “And [Moses] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” This is the first time this label is used in the Bible.

You want to display the Ten Commandments in public? Go for it, but put up this list. It’s the official list, after all. These are the ten that wound up in the Ark of the Covenant.

Contrast this with the story of the first tablets, which concludes at the end of chapter 31, “[God] gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.” There is no mention of a “ten commandments,” and these stone tablets presumably contain all of the rules given in chapters 20 through 31.

False conclusions always flow from false premises somewhere along the line. The key fallacies that lead Bob on to his misguided and false conclusion are two:

1) Being overly concerned with what the two tablets written by the hand of God are called: i.e., “ten commandments”: which title first appears in Exodus 34:28.

2) Equating various instructions given by God to Moses with the second set of tablets.

I shall now explain these factors in detail. Bob himself gives us all the answers we need to refute his own claim (if we look close enough). Bob refers in the above excepts (including Bible quotes) to “tablets” or “two tablets” or “tablets of stone” no less than nine times. Thus, it is beyond dispute that this is what were talking about.

Now, it’s quite true that they are first referred to as “ten commandments” in Exodus 34:28 (and again, in Deut 4:13 and 10:4), but it doesn’t logically follow that the later use of that title, in referring to the tablets, means that something other than these tablets is being referred to. Nor does it prove that the tablets may not have been referred to earlier by that title.

All it proves is that this is the first time in the Bible that the name, “ten commandments” is applied to the stone tablets (and recorded). It’s easy to show that the application is to the aforementioned tablets (of which there were two sets, with the same content).

In summary, simply appealing to the use of the description / title “ten commandments” in Exodus 34:28, which occurred only after the second set was written by God, proves nothing in and of itself. It’s the biblical use of “tablets” that identifies what we are talking about.

Bob doesn’t say what Bible version he is citing. RSV, which is my first choice, uses the word, tables for tablets.  The words, tables or tables of stone or tables of the testimony or tables of the covenant are used 31 times in Exodus and Deuteronomy: all referring to these two rock plates: upon which were written what was eventually to be known as the Ten Commandments.

But Bob’s weak argument claims that the first set of Ten Commandments wasn’t actually that because there was “no mention of a ‘ten commandments’,” while the second replacement set was indeed the Ten Commandments andthe official list” because, well, “This is the first time this label is used in the Bible” and because these were “the ten that wound up in the Ark of the Covenant.”

That argument is frivolous and can be dismissed without further comment. The claim that the content is different in the second set of tablets is at least more interesting and slightly stronger. But he refutes it himself by conceding that the second set was the same as the first set, and “nothing new” (“God says, “I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered,” so we know that this nothing new, just a replacement set of commandments.”) One would think that would settle it, but Bob immediately contradicts it in his next sentence: “But the contents are very different.” 

Huh??!! How can the same “words that were on the former tablets” be on the second set of tablets, yet with different “contents”? Only Bob can explain such a logical absurdity that he sets forth for his readers How does Bob come up with this supposedly different content in the second set of Ten Commandments? He does so by confusing other laws and ordinances that God gave to Moses, with the Ten Commandments themselves.

The Bible states that the Ten Commandments were written by God Himself (first set: Ex 31:18; 32:16; Deut 9:10 / second set: 34:1, 28; Deut 10:1-4). Moses also wrote down various other laws given to him by God (Ex 24:4). These many other laws take up many chapters in both Exodus and Deuteronomy, and Bob refers to them (“rules given in chapters 20 through 31″). But his argument becomes ridiculous again by claiming that “these stone tablets presumably contain all of the rules given in chapters 20 through 31.”

This is contradicted by the inconvenient fact — noted right in the middle of all these enumerated laws in chapters 20-31 –, that “Moses wrote all the words of the LORD” (Ex 24:4). Two stone tablets (able to be held in Moses’ hands) could not possibly contain all the text of chapters 20-31. That is patently absurd. Yet here is Bob stating it. 

God plainly states in Exodus 34:1: “Cut two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which you broke.” The contents are exactly the same. Yet Bob claims that the Bible supposedly teaches that the first set of tablets contained all of Exodus 20-31: which add up to about 9900 words (minus portions of those chapters that are not just laws): all written on two tablets that Moses could carry in his hands. It’s ridiculous to call a supposed written record of almost 10,000 words “The Ten Commandments” in the first place. 

Bob arbitrarily argues that the second tablets contain much of what we see in Exodus 34, because “ten commandments” is first used there in verse 28. He agrees that the first set were written by God, but he mistakenly thinks that the second two tablets were written by Moses, based on an erroneous reading of that same verse, that uses “he” referring to God, not Moses.

Exodus 34:1 (that was quoted by Bob) stated clearly that God wrote the words on the second set, just as He had with the first. Deuteronomy 10:1-4 reiterates this. Yet Bob interprets Exodus 34:28 as Moses writing on the tablets. Lousy exegesis again; these are silly, elementary mistakes. 

The text never identifies the laws in Exodus 34 as the “ten commandments” themselves. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, as recorded in Exodus 20, there were a lot of other laws that Moses wrote down, given to him at the same time. God wrote the Ten Commandments down. It’s the same in Exodus 34: many other laws are also mentioned. It doesn’t follow that they are the Ten Commandments. They are more laws, similar to the ones referred to by Bob as “rules given in chapters 20 through 31.”

Bob tries to come up with ten “alt-laws,” so as to have a supposed “new set” (indeed, the official list”: so says Bob) that was — we are told — different from the first. But his ten are completely arbitrary. If he’s gonna play the game of making Exodus 34 a new set, he has to record all of the laws mentioned, which are clearly more than ten. He can’t pick and choose (with a blindfold on). And this becomes another fatal flaw in his already very weak case. Here are the laws mentioned that his list of ten somehow overlooked:

34:22 And you shall observe the feast of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end. 

Bob included only the feast of weeks, but the feast of ingathering (or tabernacles or booths) is a separate feast (see 23:16; Lev 23:34, 42; Deut 16:13, 16; 31:10, etc.). So that is Ten Commandment #11.

34:23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. 

Hey, it’s another command or law, ain’t it? Why did Bob pass it over, I wonder? It’s Ten Commandment #12.

34:25 . . . neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left until the morning.

Here Bob (oddly) makes the first part of the verse one of the (alt-) Ten Commandments, but not the second part. I wonder: what is his criterion for inclusion? It’s all the more odd and arbitrary because the very next verse also has two parts: both of which he considers part of the New Ten. Go figure. So now we’re up to Ten Commandment #13.

34:14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 

It’s ultra-odd that Bob decided to pass over this command, while retaining the one about idols, seeing that the real Ten Commandments mentions both things: prohibition of other gods (20:3) and of idolatry (20:4-5). Now we have Ten Commandment #14.

I think, by this point, his case collapse of its own weight. It’s a house of cards. This casts no doubt on the biblical text or time-honored understanding of the Ten Commandments at all, but it casts considerable doubt on Bob’s logical acumen and any alleged shred of fairness on his part towards the Bible and Judaism and Christianity.

***

Photo credit: Moses and the Ten Commandments (portion), by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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September 10, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique, then? Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

Bob wrote in his piece, “Contradictions in the Resurrection Account” (4-9-12; rev. 3-22-13):

How many days did Jesus teach after his resurrection? Most Christians know that “He appeared to them over a period of forty days” (Acts 1:3). But the supposed author of that book wrote elsewhere that he ascended into heaven the same day as the resurrection (Luke 24:51).

The post-Resurrection account of Luke 24 (RSV) refers to it being “the first day of the week” (Sunday) after the crucifixion. Then 24:13 says that Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus occurred on “that very day.” The account of this story in Luke appears to unfold in an unbroken narrative, all in one day: ending as follows:

Luke 24:50-53 (RSV) Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. [51] While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. [52] And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, [53] and were continually in the temple blessing God.

First of all, it’s important to note that even ultra-skeptical Bob assumes that Luke was the author of both books (“wrote elsewhere”: i.e., in the Gospel of Luke). Thus, according to him, Luke (or whoever the joint author was, in the skeptical mindset) blatantly contradicted himself in two different accounts of the same thing.

He would have us believe that Luke couldn’t figure out whether Jesus ascended on the same day as His Resurrection, or 40 days later (thus ludicrously asserted both). The Christian replies that Luke wrote the ending of his Gospel, knowing that the Book of Acts would be “Part II”: in which he would give a fuller account of Jesus’ Ascension.

Two clues in the Gospel account suggest that this is not a single day: if one looks closely enough at it. For one thing, if it were supposedly on the same day, Jesus’ Ascension would have been during the nighttime, since 24:29 has the disciples saying, “it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” This would blatantly contradict Luke’s further details in Acts:

Acts 1:9 And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

The second clue is 24:53: “and were continually in the temple blessing God.” If we interpret the entire passage as occurring in unbroken chronology, then this would be right after their return to Jerusalem. But it doesn’t sound like the description of one day. It only makes sense interpreted as a description of their worship practices over a period of time (“continually”).

I would never say, for example, “I returned from my visit to the lake with great joy and was continually in the gym playing basketball.” That clearly doesn’t read as just one night of basketball in the gym, but rather, as many times, over many days. We observe a parallel verse in Acts that makes this interpretation all the more plain:

Acts 2:46-47 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. . . . [“continually” = “day by day” / “blessing God” = “praising God”]

I submit that these factors already give strong indication that the account in Luke wasn’t ever intended to imply a one-day occurrence for all the events recorded (i.e., it was always intended to harmonize with Acts 1). But there is also a literary factor that I think decisively refutes the skeptical “contradictory” interpretation.

Luke uses a literary technique that I will further discuss below, called “compression” (or, sometimes, “telescoping”). Catholic apologist Steven O’Keefe explains, and provides an example:

Luke takes a couple related events which have a large gap between them.

Wanting to save space, Luke omits everything between those two events. . . .

Taken at face value, Luke says Paul escaped Damascus and went directly to Jerusalem:

“Their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. || And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” – Acts 9:24-26

However, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he recounts those same events.  There we learn that after Paul escaped Damascus he actually wandered in Arabia for a while.  Then he returned to Damascus for three years before finally traveling to Jerusalem.  It reads:

“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone | nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.  Then after three years | I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.” – Galatians 1:15-18

Again, if you just read the text of Acts 9:25-26, you’d never know there was at least 3 years between those two verses.

Lucian of Samosata (c. 125 AD – after 180 AD) the Syrian rhetorician, in his treatise, How to Write History, stated:

Rapidity is always useful, especially if there is a lot of material. It is secured not so much by words and phrases as by the treatment of the subject. That is, you should pass quickly over the trivial and unnecessary, and develop the significant points at adequate length. Much must be omitted. [secondary source: Glenn Miller]

In his book, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP: 2nd edition, 2007, p. 216), Craig Blomberg took note of this and applied it to the Bible:

Perhaps the most perplexing differences between parallels occur when one Gospel writer has condensed the account of an event that took place in two or more stages into one concise paragraph that seems to describe the action taking place all at once. Yet this type of literary abridgment was quite common among ancient writers (cf. Lucian, How to Write History 56), so once again it is unfair to judge them by modern standards of precision that no-one in antiquity required. The two most noteworthy examples of this process among the Gospel parallels emerge in the stories of Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter and cursing the fig tree.

F. Gerald Downing, in his volume, Doing Things with Words in the First Christian Century (Sheffield: 2000, pp. 121-122) observed that the Jewish historian Josephus (37-c. 100 AD) used the same technique:

Josephus is in fact noticeably concerned to ‘improve’ the flow of his narrative, either by removing all sorts of items that might seem to interrupt it, or else by reordering them. . . . Lucian, in the next century, would seem to indicate much the same attitude to avoidable interruptions, digressions, in a historical narrative, however vivid and interesting in themselves.

Protestant apologist Glenn Miller, in his superb and characteristically thorough article, Contradictions in the Infancy stories?,” states: “this condensation, omission, and telescoping is pervasive in all of biblical literature. . . . this kind of literary style/device is everywhere in the NT narratives.” He then provides many examples (search the above quote to get to them, and see further examples in a separate article by former atheist Steve Diseb).

Michael R. Licona, Baptist New Testament scholar and professor of theology, specializes in the literary analysis of the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies. I shall now cite his article (part of a larger debate), “Licona Responds to Ehrman on New Testament Reliability”:

Compression was a compositional device employed on a regular basis by historians in Jesus’s day. I provide several examples of compression and other compositional devices in my book scheduled for publication this fall, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? (Oxford University Press, 2016).

[Dave: In Licona’s book — mentioned above — on pages 71-72, he noted that Plutarch also utilized compression in his book, Antony and that his work, Pompey omits details on the same events that are included in his Antony and Caesar]

. . . a very large majority of the differences in the Gospels are best explained in view of the compositional devices employed in the writing of ancient historical/biographical literature; those prescribed in the extant compositional textbooks written by Theon, Hermogenes, Quintilian, Aphthonius, and others, and those we can infer from observing patterns in how the same author using the same sources reports the same story writing around the same time but does so with differences.  . . .

Bart points out that the resurrection narratives in Matthew and John have Jesus appearing to them over a period of days if not weeks, while Luke’s narrative has Jesus rise from the dead, appear to all of the others, then ascend to heaven, all on the same day. Bart also observes that Luke contradicts himself at his ascension scene in Acts 1:3 by saying Jesus was with his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection and prior to his ascension. But this is also quite easily explained in view of the standard compositional devices of that day. Luke has obviously compressed his resurrection narrative. For in Acts 1:3 he knows Jesus had [stayed] with them for a longer period.

Why did he do so? Perhaps he was running out of space to write on his scroll. Luke’s Gospel is the longest of the four. Perhaps he compressed his account to move the story along more rapidly for effect. Perhaps it was to place an emphasis on Jerusalem where the church leadership resided and from where the church would spread. One can only guess. We may not be able to know why Luke compressed his narrative. But it is quite obvious he has compressed it.

Since compression was a common compositional device and is easily identified, are we really to regard Luke as an unreliable source and doubt the historicity of an event because he compressed his description of an event? Bart chooses to do so. But I am under no obligation to follow him on the matter. And those who do are required to take the same approach with virtually all ancient historical literature, at least if they are interested in being consistent. And in so doing, they deprive the term “historically reliable” of any practical meaning. [some paragraph breaks added]

Scot McKnight did a review of sorts of Licona’s book, on his blog at Patheos (which also hosts my own blog). He observed:

Plutarch’s Lives are written as rough contemporaries of the Gospels and they are both “lives” (biographies, bioi) and hence seeing how one operates (Plutarch) may provide categories for understanding how the Evangelists were operating. The only assumption here would be that the conventions for biographical writing would be similar. Licona is accurate in this assumption/conclusion.

I want to make it very clear what I am arguing and am not contending. My friend, Dr. Lydia McGrew, who has done intensive study on these sorts of textual disputes, and has written the book, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (2017), made the following helpful comments on my Facebook page, that I completely agree with (edited a bit to make them more coherent for my present purposes):

One should oppose alteration of the facts in such a way that the narrative invisibly appears to be saying something that would, in fact, be false, but that the authors were permitted “by literary conventions” to do on a pretty broad scale. The Evangelists did not invent out of whole cloth the non-overlapping portions of their narratives.

The word “compression” is ambiguous and is one that gets used in two very different ways. Luke wrote quickly and briefly, but he did not deliberately “make” all the events take place on Easter.

The question is whether the author is to be understood as deliberately placing the action into a shorter period or merely writing in a way that could be taken to mean that the action took a shorter time period than it did. This is an absolutely crucial distinction. The former means that the author deliberately attempted to create an appearance contrary to fact: a “fictionalizing literary device.” Even Lucian doesn’t advocate doing that.

Luke [in Luke 24] didn’t “put” all of the events on Easter Day. In other words, it is not the case that Luke knew that they took longer but nevertheless attempted to make it look like they all occurred on Easter Day. There is no reason to think that “in the story” as Luke writes it, the events all occurred on Easter Day.

We have no evidence that it was “allowed at the time” or that the Gospel authors would have “considered themselves allowed” to compress in the fictionalizing sense as opposed to the shortened narration sense.

One can give an abridged / CliffsNotes version of a story and a longer one, without inventing anything or fudging facts. That’s what I believe Luke did. One could compare, for example, the many short and long versions of my conversion story to Catholicism. An atheist could “find” a host of “contradictions” in those.

I think this “literary” understanding and explanation quite sufficiently refute the charge of “contradiction.” Its not so much that Bob Seidensticker has done no study of the texts. He goes out and grabs however many standard atheist charges of alleged “biblical contradictions” suit his purpose. Many of these have circulated for centuries, and have long been refuted by Christians. The problem is that he has not studied deeply enough. He appears to have no awareness that Christians have explained the current problem in the manner seen above. I did a search of his voluminous site for “compression” and “telescoping” (in the literary sense). They turned up nothing whatsoever. Bob is blithely unaware of both.

The latter shortcoming is extremely common in atheist “exegesis” (so-called), and in my opinion it is because of the extreme bias. The atheist has no interest in truly understanding biblical texts or in resolving the problems of seemingly clashing texts. It’s too much fun to throw them in Christians’ faces. They usually approach the Bible, as I’ve said for years, like a butcher approaches a hog.

Unless and until the Bible is understood as a sophisticated text, that can be analyzed just like any ancient text (and given the same respect, apart from any religious adherence), atheists will continue to make lousy arguments (largely from mere prima facie appearance), and will end up looking foolish and unprepared and over their heads, as Bob does yet again.

So far it is fourteen critiques of his arguments and absolutely no response from him (despite his confident challenge recorded in my Intro.). Does anyone know if Bob is still alive? If he has departed this mortal coil that might explain his non-answer. But I have a hunch that he is still kicking, up in the hills — like an atheist Elijah — in a secret cave. I’m here waitin’: should he decide to ever venture back into serious, open, and civil discourse with a Christian apologist opponent.

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Photo credit: Ascension of Christ (c. 1894), by Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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September 3, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox: “If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath. On 8-24-18 Bob wrote (after having virtually begged to dialogue with me back in May) that my alleged “disinterest in the truth reflects poorly” on me. What are we to make of his utter “disinterest” in defending his opinions against serious critique, then? Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

Bob states in his post, “10 Tough Questions for the Atheist to Answer” (11-18-13; rep. 4-22-17):

1. How Did the Universe Come Into Being?

Our universe had a beginning, but what caused it? Why is there something instead of nothing?

I don’t know what caused the universe. I don’t even know if asking about a cause (which implies an action through time) even makes sense before time existed. (And I say “I don’t know” simply because I’m parroting the consensus view of physics. If that changes, so will my opinion.)

But there’s nothing embarrassing about pointing out where we don’t know things. Science has plenty of unanswered questions, and highlighting them shows where work needs to be done. It’s not like we’ve ever learned anything new about nature through holy books or divine revelation.

That science doesn’t know something doesn’t mean that Christians do. They still must deliver evidence for the claim “God did it.” Believing by faith won’t do.

I commend him for being honest. I recently asked two other atheists (Anthrotheist and Grimlock) the same thing, and they were both honest enough to give the same answer: “I don’t know.” It’s good to know the limit of our knowledge and to not try to hide it. Many people have a hard time doing that. I’ve never understood why. Anyone who thinks at all ought to quickly recognize how much they don’t know. And it ought to cause us to be less triumphant about lack of comprehensive knowledge in opposing views.

Bob’s answer supports, I think, an argument I have used for years: “the Christian point of view regarding the beginning of the universe is every bit as plausible, and requires no more faith [defined as “acceptance of unproven axioms”] than the atheist view.” To illustrate that, I shall closely follow Bob’s words (with a few necessary changes) and put them into the mouth of a Christian, to show that the two scenarios both involve faith and lack of in-depth explanations:

1. How Did the Universe Come Into Being?

Our universe had a beginning, but what caused it? Why is there something instead of nothing?

God. I don’t understand how He could exist for eternity (never not exist). I don’t even know if asking about a “cause” for God even makes sense. And I say “I don’t know” because it is the consensus view of theology and [theistic] philosophy. If that changes, so will my opinion.

But there’s nothing embarrassing about pointing out where we don’t know things. Theology and the Bible present or deal with plenty of unanswered questions, and highlighting them shows where work needs to be done. It’s not like we’ve never learned anything new about God through holy books or divine revelation.

That theology doesn’t know something doesn’t mean that atheists and scientists do. They still must deliver evidence for the claim “chance /  matter did it” (rather than God, or a “guiding God” as it were). Merely believing for no good reason — without hard scientific evidence won’t do.

Note also that quantum events may not have causes, and the Big Bang was a quantum event. There’s no reason to demand a Big Banger, some supernatural First Cause.

Note also that Christian theology holds that God Himself is not caused, but that the Big Bang [posited through scientific observation, by a Catholic priest] was caused by Him. There’s just as much reason to rationally believe in a Big Banger as supernatural First Cause, as there is to believe that something came from nothing, and was caused by who knows what? The latter is an appeal to ignorance; the former, to rationally solid theology backed up by much serious philosophy.

The Christian might imagine frustrated atheists lamenting how the appearance of deliberate fine tuning makes a deity unavoidable and then hitting on the crazy idea of bazillions of universes so that by sheer luck at least one of them will be tuned to allow life. But that’s not how it happened. A multiverse is predicted by well-established physics—both string theory and inflation.

Note also that events and objects aren’t unique in physics. There’s more than one photon, more than one electron, more than one star, more than one object influenced by gravity, and so on. Why must we be limited to one Big Bang?

Well, let’s get away from computer technicians like Bob for a moment and hear from one of the originators of the multiverse and “cyclic theory” notions: theoretical physicist Paul Steinhardt, who is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science and Director of the Center for Theoretical Science at Princeton University:

[M]y concerns really grew when I discovered that, due to quantum fluctuation effects, inflation is generically eternal and (as others soon emphasized) this would lead to a multiverse. Inflation was introduced to produce a universe that looks smooth and flat everywhere and that has features everywhere that agree with what we observe. Instead, it turns out that, due to quantum effects, inflation produces a multitude of patches (universes) that span every physically conceivable outcome (flat and curved, smooth and not smooth, isotropic and not isotropic, scale-invariant spectra and not, etc.). Our observable universe would be just one possibility out of a continuous spectrum of outcomes. So, we have not explained any feature of the universe by introducing inflation after all. We have just shifted the problem of the original big bang model (how can we explain our simple universe when there is a nearly infinite variety of possibilities that could emerge from the big bang?) to the inflationary model (how can we explain our simple universe when there is a nearly infinite variety of possibilities could emerge in a multiverse?). . . .

To me, the accidental universe idea is scientifically meaningless because it explains nothing and predicts nothing. Also, it misses the most salient fact we have learned about large-scale structure of the universe: its extraordinary simplicity when averaged over large scales. In order to explain the one simple universe we can see, the inflationary multiverse and accidental universe hypotheses posit an infinite variety of universes with arbitrary amounts of complexity that we cannot see. Variations on the accidental universe, such as those employing the anthropic principle, do nothing to help the situation.

Scientific ideas should be simple, explanatory, predictive. The inflationary multiverse as currently understood appears to have none of those properties.

These concerns and more, and the fact that we have made no progress in 30 years in addressing them, are what have made me skeptical about the inflationary picture. . . .

Imagine a scientific theory that was designed to explain and predict but ends up allowing literally any conceivable possibility without any rule about what is more likely. What good is it? It rules out nothing and can never be put to a real test. . . .

My concern was that the multiverse is a ‘theory of anything’, a proposal that allows all possible cosmological outcomes (smooth or not smooth, curved or flat, etc.) and, consequently, is not subject to empirical tests. Some claim that superstring theory allows exponentially many (or perhaps infinitely many) possibilities for the fundamental laws (masses of particles, types of forces, etc.) and that there is no guiding principle to determine which set of physical laws is more probable. . . .

[Q: Are you religious? Can you be a physicist and also believe in God?]

I never answer the first question because I consider religion to be a private matter. My scientific views stand on their own and I would like them to be evaluated independent of my private views about religion. In answer to your second question, it is a demonstrated fact that successful physicists can believe in God. (“Physicist Slams Cosmic Theory He Helped Conceive,” John Horgan [interviewer], Scientific American, 12-1-14)

And how designed does the universe look? The vast majority of the universe is hostile to any kind of life that we’re familiar with. Does creating hundreds of billions of galaxies sound like what a cosmic designer would do if life on a single lonely planet was the goal?

Yeah, why not? We sit here on earth and speculate as to what God (if He exists) should or shouldn’t do, but we have no basis or frame of reference in which to make such judgments. If God wanted to make the universe exactly as we observe it (not yet having discovered life anywhere else), who are we to say that it “doesn’t make sense”? It’s simply arrogant and self-importance exaggerated to the billionth degree.

The mere proposition of “billions of galaxies and planets but just one with life” is no more implausible (assuming a Creator God Who willed it) than the evolutionary “billions of genetic mutations but just one that will bring about a new adaptation or anatomical structure.” If we believe (if we are materialists) that, essentially, blind chance can bring about the constructive mutation, then why can’t we believe that an Intelligent Designer may operate in the same way as regards the entire universe (i.e., one small exception in an exponentially, almost incomprehensibly larger sea of non-exceptions)? One is no less plausible than the other.

The theist and the Christian look at the universe, with the only known life in it being life on earth, including ourselves, and say, “Look how special and unique we are on earth: especially human beings! That suggests a Creator God.” The atheist looks at it and concludes, “it makes no  sense for a supposed God to allow life on just one planet and in one galaxy among billions.” It’s all in one’s perspective.

But I don’t see that Bob’s complaint / speculation here is immediately apparent — let alone compelling — at all. It carries no inherent logical or plausible force, and is based on nothing but his own empty (and biased atheist) speculation that this isn’t the way it “should” be. Where does he get the notion of “should” in the first place? That is the relevant question.

The origin of life is called abiogenesis. Though science has lots of ideas, it doesn’t have a good theory. Nevertheless, science not having an answer gives nothing to the Christian side of the question.

That’s correct. But by the same token, if science is ignorant and has no explanation, we are as epistemologically justified to simply believe that God was the causal agent of life coming into existence, and that it is yet another example of science offering no plausible — purely natural — explanations of the origins of things (the universe and life and consciousness) because matter alone is woefully insufficient to understand or explain any of those things. Assuming the Christian / theistic hypothesis for the sake of argument, the state of current scientific [non-]knowledge is perfectly in accord with what we would expect.

Even if science at length does give us a good explanation of a naturalistic origin of life, this would no more disprove God than the Big Bang does, or evolutionary development of life forms does. You can’t disprove a spirit by means of theories of matter and physics. The sooner materialist scientists get this obvious fact, the better off (and far less frustrated) they and all of us will be. Far better to hold Dr. Steinhardt’s view (“it is a demonstrated fact that successful physicists can believe in God”).

Their argument then becomes “Science has unanswered questions; therefore God.”

This (the old and tired “god of the gaps” canard) is not what I have argued above, or have ever argued, in my now 37 years of doing Christian apologetics. My argument is, rather: “our theological speculation, held in faith, but backed by reason and centuries of theistic philosophy, is at least as plausible and intellectually respectable to hold as the freely admitted non-answers in certain areas of science.”

The materialist-type atheist can always (I suppose) stomp his feet and angrily proclaim, “there is no such thing as spirit! Everything is material!” But of course that is merely what we call “blind faith” or irrational dogmatism” and no rational argument at all. We prefer a reasonable faith to irrational dogmatism and scientism (science ludicrously elevated to a virtual religion and exclusive means of knowledge).

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Related reading:

My Atheism web page

My Science & Philosophy web page

My book about science: Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies? [as low as $2.99 as an e-book]

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Photo credit: Cygnus Loop nebula: NASA (3-22-12). Wispy tendrils of hot dust and gas glow brightly in this ultraviolet image, taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer. The nebula lies about 1,500 light-years away, and is a supernova remnant, left over from a massive stellar explosion that occurred between 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. The Cygnus Loop extends over three times the size of the full moon in the night sky, and is tucked next to one of the “swan’s wings” in the constellation of Cygnus. The filaments of gas and dust visible here in ultraviolet light were heated by the shockwave from the supernova, which is still spreading outward from the original explosion. The original supernova would have been bright enough to be seen clearly from Earth with the naked eye. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 29, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply.

It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

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Bob, in the midst ofone of his typical (rather ludicrous) “throw out ten one-liners at once to give an illusion of strength” bloviations, exclaimed: “Why doesn’t God make his existence obvious to everyone?” He linked in that sentence to his article, “The Most Powerful Argument Against Christianity” (8-10-16).  There he notes (rather comically, from where I sit) some of the things that Christians contend are instances of God revealing Himself to mankind:

God did appear to people, . . . as smoke and fire to the Israelites during the Exodus. Jesus did miracles, he healed people, he multiplied food, he controlled nature, and he raised the dead. And consider the apostles . . . witnessing the miracles of Jesus . . . Paul’s Damascus road experience . . . 

He breezily dismisses all of this with a line: “how about some of that evidence for us today?” That’s standard atheist argumentation: we can’t trust anything in the past; above all, anything that purports to be miraculous, because David Hume (who was a deist and not an atheist) “proved” in the 18th century that no miracles can ever occur (a universal negative), etc., and anything that relies primarily or solely on the report of those lying, deceitful Christians! Bob goes on to claim:

[N]onresistant unbelief exists. This is unbelief by honest seekers who are eager to know God but reject God’s existence for lack of evidence. Assuming that God desires to have a relationship with us, merely knowing that the other person exists is the mandatory first step in a relationship. God’s existence should be obvious to these seekers and yet it isn’t. This is easily explained by concluding that God doesn’t exist. . . . 

[It’s] probably right that not everyone would believe if God made his existence plain, but that’s a helluva lot more evidence than we have now. Maybe not everybody, but surely millions or even billions more would be convinced and believe if God made his existence clear. 

At this point we’re dying of curiosity to know what Bob — in his infinite wisdom — thinks would do the trick. He tells us:

Let’s make clear what compelling evidence for God would look like. This wouldn’t simply be the clouds parting one day just as you wondered if God existed. It wouldn’t be unexpectedly coming across a photo of a beloved relative who had died. I’m talking about something really compelling—something like everyone in the world having the same dream the same night in which God simply and clearly summarizes his plan. Could that be dismissed as alien technology or mind-control drugs rather than God? Perhaps, but this evidence would be vastly more compelling than the feeble arguments apologists are saddled with today.

Really? This is rather weak. He opts for the “early Bob Dylan method” of determining God’s existence. I refer to Talkin’ World War III Blues (1963), which includes the wonderful line:  “I’ll letcha be in my dream if I can be in yers.”

It surprises me quite a bit that he would propose such a subjective, flimsy scenario of God proving Himself. Usually, atheists — pressed to say what would suffice — will suggest something fantastic like “John 3:16 written in the stars.” Now that would be a rather spectacular confirmation (I agree). But Bob will settle for a universal dream.

This is fascinating, because he, like most atheists I have ever met, continually squawks about empirical evidence being necessary in order for God’s existence to be made manifest. But a universal dream is not empirical at all (at least not in the sense of being observable, replicable, etc.; i.e., standard scientific method). Materialist atheists would say it is empirical because the dream came from brain waves and processes, etc. (but that’s a long discussion itself).

This sort of thing could and would be shot down by skeptics and atheists and agnostics in the same way that Jesus’ Resurrection has been shot down by atheists (the mass hallucination theory: one of their favorite anti-Resurrection rationalization fairy tales). The Bible says that 500 people were eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus. So they were all hallucinating, according to this. It’s just as easy to extend that skeptical take to the whole world. They’re all deluded.

After all, there are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world right now who all claim to have had some sort of encounter with God; some reason to believe and “know” that He exists (and that He took on flesh and came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth), and who worship Him. That’s completely irrelevant to atheists. They blow it off as of no import. In the same fashion, the atheist type could blow off a purported dream. Since atheists would also be having the dream, they would have to be skeptical of their own dream. No problem for them! When it comes to God, they always find a way to disbelieve.

Christians have all kinds of evidences (some going beyond merely empirical) for God. Two months ago, I summed them up in two sentences:

Nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” God’s existence. But I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

In case someone asks what all these cumulative evidences are, I have collected a few hundred scholarly articles that present them:

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All of this is insufficient for atheists to be persuaded. They blow all of them off with a condescending smirk, and continue to describe belief in Christianity as equivalent to belief in leprechauns, unicorns, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus. I’ve often challenged them — I note in passing — to show me a 2800-year philosophical history of serious, tough-minded defense — by many of the greatest minds in the history of the world — of any of these things, like we have for God, and thus far have received no answer.
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It’s by no means obvious or apparent that the “universal dream” would be sufficient to convince atheists.  Some atheists simply don’t want to believe, or reject God, whether He exists or not (i.e., either the concept or the actual Being). They want no part of Him. One might possibly posit that Bob himself is perhaps of this mindset, since he has invented a host of imaginary traits of the supposed God of the Bible and Christianity, that are all false — and I have been systematically showing how they are slanderous caricatures (e.g., that God supposedly loves child sacrifice and chattel slavery and rape, and hates human free will).
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Thus far, Bob has utterly ignored my previous twelve critiques (in this series) of his arguments. Not exactly a strong showing of intellectual confidence, is it? He challenged me (see the intro. at the top), I took it up, and he immediately fled for the hills, where he has been cowering ever since (hoping I would tire of this endeavor and go away; sorry Bob!). I encourage you, the reader, to make up your own mind as to how to interpret his behavior. I don’t think it’s rocket science!
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I have distinguished between (and argue that the New Testament also distinguishes between) God-Rejecters vs. Open-Minded Agnostics. I have also argued that according to the Bible (specifically Romans 2), the possibility of salvation for the latter category, remains, and that it is wrong for Christians to classify atheists en masse as wicked and evil. We can’t judge souls. That’s God’s job.
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The question then remains: “how much does a resistance (either irrational or ignorant or hyper-rational or merely emotional or selfishly motivated) to God’s existence play into proposed ‘compelling’ demonstrations of His existence? “Bob gave this lip service in one clause above, but on the whole, atheists minimize this factor in a way in which Christians do not. The Bible describes this sort of resistance as a profound causal factor:
Luke 16:27-31 (RSV) [Jesus telling a story] And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, [28] for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ [29] But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ [30] And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [31] He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'” 
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Luke 13:34  [Jesus] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 
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Romans 1:21-23, 25 [Paul] for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. [22] Claiming to be wise, they became fools, [23] and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. . . . [25] . . . they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. 
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Matthew 10:14-15 [Jesus talking to His disciples, sent out to preach the gospel] And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. [15] Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomor’rah than for that town. 
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John 6:60-66 [Jesus talking about the Eucharist / Holy Communion] Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” [61] But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? [63] It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [64] But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” [66] After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
In the biblical, Christian worldview, again, non-belief can sometimes be from pure, “innocent” ignorance; simply not knowing, or it could flow from stiff-necked resistance and rebellion and rejection. There are atheists of both types. But if they are of the latter type, no demonstration of God’s existence will be compelling to them, no matter what, because they don’t want it to be. It’s the iron will taking precedence over the mind.
In the final analysis, the Christian view is that God’s existence is apparent to all from His creation:
Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  [20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; 
I would contend that this bare statement can be greatly elaborated upon in the teleological and cosmological arguments. It’s true that God’s character is not as easily revealed and is another issue. We believe that that is revealed in His inspired revelation of Himself, in the Bible.
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But to the atheist who keeps contending that “God ought to reveal Himself: make it clear!”, we say, “He already has! You either don’t see it, for whatever reason, or don’t want to (won’t) see or admit it.” We vigorously deny that He has not done so. And that’s just one of our 3,921,309 disagreements with atheists (but a very important one).
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Photo credit: Doubting Thomas, by Guercino (1591-1666) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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