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August 29, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.”

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “Someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like he himself: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 41 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

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Bob presents a completely warped, cynical, jaded, ignorant, one-sided alt-version of the history of early science in his post, “When Christianity Was in Charge, This Is What We Got” (8-10-18). In this disgraceful, outlandish piece, he wrote:

When Christianity was in charge, the world was populated by mystical creatures, we had little besides superstition to explain the caprices of nature, and natural disasters were signs of God’s anger.
Christianity’s goal isn’t to create the internet, GPS, airplanes, or antibiotics. It isn’t to improve life with warm clothes or safe water. It isn’t to eliminate diseases like smallpox or polio. It’s to convince people to believe in a story that has no evidence. . . .
 
But if Christianity is just what you do if there’s no science, why is it still here? . . . Superstition in a world before science was the scaffold that supported the arch of religion. Science has now dismantled the scaffold of superstition, but it’s too late because the arch of religion has already calcified in place.
It’s the twenty-first century, and yet the guiding principles for Christians’ lives come from the fourteenth, back when the sun orbited the earth, disease had supernatural causes, and the world was populated by Sciapods, Blemmyes, and bonnacons.
I have documented “33 Empiricist Christian Thinkers Before 1000 AD”As one example among many, both Augustine and Aquinas opposed astrology. On the other hand, many great early scientists (also Christians) were obsessed with astrology, including Galileo, Kepler, and Tycho Brahe, while Isaac Newton (an Arian) was fascinated with alchemy.
 
For examples of “scientific Christians” long before modern science was born, see Hermann of Reichenau (1013–1054) and Adelard of Bath (c. 1080-c. 1152). When modern science did get off the ground, of course it was Christianity that was overwhelmingly in the forefront of that. Christians or theists founded 115 scientific fields. There were at least 244 priest-scientists. And here are 152 lay Catholic scientists. 35 lunar craters were named to honor Jesuit scientists.

The so-called “Enlightenment” (the supposedly “reasonable” people), by contrast, murdered Lavoisier, the father of chemistry, and several other prominent French scientists and philosophers (namely, Philippe-Frédéric de DietrichNicolas de CondorcetJean Baptiste Gaspard Bochart de SaronGuillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, and Félix Vicq d’Azyr). The murderous spree against scientists was later revived by the Soviet and Chinese atheist Communists.

Galileo, on the other hand (the only example of a “scientific martyr” that we ever seem to hear about) lived his life under house arrest in luxurious palaces of his supporters. by the way, St. Robert Bellarmine showed that he had a more accurate understanding of scientific method than Galileo did. Galileo and other scientists of his general time, got many things wrong, too (just as some in the Church had, in condemning Galileo’s premature overconfidence).

Seidensticker directly replied to the above paragraph: “That’s weird–you’d think that since the Church wasn’t just another big human bureaucracy but instead was guided by the omniscient Creator of the universe that it would look different somehow.”

Exactly! That’s why the Catholic Church produced modern science, including heliocentrism (formulated by the Catholic Copernicus). One (sub-infallible) Catholic tribunal at one point of our history, got science wrong (while a pious Catholic who was wrongly persecuted: Galileo, got some major things right, but also other things wrong, and another Catholic, Bellarmine, had the more modern, accurate understanding of scientific method).

Big wow. We would expect to see this. It’s no disproof whatever of our claims. But such things are clearly beyond your capacity to understand, in the blindness of your bigotry.

As for the sun going around the earth, it need not be pointed out that Nicolaus Copernicus was the key figure who changed that, and he was a Catholic cleric, and his work was enthusiastically supported by the pope of the time and the Church (though later with Galileo there were some silly things said). Even a cursory glance at Wikipedia (“Heliocentrism”) reveals that there were forerunners of heliocentrism in earlier Catholics:
European scholarship in the later medieval period actively received astronomical models developed in the Islamic world and by the 13th century was well aware of the problems of the Ptolemaic model. In the 14th century, bishop Nicole Oresme [c. 1320-1382] discussed the possibility that the Earth rotated on its axis, while Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa [1401-1464] in his Learned Ignorance asked whether there was any reason to assert that the Sun (or any other point) was the center of the universe. In parallel to a mystical definition of God, Cusa wrote that “Thus the fabric of the world (machina mundi) will quasi have its center everywhere and circumference nowhere.” . . .
The state of knowledge on planetary theory received by Copernicus [1473-1543] is summarized in Georg von Peuerbach‘s Theoricae Novae Planetaru (printed in 1472 by Regiomontanus [1436-1476] ). By 1470, the accuracy of observations by the Vienna school of astronomy, of which Peuerbach and Regiomontanus were members, was high enough to make the eventual development of heliocentrism inevitable, and indeed it is possible that Regiomontanus did arrive at an explicit theory of heliocentrism before his death in 1476, some 30 years before Copernicus. . . .
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Another possible source for Copernicus’s knowledge of this mathematical device is the Questiones de Spera of Nicole Oresme, who described how a reciprocating linear motion of a celestial body could be produced by a combination of circular motions similar to those proposed by al-Tusi.
I wrote about bishop Nicole Oresme and Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa at length in my 2010 book, Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies?:

Nicholas Oresme (c. 1323-1382; bishop) Oresme conceived the idea of employing what we should now call rectangular co-ordinates . . . and thus forestalls Descartes in the invention of analytical geometry. . . . In opposition to the Aristotelean theory of weight, according to which the natural location of heavy bodies is the centre of the world, and that of light bodies the concavity of the moon’s orb, he proposes the following: The elements tend to dispose themselves in such manner that, from the centre to the periphery their specific weight diminishes by degrees. He thinks that a similar rule may exist in worlds other than this. This is the doctrine later substituted for the Aristotelean by Copernicus and his followers . . . But Oresme had a much stronger claim to be regarded as the precursor of Copernicus when one considers what he says of the diurnal motion of the earth, . . . He begins by establishing that no experiment can decide whether the heavens move form east to west or the earth from west to east; for sensible experience can never establish more than one relative motion. He then shows that the reasons proposed by the physics of Aristotle against the movement of the earth are not valid . . . [source: Catholic Encyclopedia”Nicole Oresme”] He wrote influential works on mathematics, physics, and astronomy. In his Livre du ciel et du monde Oresme discussed a range of evidence for and against the daily rotation of the Earth on its axis. From astronomical considerations, he maintained that if the Earth were moving and not the celestial spheres, all the movements that we see in the heavens that are computed by the astronomers would appear exactly the same as if the spheres were rotating around the Earth. He rejected the physical argument that if the Earth were moving the air would be left behind causing a great wind from east to west. In his view the Earth, Water, and Air would all share the same motion. As to the scriptural passage that speaks of the motion of the sun, he concludes that “this passage conforms to the customary usage of popular speech” and is not to be taken literally. He also noted that it would be more economical for the small Earth to rotate on its axis than the immense sphere of the stars. [source: Wikipedia bio] His work provided some basis for the development of modern mathematics and science. Oresme brilliantly argues against any proof of the Aristotelian theory of a stationary Earth and a rotating sphere of the fixed stars and showed the possibility of a daily axial rotation of the Earth. He was a determined opponent of astrology, which he attacked on religious and scientific grounds. He states – more than 300 years before Robert Hooke (1635–1703) and Newton – that atmospheric refraction occurs along a curve and proposes to approximate the curved path of a ray of light in a medium of uniformly varying density, in this case the atmosphere, by an infinite series of line segments each representing a single refraction. [source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy bio] In the whole of his argument in favor of the Earth’s motion Oresme is both more explicit and much clearer than that given two centuries later by Copernicus. He was also the first to assume that color and light are of the same nature. He asserted methodological naturalism: “there is no reason to take recourse to the heavens, the last refuge of the weak, or demons, or to our glorious God as if He would produce these effects directly, more so than those effects whose causes we believe are well known to us.” [source: Wikipedia: ”Science in the Middle Ages”] He also showed how to interpret the difficulties encountered in “the Sacred Scriptures wherein it is stated that the sun turns, etc. It might be supposed that here Holy Writ adapts itself to the common mode of human speech, as also in several places, for instance, where it is written that God repented Himself, and was angry and calmed Himself and so on, all of which is, however, not to be taken in a strictly literal sense”. Finally, Oresme offered several considerations favourable to the hypothesis of the Earth’s daily motion. In order to refute one of the objections raised by the Peripatetics against this point, Oresme was led to explain how, in spite of this motion, heavy bodies seemed to fall in a vertical line; he admitted their real motion to be composed of a fall in a vertical line and a diurnal rotation identical with that which they would have if bound to the Earth. This is precisely the principle to which Galileo was afterwards to turn. He adopted Buridan’s theory of dynamics in its entirety. [source: Catholic Encyclopedia: ”History of Physics”] “Most of the essential elements in both his [i.e., Copernicus’] criticism of Aristotle and his theory of motion can be found in earlier scholastic writers, particularly in Oresme.” [source: Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (New York: Vintage Books / Random House, 1959), p. 154] [pp. 64-66 in my book][ . . . ]

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Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464; cardinal) Nicholas anticipated many later ideas in mathematics, cosmology, astronomy, and experimental science while constructing his own original version of systematic Neoplatonism. In Book II of On Learned Ignorance he holds that the natural universe is characterized by change or motion; it is not static in time and space. But finite change and motion, ontologically speaking, are also matters of more and less and have no fixed maximum or minimum. This “ontological relativity” leads Cusanus to some remarkable conclusions about the earth and the physical universe, based not on empirical observation but on metaphysical grounds. The earth is not fixed in place at some given point because nothing is utterly at rest; nor can it be the exact physical center of the natural universe, even if it seems nearer the center than “the fixed stars.” Because the universe is in motion without fixed center or boundaries, none of the spheres of the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic world picture are exactly spherical. None of them has an exact center, and the “outermost sphere” is not a boundary. Cusanus thus shifts the typical medieval picture of the created universe toward later views, but on ontological grounds. The natural universe itself, as a contracted image of God, has a physical center that can be anywhere and a circumference that is nowhere. [source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy bio] Cusanus said that no perfect circle can exist in the universe (opposing the Aristotelean model, and also Copernicus’ later assumption of circular orbits), thus opening the possibility for Kepler’s model featuring elliptical orbits of the planets around the Sun. He made important contributions to the field of mathematics by developing the concepts of the infinitesimal and of relative motion. He was the first to use concave lenses to correct myopia. His writings were essential for Leibniz’s discovery of calculus as well as Cantor’s later work on infinity. [source: Wikipedia bio] The astronomical views of the cardinal are scattered through his philosophical treatises. The earth is a star like other stars [spherical], is not the centre of the universe, is not at rest, nor are its poles fixed. The celestial bodies are not strictly spherical, nor are their orbits circular. The difference between theory and appearance is explained by relative motion. [source: Catholic Encyclopedia bio] “Copernicus . . . had probably at least heard of the very influential treatise in which the fifteenth-century Cardinal, Nicholas of Cusa, derived the motion of the earth from the plurality of worlds in an unbounded Neoplatonic universe. The earth’s motion had never been a popular concept, but by the sixteenth century it was scarcely unprecedented.” [source: Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (New York: Vintage Books / Random House, 1959), p. 144] [pp. 66-67 in my book]

Bob is Exhibit #1 of what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery” and what G. K. Chesterton has written about:

[T]here is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce. But why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval. (Illustrated London News, “The True Middle Ages,” 14 July 1906, when Chesterton was still an Anglican, not yet a Catholic)

It was perhaps the one real age of progress in all history. Men have seldom moved with such rapidity and such unity from barbarism to civilisation as they did from the end of the Dark Ages to the times of the universities and the parliaments, the cathedrals and the guilds. (The New Jerusalem, 1920, ch. 12)

The medieval world did not talk about Plato and Cicero as fools occupied with futilities; yet that is exactly how a more modern world talked of the philosophy of Aquinas and sometimes even of the purely philosophic parts of Dante. (The Spice of Life and Other Essays, “The Camp and the Cathedral” [1922] )

I have never maintained that mediaeval things were all good; it was the bigots who maintained that mediaeval things were all bad. (Illustrated London News, “Mediaeval Robber Barons and Other Myths,” 26 May 1923)

They started by saying that mediaeval life was utterly miserable; they find out that it was frequently cheerful; so they make an attempt to represent its cheerfulness as a wild revolt that demonstrates its misery. Every impossibility is possible, except the possibility that the whole assumption about the Middle Ages is wrong. (Illustrated London News, “More Myths, Mediaeval and Victorian,” 2 June 1923)

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(originally posted on 8-11-18)
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Photo credit: Armillary sphere, constructed by Antonio Santucci, c. 1582. Wikipedia: “The armillary sphere was introduced to Western Europe via Al-Andalus in the late 10th century with the efforts of Gerbert d’Aurillac, the later Pope Sylvester II (r. 999–1003). Pope Sylvester II applied the use of sighting tubes with his armillary sphere in order to fix the position of the pole star and record measurements for the tropics and equator.” [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]
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August 28, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.”

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “Someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like he himself: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 41 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

Bob runs the popular Cross Examined blog: whose purpose is to mock, lie about, make fun of, misrepresent Christians and Christianity. He was active on my blog sometime in the past and was banned for being bigoted against Christianity. He virtually begged me in an email, to be unbanned / unblocked, and claimed that he was not prejudiced against Christians or Christianity at all: that it was all a big misunderstanding.

Thus in May he became very active on one combox thread: dialoguing mostly with Deacon Steven D. Greydanus, and also with me. We soon engaged in what I thought was a good dialogue, about worship. Meanwhile, I was checking his blog to see if indeed he had bigoted attitudes or not. Indeed, he did, as I documented. We engaged in one more dialogue (still in May 2018) about “evidence”. Then he mainly stayed away, but showed up again in August, His behavior was such that I again blocked him, and meticulously explained why (knowing I would have hell to pay for banning an atheist hero and supposed “champion”).
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This led to a huge (and utterly predictable) reaction on his blog, where I was subject to every imaginable personal attack. I documented it for posterity (so people can see how the sub-group of “angry / anti-theist” atheists argue). To sum up the anger and supposed “righteous indignation” against me, I was savaged primarily because I had the gall to ban Bob from my page (as if there were no conceivable good reason to do that).
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Then the crowning absurd irony was that Bob banned me from his blog, after less than two days (!!!). So the very thing that drew down titanic and volcanic ire upon my head, Bob himself did. But he’s perfect and I’m Vlad the Impaler and the biggest scumbag that ever walked the face of the earth. Go figure . . .
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Meanwhile, I wrote two articles critiquing Bob’s views on science, scientism, and Christianity’s relationship to science:
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Even so, on the attack thread on his blog (which is now up to 561 comments as I write, with a second one partially devoted to savaging me, up to 768 and still rising), Bob still managed — not long before banning me — to challenge me to reply to his papers: 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?”
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As a result of that challenge, I decided to do a series of replies to his posts. So far, I have completed 42. Thus far, crickets; no response at all [which remains true more than two years later]. Someone informed Bob of #4 (while many of his bootlicking sycophants attacked me up and down in his combox, with his approval). Here’s how Bob responded:
I can’t imagine I’m missing much by not reading it.
Why read it? He has no credibility. Posts like that are the equivalent of The National Inquirer or Weekly World News. [link]
I have no interest in visiting his blog anymore, . . . [link]
Now, doesn’t all this strike you, dear reader, as two-faced, hypocritical, and evasive / run for the hills intellectual cowardice (as it does me)?
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If he’s truly interested in debate and dialogue with the Christian position, then he needs to put up or shut up. After all, he was the one who came to me, begging to be “let into” my blog in order to have debates. I was happy to let him, but he didn’t follow my rules, and so was at length banned.
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Then he (even in the midst of all the asinine, ridiculous personal attacks that he thinks are fine) challenged me to reply to his papers. I do so [now 42 times], and then he comes back with: “Why read it? He has no credibility.”
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Fair enough. I will continue to refute his anti-Christian, poorly argued (and that’s putting it very mildly) garbage because people are out there reading it and being influenced by it. Whether he responds or decides to run, lobbing grenades at me all the way, is up to him. I will continue to refute error and lies with regard to Christian beliefs, just as I have done these past 39 years.

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(originally posted on Facebook on 8-15-18; slightly expanded on 8-28-20)

Photo credit: Norman Rockwell’s No Swimming, the cover for The Saturday Evening Post, published 4 June 1921 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 28, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.”

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “Someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like he himself: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 41 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

Bob’s article, “God Created the Universe From Nothing—Or Did He?” (1-3-19) exhibits his usual profound ignorance of the Bible and complete inability to engage in cross-referencing. Bible-Basher Bob always knows better than anyone and everyone else, and is the Ultimate Bible Expert (so he himself would inform anyone within earshot): that is, until someone opposes his reasoning: at which point he flees to the hills in terror. At least that is what he has always done with me: now, 41 times (and I would bet the farm that this will be the 42nd time he does that).

The Christian idea of creation ex nihilo, that God created the universe from nothing, is a doctrine within many denominations. The problem appears when Christians try to find it in the Genesis six-day creation story. It’s not there.

Who’s to say that the “six days” of creation in Genesis are to be taken literally? At least as far back as St. Augustine in the 5th century, Christians thought otherwise, and the majority of informed Christians do so today. Young earth creationists are a small minority, out of the mainstream. But many anti-theist atheists — true to form — keep considering them mainstream and the sum of Christianity (because so many of them used to be fundamentalists).

Like so many confidently stated doctrines, the Bible doesn’t cooperate. Letting the Bible speak for itself exposes the unsupported claims.

Right. Bob knows more than Bible scholars, no matter how many years of their lives they have devoted to studying the Bible. This is a question apart from whether the teachings of the Bible are accepted or not. A person can be an expert on what something actually teaches, whether it is true or not, or even fictional or not. Say, for example, a scholar studied Homer’s Iliad for 50 years. Maybe he was even the world’s leading expert on it. Would it make sense for Bob (who skimmed it years ago) to blithely assume that he understood better than the scholar, the contents of the book? Of course not. But Bob does this with the Bible, and Christian scholars and apologists all the time. It’s the height of self-important arrogance.

“In the beginning . . .”

The first verse of the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, NIV). It doesn’t say that God created out of nothing, and only the lack of specified materials that God worked with supports creation ex nihilo.

Look more closely at the word created (the Hebrew word bara). This word is used 55 times in the Old Testament. Most instances are translated as “create,” but not all, and few could be read as “create from nothing.” For example, it’s “make a signpost” in Ezekiel 21:19 and “create in me a pure heart” in Psalm 51:10, which are obviously talking about forming out of existing material. The NET Bible agrees: “The verb does not necessarily describe creation out of nothing . . . it often stresses forming anew, reforming, renewing.”

Okay, now that Bob has had his fun, let’s see what the Bible actually teaches about this. There are many verses in support of creatio ex nihilo: passages that, according to Bob, don’t exist in the Bible. I found almost all of them way back in 1981, when I was just starting out in apologetics. Here they are:

Psalms 33:6 (RSV) By the word of the LORD [i.e., not by existing matter] the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.

Isaiah 44:24 . . . “I am the LORD, who made all things . . . “

Wisdom 1:14 For he created all things that they might exist, . . . 

John 1:3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

Romans 11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. . . .

1 Corinthians 8:6 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.

Ephesians 3:9 . . . God who created all things;

Colossians 1:16 for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.

Hebrews 2:10 . . . he, for whom and by whom all things exist . . .

2 Peter 3:5 . . . by the word of God [i.e., not by existing matter] heavens existed long ago . . . 

Revelation 4:11 “. . . our Lord and God, . . . didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.”

Bob stated: “only the lack of specified materials that God worked with supports creation ex nihilo.” Okay, so such “materials” would be included in the category of “things” would they not? So if God created all “things” then He must have created ex nihilo because no thing (nothing) existed initially if there was no thing that He did not create. How much clearer could it be made? After all, “nothing” according to Merriam-Webster online, means “not any thingno thing.” Therefore, creating “all things” means the same thing as “creating from nothing”; i.e., creation ex nihilo.

So that’s what the Bible teaches: eleven passages for Bob to ponder before he zealously writes up his next hit-piece on the Bible. And of course modern Big Bang cosmology agrees with this. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig sums up the current state of knowledge in his paper, “Creation ex nihilo: Theology and Science”:

An initial cosmological singularity therefore forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. For this reason most cosmologists think of the initial singularity as the beginning of the universe. On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself. [11]

The term “Big Bang,” originally a derisive expression coined by Fred Hoyle to characterize the beginning of the universe predicted by the Friedman-Lemaître model, is thus potentially misleading, since the expansion cannot be visualized from the outside (there being no “outside,” just as there is no “before” with respect to the Big Bang).

The standard Big Bang model, as the Friedman-Lemaître model came to be called, thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover, –and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As John Barrow and Frank Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.” [12] On the standard model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Beginningless Models

Although advances in astrophysical cosmology have forced various revisions in the standard model [13], nothing has called into question its fundamental prediction of the finitude of the past and the beginning of the universe. Indeed, as James Sinclair has shown, the history of 20th century cosmogony has seen a parade of failed theories trying to avert the absolute beginning predicted by the standard model. [14] These beginningless models have been repeatedly shown either to be physically untenable or to imply the very beginning of the universe which they sought to avoid. Meanwhile, a series of remarkable singularity theorems has increasingly tightened the loop around empirically tenable cosmogonic models by showing that under more and more generalized conditions, a beginning is inevitable. In 2003 Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to show that any universe which is, on average, in a state of cosmic expansion throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a beginning. [15] In 2012 Vilenkin showed that cosmogonic models which do not fall under this single condition fail on other grounds to avert the beginning of the universe. Vilenkin concluded, “There are no models at this time that provide a satisfactory model for a universe without a beginning.” [16] In an article in the online journal Inference published in the fall of 2015 Vilenkin strengthened that conclusion: “We have no viable models of an eternal universe. The BGV theorem gives reason to believe that such models simply cannot be constructed.” [17] . . . 

Given the metaphysical impossibility of the universe’s coming into being from nothing, belief in a supernatural Creator is eminently reasonable. At the very least we can say confidently that the person who believes in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo will not find himself contradicted by the empirical evidence of contemporary cosmology but on the contrary fully in line with it.

Footnotes

11 P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (New York: Springer Verlag, 1978), 78-79.

12 John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 442.

13 Principally the addition of an early inflationary era and an accelerating expansion.

14 William Lane Craig and James Sinclair, “The Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. Wm. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 101-201; idem, “On Non-Singular Spacetimes and the Beginning of the Universe,” in Scientific Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Yujin Nagasawa, Palgrave Frontiers in Philosophy of Religion (London: Macmillan, 2012), pp. 95-142.

15 A. Borde, A. Guth, A. Vilenkin, “Inflationary Spacetimes Are Incomplete in Past Directions,”Physical Review Letters 90 (2003): 151301.

16 Alexander Vilenkin, “Did the universe have a beginning?”  [You Tube] Cf. Audrey Mithani and Alexander Vilenkin, “Did the universe have a beginning?” arXiv:1204.4658v1 [hep-th] 20 Apr 2012, p. 1, where they state: “None of these scenarios can actually be past-eternal.”

17 Alexander Vilenkin, “The Beginning of the Universe,”Inference: International Review of Science 1/ 4 (Oct. 23, 2015).

The next story in Genesis, the centuries-older Garden of Eden story, also has God creating, but here he creates using something else—for example, Eve was created from Adam’s rib, and Adam was created from dust.

Yep, but of course the things He used to create men and women (dust, ribs) were already part of the group of “all things” that God created, therefore, this is no disproof of the initial creation ex nihilo.

God did use existing matter—water

Let’s continue the Genesis 1 creation story with verse 2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The “deep” is the ocean, and the metaphorically relevant aspect here is the ocean as chaos. The six-day creation story shows God creating order from chaos.

This water wasn’t made by God but was material that he worked with.

This is just plain silly. Here is the text:

Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [2] The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

The logical, straightforward interpretation is that God made the heavens (the universe); we know that He did so out of nothing, from all the passages presented above. At first the earth that He created from nothing as part of the universe was “without form and void”. Then God began to work with the initial chaotic form to make the earth as we know it. Verse 2 cannot be taken in isolation apart from verse 1. It’s false to say that thewater wasn’t made by God” because the Bible teaches that God made all things out of nothing (which would include the water on the early “formless” earth. Nothing in that notion precludes further “developmental” creation.

He separated the water into two parts, the sky (held up by a vault) and the ocean (Gen. 1:7). Next, we read “Let [the ocean water] be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear,” so God didn’t create the land either.

He certainly did. This was a further “developmental” creation from the matter of the universe  in toto that He initially created. There is no logical necessity at all to interpret this as “water existed eternally” and God created from it. It’s ludicrous. Bob is so caught-up in his anti-Christian zeal that he can’t even read simple English. This is what extreme bias does to a mind. 

The New Testament agrees:

By God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water (2 Peter 3:5).

Exactly. God made the initial formless earth that included water. Then He proceeded to further develop the earth as we know it. He ignores the first part of the verse, “By God’s word the heavens came into being”. No problem at all . . . 

***

Photo credit: [public domain / Max Pixel]

***

August 25, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 40 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

Bob’s article, “5 Ways the Design Argument Fails” (8-21-20), takes on aspects of the classic theistic proof, the teleological argument, in one of its present guises, as argued by advocates of intelligent design. I shall examine some of his inadequately thought-through premises.

Does life on earth look designed by an intelligence? Science says no, and evolution explains why.

First of all, science, as presently defined and self-understood, cannot state one way or another whether God (assuming His existence for the sake of argument) designed anything or not, since its subject and object of study is matter, and God (again by definition) is not material. Consistently, a scientist must be an agnostic on this question. Secondly, the  arguments that Bob uses in order to conclude that science says “no” to any design by a Creator (even if we grant that science may “speak” on the issue) are wholly inadequate, as I will show. But I’m delighted to report that Bob (credit where due) does make some interesting and important philosophical concessions at the end of his analysis, for which I highly commend him.

We’ve been recently looking at Creationist pushback against evolution, . . . 

I’m not here to defend creationism, but rather, to examine the falsehood of scientific materialism. Intelligent Design itself is not necessarily creationist at all. In fact, the leading and most well-known proponent, biochemist Michael Behe, believes in evolution and the evolutionary descent of man. It simply means that there is a belief that God had some role to play in the design of the universe: whether this is construed in terms of theistic evolution or some form of creationism; and that purely materialistic explanations of the complexity we see are ultimately deficient in explaining it.

[T]here’s another way to respond to this version of the Design Argument, which states that nature appears designed by a cosmic Designer. While the bacterial flagellum is a favorite bit of nature that Creationists love to marvel at, DNA itself is even more so. . . . 

I will show that DNA is not evolution’s Achilles’ heel but rather a powerful rejection of this argument.

The Design Argument says that nature looks like it was the product of a Designer. 

That is one form of the traditional theistic proof known as the teleological argument, but it can be expressed in more subtle and sophisticated terms, as I will seek to show. For example, what makes us (whether theist or atheist) think in the first place that we can figure out what nature should or ought to “look like”? If God exists, the classical theistic (and Christian) formulation holds that He is an infinitely intelligent; in fact, omniscient Being. Why, then, would we assume that we can figure out such things, from our limited perspective?

By analogy, take the theory of relativity. That is now almost universally accepted physics, yet it overthrew hundreds of years of Newtonian physics, that was regarded as unassailable and unable to be questioned. For that to have happened, required the brain of one of the most intelligent and brilliant men to have ever lived: Albert Einstein; and it was not what almost all human beings prior to that time (or even after it) would have expected, using our senses and common sense. Nature — whether God exists or not — is exceedingly complex, and very often not what we expect it to be or claim (in our limited minds) that it “should” be. Relativity is a prime example of that, and we should learn from it, and learn more intellectual humility.

And Einstein, by the way, though not a theist, was also not an atheist. He was a pantheist or panentheist, and thought that the universe exhibited a marvelous design that had to come from something more than matter itself (and that any truly scientific mind would instinctively recognize this):

My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God. (To a banker in Colorado, 1927. Cited in the New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955)

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe — a spirit vastly superior to that of man . . . In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort . . . (To student Phyllis Right, who asked if scientists pray; January 24, 1936)

In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. (to German anti-Nazi diplomat and author Hubertus zu Lowenstein around 1941)

Then there are the fanatical atheists . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres. (August 7, 1941)

No finished design will ever deliberately have unwanted, useless junk in it. A critic might label one element as junk—maybe they didn’t like some architectural ornament—but “junk” would have never been a deliberate part of the design. That makes junk the vulnerable point in the Design Argument. If we can find junk in DNA, we will defeat this argument. In fact, DNA has plenty of junk, in at least five categories.

How does Bob know that this is the case? How can he prove it? How does he “know” that God would “never” deliberately incorporate what he (ultimately arbitrarily) defines as “junk”? He simply can’t know such a thing. It’s a fun, interesting hypothesis, but it’s based on precisely nothing at all.

Moreover, we may very well be wrong as to whether any given thing described as “junk” (i.e., of supposedly no purpose) actually has no purpose. The classic historical example of that is the appendix. Scientists used to think it had no purpose whatever, and was some sort of “vestigial remnant” of evolution. The Wikipedia article, “Appendix (anatomy)” describes research on the appendix’s function that has surfaced just in the last twenty years:

Maintaining gut flora

Although it has been long accepted that the immune tissue surrounding the appendix and elsewhere in the gut—called gut-associated lymphoid tissue—carries out a number of important functions, explanations were lacking for the distinctive shape of the appendix and its apparent lack of specific importance and function as judged by an absence of side effects following its removal.[12] Therefore, the notion that the appendix is only vestigial became widely held.

William Parker, Randy Bollinger, and colleagues at Duke University proposed in 2007 that the appendix serves as a haven for useful bacteria when illness flushes the bacteria from the rest of the intestines.[13][14] This proposition is based on an understanding that emerged by the early 2000s of how the immune system supports the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria,[15][16] in combination with many well-known features of the appendix, including its architecture, its location just below the normal one-way flow of food and germs in the large intestine, and its association with copious amounts of immune tissue. Research performed at Winthrop–University Hospital showed that individuals without an appendix were four times as likely to have a recurrence of Clostridium difficile colitis.[17] The appendix, therefore, may act as a “safe house” for beneficial bacteria.[13] This reservoir of bacteria could then serve to repopulate the gut flora in the digestive system following a bout of dysentery or cholera or to boost it following a milder gastrointestinal illness.[14]

Another function was also identified in the article:

Immune and lymphatic system

The appendix has been identified as an important component of mammalian mucosal immune function, particularly B cell-mediated immune responses and extrathymically derived T cells. This structure helps in the proper movement and removal of waste matter in the digestive system, contains lymphatic vessels that regulate pathogens, and lastly, might even produce early defences that prevent deadly diseases. Additionally, it is thought that this may provide more immune defences from invading pathogens and getting the lymphatic system’s B and T cells to fight the viruses and bacteria that infect that portion of the bowel and training them so that immune responses are targeted and more able to reliably and less dangerously fight off pathogens.[18] In addition, there are different immune cells called innate lymphoid cells that function in the gut in order to help the appendix maintain digestive health.[19][20]

So perhaps the human appendix would have made Bob’s list of useless biological “junk” as recently as 1999. Now it looks like he was dead wrong. And if he was wrong about this, who’s to say he may not be wrong about many other proposed examples? The more this happens, the weaker his argument against design becomes. Bob — to be fair — does say about the appendix:

Vestigial structures are structures like the human appendix or tailbone that have lost most or all of their ancestral function. That doesn’t mean that they’re useless, just that they aren’t used for what they were originally used for.

I would reply that Bob can’t logically or scientifically deny that the functions described above were “intended” for the appendix all along. We just didn’t know it. Now we do. And this limitation on our part is my point. He also brings up another example: “goose bumps (to raise nonexistent fur) in humans.” It seems to be consensus that goose bumps in humans have little or no purpose. But the Wikipedia article on the topic does mention at least one thing which would show that goose bumps may actually have a function or purpose:

Goose bumps can be experienced in the presence of flash-cold temperatures, for example being in a cold environment, and the skin being able to re-balance its surface temperature quickly. The stimulus of cold surroundings causes the tiny muscles attached to each hair follicle to contract. This contraction causes the hair strands to stand straight, the purpose of which is to aid in quicker drying via evaporation of water clinging to the hair which is moved upward and away from the skin. [my italics for emphasis]

Healthline.com (“Why Do We Get Goosebumps?”) observes similarly: “On the most basic level, goosebumps can help keep you warm. When you’re cold, the muscle movements that can trigger goosebumps will also warm your body.” Researchers at Harvard very recently discovered another purpose:

Goosebumps are a weird quirk of our bodies that science doesn’t fully understand. Now, researchers at Harvard have uncovered a biological reason for the reaction: it’s our bodies’ way of stimulating stem cells to drive new hair growth. . . . 

[T]he team discovered a new part of this equation. Examining the skin using electron microscopy, they found that the sympathetic nerve also has a direct connection to the hair follicle stem cells, wrapping around them. When the nerve is activated, it also activates the stem cells to begin growing new hair.

So there you go: another purpose that we were ignorant of till now. And all of a sudden it seems that goosebumps have an actual purpose after all. If we hadn’t known these things, we still may have discovered them in due course, just as we have for the appendix. Bob is basically appealing to an argument for ignorance or “god of the gaps” (something atheists love to constantly taunt theists with). And this is a severe flaw, it seems to me, in his argument against design. It’s an exceedingly weak argument. But Bob keeps blissfully committing the same fallacy over and over:

Here is one of his examples: he notes that humans have “3 billion base pairs” of DNA, but amoebas have “670 billion.” That makes no sense to him, so he opines:

There are two explanations. One is that these lifeforms need all their DNA—and the axolotl salamander really needs ten times the DNA that humans have, and the Amoeba dubia really needs 200 times more—but this seems unlikely. The other option is that much of the DNA in earth life is junk.

Just because a stretch of DNA isn’t used for anything now doesn’t mean that it can’t be fodder for evolution to create some future improvement, but this isn’t what we’d expect if life is the way it is because of a designer. However, DNA full of junk is exactly what evolution would predict.

Again, under the hypothesis of a super-intelligent, ultimately incomprehensible, omniscient God, why would we expect anything at all? What makes us think we can figure out all His designs (pun intended) and purposes and methods, etc.: anymore than an ant or a catfish would understand all of ours? Even if there is no God it remains true that nature is full of surprises and things that seem inexplicable to us.

Think of, for example, quantum mechanics, which blew everyone’s mind when it was discovered and explained in the 1920s. It wreaked havoc on scientists’ previous understanding of cause and effect. There are continuing mysteries being pondered by scientists today, like dark matter. We know so little about it that there are at least six major theories (and many sub-theories) as to what it even consists of.

Both phenomena were not what anyone expected to find. I don’t see — philosophically and logically — why it should be any different under an assumption of God as Designer. But (bless his atheist / former Christian soul) Bob ends on a logical note, where he stumbles into what the theist would say is the truth:

What this shows (and doesn’t show)

The success of this argument doesn’t prove that God didn’t create DNA. He might have his own ways of design that are beyond our capabilities to appreciate.

Exactly. That’s what Darwin thought, and his “bulldog” Thomas Huxley, and theistic evolutionists like the botanist Asa Gray. None of them automatically excluded God from evolution or the universe. And we know that Origin of Species was the product of a theistic mind, since Darwin definitely believed in God when he wrote it (there is, however, some question about his later religious belief).

It also doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist. God could still exist while letting evolution shape life.

Indeed He could, with evolution merely being His method of creation. These are very important disclaimers, and I appreciate them. It shows that Bob is not so far gone in his anti-theistic zeal, that he can’t recognize or see at all rather obvious logical aspects (possibilities not ruled out) of the larger question.

But this does defeat the popular DNA version of the Design Argument, which says that DNA looks like it was designed.

I’m contending that a more nuanced form of the argument holds that nature (or, creation, if there is a Creator) need not “look like” what our paltry little brains think it “should” look like: that whatever the truth is, it’ll be full of surprises, and we shouldn’t “expect” anything, except to be blown away and surprised by the marvelous complexity entailed. What we have already discovered fully bears that out.

If God’s handiwork is so bizarre that it doesn’t look like anything that any conceivable designer would likely create, then Christians should rethink the Design Argument.

By what criterion do we determine if something is “bizarre”? This is the issue. We ought to reasonably expect to be surprised and shocked over and over by what an omniscient God of inconceivable intelligence and power can and does create, and how He makes it work on an intricate micro as well as macro level.

The history of science shows us this. It’s just how nature is: whether designed by a Designer or brought about by materialistic evolution alone. God’s not stupid, and we are extraordinarily stupid compared to Him (as dumb as a slug compared to Einstein): if He exists and is anything like theologians and philosophers tell us He is like.

***

Photo credit: Hubble Space Telescope / NASA (4-24-15): Westerlund 2 a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars, named for Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund, who discovered the grouping in the 1960s. The cluster resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Carina [public domain / Flickr]

***

 

April 17, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18: “you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 36 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

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

*****

Bob’s article, “William Lane Craig Insults Islam and Misrepresents His Own Religion” (4-10-20; orig. 1-8-16) is absolutely classic, playbook Bob. He misrepresents prominent Christian philosopher and specialist in the theistic proofs, William Lane Craig’s and Christianity’s understanding of the Holy Trinity, even while he falsely argues that Dr. Craig has done so regarding his own belief-system. This is a new rock-bottom low, even by Bob’s ultra-subterranean philosophical and ethical standards.

And WLC . . . makes clear that he doesn’t even understand his own ridiculous doctrine. Here’s his approach to the Trinity.

[The Trinity] is the doctrine that God is tri-personal. It is not the self-contradictory assertion that three gods are somehow one God. Or that three persons are somehow one person. That is just illogical nonsense. [source]

That is indeed illogical nonsense. Unfortunately, it’s also Christian dogma. The fourth-century Athanasian Creed says in part, “The Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God.” You can try to get around it by saying that the three part is three persons and the one part is one god, but this is just wordplay.

Huh? Did I read that correctly? Unfortunately, I did. It’s one of the most convoluted pseudo-“arguments” that Bob has ever made (and again, that’s truly sayin’ somethin’). Dr. Craig’s statement is perfectly correct as to historic, orthodox, Christian trinitarian theology (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike). God is “tri-personal.” God is a Being such that He subsists in three equal and equally divine Persons (strange as that is for us to comprehend: as we have no direct, concrete experience of such a thing). This is contradictory to our experience but it isn’t, in and of itself, whereas, saying that God is one God and three Gods simultaneously or three persons but also one person are clearly self-contradictory notions. 

Dr. Craig thus conveyed Christian trinitarian dogma. Then Bible-Basher Bob, in his infinite wisdom and boundless theological acumen, promptly informs his (often equally ignorant and illogical) readers that what Dr. Craig just noted was “not” Christian doctrine, actually is! The Athanasian Creed states precisely what Dr. Craig did:

Dr. Craig: [Trinitarianism] is not the self-contradictory assertion that three gods are somehow one God. [my bolding and italics]

Athanasian CreedAnd yet they [Father, Son, and Holy Ghost] are not three Gods; but one God. [my bolding and italics]

Both statements are saying that three Divine Persons are one God, as opposed to three persons being one person, or three gods being one God. Trinitarianism presupposes the Jewish doctrine of monotheism: the doctrine of one God /Supreme Being / Creator. More than one “god” is polytheism, not trinitarianism.

WLC could argue that the definition of the Trinity is not stated in the Bible.

It’s not in one succinct statement, but it certainly is via deduction from the data of hundreds of biblical passages. And here is that data:

Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

Holy Trinity: Hundreds of Biblical Proofs (RSV edition) [1982; rev. 2012]

For evidence, he could point out that the early Church needed centuries to reach agreement on it, and if it were obvious, it would’ve been dogma from the start. Illuminating the shaky foundation of this doctrine only undercuts his position further.

It was Christian belief from the start, but (as with all doctrines in theology) it developed through the centuries. This is common throughout many different fields, including science. Once more is learned, we have a more complex and multi-faceted understanding of a particular thing that we previously knew only broadly, partially, in vague generalities, or in bare outline.

Take, for example, the development in understanding of very small particles of matter. The atom was first understood in the modern scientific sense in the early 1800s: though it was talked about as early as the 5th century BC by Greek philosophers. Electrons were discovered in 1897 (within the lifetime of my two grandfathers), and the nucleus in 1909. Quantum mechanics came along in 1922, and the uncertainty principle in 1927. Then it was learned in 1964 (by which time I was already in school) that even smaller particles, called quarks, exist.

Likewise, the understanding of living things developed, too. Cells were discovered in 1665, and cell theory in 1839. DNA was discovered in 1869 and its molecular structure identified in 1953, etc. This biological understanding is undergoing constant development as well. It’s an imperfect analogy but the point is that knowledge grows through time, without necessarily being self-contradictory. That’s how trinitarianism is in theology. But it was in the Bible from the start. I summed up the evidence concisely in one 1000-word article: 50 Biblical Evidences for the Holy Trinity. I would even go so far as to say that the New Testament doctrine of God would become nonsensical, relentlessly self-contradictory gibberish, if not interpreted in a trinitarian fashion.

Craig continues:

[The Trinity] is the claim that the one entity we call God comprises three persons. That is no more illogical than saying that one geometrical figure which we call a triangle is comprised of three angles. Three angles in one figure. Three persons in one being.

Yes, a triangle is composed of three angles, but no, that is not a parallel to the Trinity. In fact, that commits the heresy called Partialism, the declaration that God is composed of three parts that make a whole. Other popular analogies that are also heretical for the same reason compare God to an egg (shell + white + yolk = egg) or to time (past + present + future = time) or to music (three notes make a chord).

Bob’s interpretation is absurd. Dr. Craig is not making an exact analogy. He was simply analyzing the nature of the Trinity logically and noting that it is no more illogical than saying that one triangle has three angles. He was not asserting “partialism.” Dr. Craig goes into the question of analogies for the Trinity in great depth in another article, “Is There a Good Analogy for the Trinity?” (8-6-12):

[T]he Trinity is unique and there is nothing that you can point to that is a strict analogy to it, or parallel to it. And that’s why I don’t like analogies, I don’t like to use analogies like the triple point of water, or water being steam and ice and liquid, these sorts of things. I just see no reason to think that there should be anything truly analogous to the Trinity. . . .

[W]hat I finally propose is that we need to think of God as a soul, an unembodied mind, endowed with three sets of rational faculties each of which is sufficient for personhood. And that will get you a doctrine of three persons in one being. . . .

But what I would ask the genuine seeker after truth, here, to look at is to say that we’re not providing an analogy to the Trinity, we’re not providing an analogy to God. What we’re trying to do here is to understand how you can have a tri-personal entity. How can you have an entity which is one being, one entity, and yet is three persons?

WLC is in good company, and C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes the same mistake: “In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.” Six squares are parts of a cube, just like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are parts of God? Be careful—a heresy like that can send a guy to Hell. 

Bob makes the same dumb mistake again. This is not what C. S. Lewis (my favorite author for over forty years) was arguing at all. He was a Christian trinitarian just as Dr. Craig is. Lewis explained exactly what he had in mind, in Mere Christianity (which can now be read online). He was trying to find a way to help human beings conceptually grasp a mode of being that is beyond our experience. Though it’s an imperfect analogy, I think it is a very excellent attempt (one of the best I’ve seen) to help people grasp that there are things beyond our full understanding that we can nevertheless (just barely) conceptualize. And so he argued as follows (in what was originally a radio talk):

You know that in space you can move in three ways—to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube—a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways—in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings—just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.

Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal—something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.

WLC doubles down on his claim that Muslims (or anyone) pushing back against the Trinity is wrong.

Although this doctrine may seem strange to Muslims, once it is properly stated there is nothing illogical about it. It is a logically consistent doctrine, and therefore rationally unobjectionable.

Nothing illogical about it? You can’t even explain it without committing heresy! 

But Dr. Craig hasn’t done that at all (nor has C. S. Lewis), and Bob hasn’t demonstrated that either man did this; he merely assumed what he was trying to prove (which is called circular reasoning or begging the question).

The most honest explanation that I’ve heard is that it’s simply a mystery, and we fallible humans on this side of heaven won’t ever be able to understand it. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains it as a mystery, for example. That doesn’t make the Trinity any more realistic, but at least Christians who say this acknowledge the difficulty.

There is no difference here. The Catholic Encyclopedia, and the vast majority of Christian theologians and apologists of whatever stripe, agree that “mystery” in theology means something that cannot be totally understood by the finite human mind (especially without the aid of the divine revelation of inspired Scripture); but on the other hand it’s not utterly incomprehensible or unable to be justified at all through reason. This same article that Bob cites (a very rare example of his dealing with Catholicism at all, rather than anti-intellectual fundamentalism, which provides great fodder for his caricatures and mockery) explains this far better than I ever could:

(b) Harmony of Natural and Supernatural Truth

Since all truth is from God, there can be no real warfare between reason and revelation. Supernatural mysteries as such cannot be demonstrated by reason, but the Christian apologist can always show that the arguments against their possibility are not conclusive (St. Thomas, “Suppl. Boeth. de trinitate“, Q. ii, a. 3). The nature of God which is infinite and eternal, must be incomprehensible to an intelligence that is not capable of perfect knowledge . . . The powerlessness of science to solve the mysteries of nature, a fact that Rationalists admit, shows how limited are the resources of the human intellect . . . On the other hand reason is able not only to recognize wherein consists the special mysteriousness of a supernatural truth, but also to dispel to some extent the obscurity by means of natural analogies and to show the fittingness of the mystery by reasons of congruity . . . This was done with great success by the Fathers and the Scholastic theologians. A famous example is St. Thomas’ argument ex convenientia for the Divine processions in the Trinity (Summa Theol., I, QQ. xxvii-xxxi).

Bottom line: we can know a lot of stuff about God; some things we can never know because it’s above our pay grade, and would be like a three-year-old trying to grasp calculus or sub-atomic physics. Other things we can know in part, but not totally. Many theological concepts are in this third category (trinitarianism, eternity, middle knowledge, predestination, transubstantiation, etc.). St. Paul in the Bible stated that we can know that God exists (though not His nature and attributes, which require revelation), through natural reason and observation of nature (a very primitive version of the teleological argument):

Romans 1:19-20 (RSV) 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;

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Photo credit: Maksim (12-28-08): impossible cube: showing a flat-edge crossing the other, which is impossible in 3-dimensional space; it’s an optical illusion [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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April 16, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18: “you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 36 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

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

*****

Bob’s article, “More Pointless Parables” (5-9-14; orig. 4-30-12) goes after the miracle of the sun standing still during a battle with Joshua:

Joshua 10:12-14 (RSV) Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Ai’jalon.” [13] And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. [14] There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD hearkened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.

Even if God had stopped the sun 3000 years ago, there is no way to deduce that from information available to astronomers today, . . . And let’s not even speculate at what “stopping the sun” (that is, stopping the rotation of the earth) would’ve done. . . . 

I know what you’re thinking: why waste time on this ridiculous tale? It’s because there are people who believe it.

As usual, imagining that the Bible’s miracle stories really happened takes us to nowhere that can be scientifically justified.

Bob has mocked this story elsewhere, too:

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) . . . It’s one thing for God to move things across the sky over a flat earth, but it gets complicated in a heliocentric solar system when “stopping the sun” would require 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 the much simpler explanation is that the human authors of the Bible wrongly thought that the earth was at the center of the universe, just like in neighboring societies. (2-12-20; orig. 11-30-15)

I have already offered a reply to this objection in one of my refutations of the notorious atheist Richard Dawkins:

Dawkins tackles the miracle of the sun at Fatima, Portugal in 1917:

[T]he earth was suddenly yanked sideways in its orbit, and the solar system destroyed, with nobody outside Fatima noticing. (p. 92)

The miracle could simply consist of God changing the perception of the people there (an LSD trip, for example, does the same thing purely naturally); not literally making the sun do weird “unscientific” things. The same possible scenario would also apply to the famous miracle of the Bible, where Joshua “made the sun stand still” (Josh 10:12-13). First of all, the  Bible uses pre-scientific phenomenological language. We actually still do the same today, when we say “the sun came up” or “the sun went down at 6:36.” That’s not literal language, because we know that it is the earth’s rotation that makes it appear that way.

Joshua’s miracle was indeed a miracle, but it could still have been of a psychological nature, as opposed to an astronomical one. Or it could be something like, as one Protestant commentary put it: ” the light of the sun and moon was supernaturally prolonged by the same laws of refraction and reflection that ordinarily cause the sun to appear above the horizon, when it is in reality below it.” Atheists seem to always want to interpret the Bible (and in this case, a Marian-related apparition) hyper-literally, but they are often wrong, because they assume primitive ignorance, when in fact, there is a high degree of sophistication that is beyond the atheist’s willingness (not intellectual capacity) to even attempt to understand. (5-25-18)

I also made a reply on this topic in another of my (now, 39) refutations of Seidensticker:

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.

Christian apologist Glenn Miller in the aforementioned treatise, describes the view held by “most long-day advocates”:

A distortion of light. In this scenario, the sun and earth moved perfectly normally, but the light from the sun was subjected to abnormal reflective/refractive forces, so that daylight (diffused) continued for a longer period of time than normal. . . . [It] has an advantage of being a standard “manner of operation” of God; He routinely uses light and optical effects (cf. the cloud in Exodus 14.19-20).

Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm wrote a classic work, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1954). It’s a masterpiece of a non-fundamentalist, “thinking man’s” evangelical Protestant perspective on science (much or most of which a Catholic could readily agree with). He devotes 5 1/2 pages to “the long day of Joshua” and prominently mentions the above “refraction / mirage” interpretation:

Another alternative we may adopt, if we wish to maintain that the need of Joshua was for more daylight, is to assert that the sun and moon kept on their way, but through a miracle of refraction or through a supernaturally given mirage the sun and moon appeared to be out of their regular places. Such an interpretation allows for the solar system to keep on its way, yet provides Joshua with the needed light, and maintains the supernatural character of the record. . . . In a most fascinating article Butler reviews for us the various types of mirages, gives some examples, and the scientific explanations. His own interpretation is that it was a supernaturally given mirage.

[It was] a special and rare mirage in the Earth’s atmosphere which is similar to one or more of the natural mirages, but is of a magnitude, altitude, and character that would be the result of a divine miracle only, and therefore produced for some important purpose. [J. Lowell Butler, “Mirages are Light Benders,” JASA, 3: 1-18, December, 1951] (p. 158)

He offers a second plausible interpretation as well (the one he himself favors):

Maunder has argued that the request of Joshua was not for more time but for release from the heat of the day. He has set forth his theory in considerable detail in ISBE, “The Battle of Beth-Horon” (I: 446-449), and in JTVT, “Joshua’s Long Day” (53: 120-148, 1921; reprinted JASA, 3: 1-20, Dec., 1951). He attempts to prove that Joshua did not ask the sun to stand still but to be silent, i.e. keep from shining. What Joshua’s men needed was refreshment from a burning sun. Maunder claims that the sun was overhead at noontime heat and that the moon was on the horizon. In answer to Joshua’s petition God sends a hailstorm which has the double effect of refreshing his own soldiers and harming the enemy. Under such refreshment the soldiers of Joshua did a day’s march in half a day and so reasoned that the day had been prolonged. The march of thirty miles to Makkedah was one day’s march and, having covered it in half a day, they reasoned they had been on the road a whole day. Maunder undergirds his argument with various astronomical, geographical, exegetical, and historical data, the details of which will be found in the articles cited.

A. L. Shute in a remarkable article agrees with this interpretation of Maunder. He believes the miracle was not a prolongation of light, but a cessation of light for the refreshment of the soldiers. But he differs in what the expression “ hasted not to go down for a whole day” means. Maunder took it to mean that the soldiers were so refreshed they did a day’s march in half a day and so they figured the day had been lengthened. But Shute argues from the etymology of the words of the text that the expression means that the sun did not come out from the clouds till very late in the afternoon. It was cloudy all afternoon and then, just before setting, the sun burst forth again and shone upon the battlefield. (pp. 159-160)

[Footnote: Robert Dick Wilson accepts the view of Maunder apparently with no knowledge of Maunder’s view. Wilson shows that the words used in the Joshua account are technical astronomical words in their Babylonian counterparts. The root DM in Babylonian astronomy meant “to darken/’ and “in the midst” meant “in the half of.” The prayer of Joshua was a prayer for darkness, not for the prolongation of the day. He concludes: “I confess to a feeling of relief, as far as I myself am concerned, that I shall no longer feel myself forced by a strict exegesis to believe that the Scriptures teach that there actually occurred a miracle that involves so tremendous a reversal of all the laws of gravitation.” “What Docs ‘The Sun Stood Still’ Mean?” Moody Monthly, 21:67, October, 1920. (p. 161)]

Ramm suggests that a poetic interpretation is also possible, even for the traditional, orthodox Christian, not given to “allegorizing away” biblical texts:

Cooke writes:

It is better to recognize frankly that the verses are poetry and must be understood as poetry. A literal interpretation cannot avoid forcing an unnatural sense on the language.

It is argued that the people of those days wove astronomy into their speech far more than we do as exhibited by (i) the reference in Judges 5:20 when Deborah and Barak sing that the stars fought against Sisera, and (ii) the presence of astronomical pictures in prophetic passages as for example in Joel 2:10, 30-31. The cry of Joshua was then a cry for help and strength. His cry was answered with renewed vigour in his soldiers who then fought so valiantly and were so refreshed that they did a day’s work in half a day, and it seemed to them that the day had actually been lengthened. (p. 156)

He thus explains in summary that there are three possible and plausible non-literal but still miraculous explanations that do not entail the sun literally stopping (and/or the earth to stop rotating), or any disbelief in the divine inspiration of the text:

There are then, in summary, three live possibilities as to the interpretation of Joshua’s long day. Either the language was poetic and the miracle was the physical invigoration of Joshua’s soldiers; or it was a supernatural refraction of the rays of the sun and moon, thus giving the soldiers more time (by refraction or mirage); or it was a supernaturally induced thunderstorm giving the soldiers relief from the burning heat. The details may be found in the literature cited. All we need assert is that evangelicalism is not embarrassed for want of a rationale of the long day of Joshua, and even though the author sides with Maunder he would not feel embarrassed if any of the other interpretations was proved to be correct. (p. 161)

Bob’s fundamental mistake, then, is to assume (as atheist polemicists — humorously — almost always do), that the only possible interpretation of the text must be hyper-literal (i.e., God stopped the rotation of the earth). This is often because their own childhood backgrounds were fundamentalist (which is only one tiny, fringe portion of Christianity as a whole). He doesn’t realize that Christians have long held other possible views of the text (the Ramm book I cited was written in 1954, and cited passages at least as far back as 1920).

Thus, it is not the case that this Bible passage absolutely requires a view that is completely and indisputably at odds with modern astronomy. There are at least three “miraculous” interpretations that do not entail such a thing at all. If Bob would trouble himself even a little and take the time to do a survey of Christian exegesis (of this passage and all the other countless ones he savages), then he would know this, and wouldn’t come off looking like an uninformed bigoted simpleton, for the umpteenth time. His polemic is only effective against fundamentalist Christianity, which isn’t saying much. But his purpose is not to accurately portray Christianity (before offering, say, actually an intellectually honest critique); only to mock and deride it.

It’s as if a person made an argument that he claimed applied to every person in Europe (741 million), but in fact was only applicable to those who lived in Germany (83 million, or 11% of the whole). Ever heard of the “broad brush”? No one would be impressed by such a failed, supposedly “sweeping” argument. Likewise, no non-fundamentalist Christian should be given the slightest pause by these arguments from Bob, which have no relevance to the beliefs of the vast majority of Christians who are not fundamentalist / hostile to modern science types; who love and respect the findings of science as much as any atheist does.

***

Photo credit: Joshua Stopping the Sun by Pauwels Casteels (c. 1649-1677) [public domain / source page]

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April 16, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18: “you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 36 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

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

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Bob’s article, “BSR [Bite-Sized Reply] 4: Who Created God?” (3-25-20) is yet another display of Our Hero being out to sea without a life raft. Let’s take a closer look at it, shall we?

Challenge to the Christian: Who created God?

Christian response #1: This question is nonsensical. God is uncreated by definition.

Give God whatever properties you want—zero calories, organic, lemon scented, made of soap bubbles, whatever. You still must justify those claims. Some Bible verses suggest that God is eternal, but that’s not evidence. You can start by showing that God exists.

Folks who study the issue at all know that there are many philosophically serious theistic proofs. I have collected a great deal of them in these papers:

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We’ve seen this trick before, . . . where the apologist tries to disqualify an argument to avoid having to address it. “Who created God?” is a reasonable question that follows naturally from the apologist saying, “Everything must have a creator, and in the case of the universe, God is that creator.” Or if the argument is, “Everything but God has a creator,” then justify that.
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We’re happy to justify our beliefs through reason and have been doing so for nearly 2000 years. The main point I’d like to make in this treatment of mine is to emphasize that everyone is pretty much in the same “epistemological boat”. Whether atheist or Christian or whatever, every person has to explain how the universe got here; and it seems (intuitively, at least) that something was eternal: either matter or some sort of immaterial — and eternal — spirit that we call “God” (with different definitions in different religions or philosophical systems: but generally a Spirit that created matter and what we see).
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As anyone who has learned / followed science at all knows, the current accepted cosmological model is the Big Bang Theory: whereby the universe began 13.8 billion years ago (according to the latest scientific reckoning). The universe is, therefore, not eternal; matter is not eternal. It had a beginning-point. Now how or what caused the big bang is the $64,000 question. Christians believe, as we always have, that God created the universe ex nihilo (from nothing). This is perfectly consistent with the Big Bang cosmology and (I submit) as good and rational and plausible an explanation as any other for the cause of the big bang. The alternative is the ludicrous notion that matter created itself out of nothing. Think about that for a moment, if you are bored and have run out of things to do. Try to wrap your brain around it.
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Belief in an eternal God is a tenet of religious faith and/or philosophical speculation. It can’t be absolutely proven (in the way that atheists invariably demand), but then very little can be. It can be shown to be — in many different ways — rational and plausible. What has been demonstrated through science is the Big Bang Theory. As far as we can tell, it happened. The atheist is just as much in the realm of faith and speculation as the Christian, when he or she sets out to explain how this could happen apart from some non-material entity or force, if you will, that “preceded” it. When Christians assert God’s eternal existence, they stand on the shoulders of hundreds of eminent philosophers throughout history (i.e., the belief is not merely one of religious faith): even some whom atheists erroneously pretend to be on their side, like David Hume, who wrote:

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion . . .

Were men led into the apprehension of invisible, intelligent power by a contemplation of the works of nature, they could never possibly entertain any conception but of one single being, who bestowed existence and order on this vast machine, and adjusted all its parts, according to one regular plan or connected system . . .

All things of the universe are evidently of a piece. Every thing is adjusted to every thing. One design prevails throughout the whole. And this uniformity leads the mind to acknowledge one author. (Natural History of Religion, 1757, edited by H. E. Root, London: 1956, 21, 26)

Notice how Bob offers us a nothing burger when he “discusses” (if we can even call it that) these very perplexing questions. He has no more basis for his position than the Christian does, yet he has to try to change the subject, according to time-honored polemical atheist methodological tradition, and mock Christianity (which is his purpose in virtually ever article he writes):

Christian response #2: Everyone believes in something eternal—if not the universe, then what caused it. Christians just believe that cause was personal, which explains the personal attributes of existence.

Christians believe? “I believe” here is in the same category as “I have faith,” but it’s better to let belief follow from sufficient evidence. Let’s rely on evidence-driven science, the discipline that has taught us what we reliably know so far about reality.

Science doesn’t call the universe eternal. Time in our universe had a beginning, though there’s likely more to be discovered. Science has unanswered questions about the universe, but it has the track record of providing reliable answers. Religion also has answers, but each religion’s origin story is incompatible with the next, making none worth believing in.

Pointing out the gaps in scientific knowledge does nothing to bolster religion’s claims (for example, undercutting evolution does nothing to strengthen Creationism). If Christianity wants to provide answers to science’s unanswered questions, it needs to do the heavy lifting itself. “But science doesn’t have an answer!” is no argument.

Yeah, science has explained a lot of stuff. It’s wonderful. Modern science developed in an overwhelmingly Christian milieu during the late Renaissance, and was unquestionably dominated by Christian scientists until the mid-19th century. But it has not and cannot explain everything. It (like also mathematics and logic) starts with unfalsifiable axioms, just as religion does. Any honest scientists will concede that point in a second. By definition, it can only explain matter and the laws that determine how it behaves. It has nothing to say about spirit. But philosophy and religion do.

Science is not the sum total of all knowledge (much as so many atheists would love that to be true, since it has become their religion. Materialism (i.e., matter being all there is) is itself a belief-system that has not been absolutely proven, either. To hold that there could not possibly be such a thing as spirit is every bit a proposition of unprovable faith as the converse view that there couldn’t possibly not be.

At the point of origins, atheism has no solid answers in explanation: even of the most self-understood speculative sense. It ends up actually looking quite absurd, if scrutinized closely enough. I did a scathing satire some years ago, of what belief in atheist materialism entails. It was probably my most controversial online paper ever (out of now 2800+): certainly the most controversial according to atheists.

Almost to a person (perhaps literally every atheist who objected), they couldn’t even grasp the nature of the satire / parody, and the sarcasm employed. Targets of satire often do not comprehend it, because they are too blind to see what an outsider observes in them. So I wrote an explanatory post, which accomplished exactly nothing. They still couldn’t understand my entire point. But if you (reading this) are not an atheist, I think you will see what I was getting at. Here are some lengthy excerpts:

Matter essentially “becomes god” in the atheist / materialist view; it has the inherent ability to do everything by itself: . . .

The atheist places extraordinary faith in matter – arguably far more faith than we place in God, because it is much more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone. . . .

Indeed, this is a faith of the utmost non-rational, childlike kind. . . .

Atheist belief is a kind of polytheistic idolatry of the crudest, most primitive sort, putting to shame the colorful worship of the ancient Babylonians, Philistines, Aztecs, and other groups. They believed that their silver amulets and wooden idols could make the sun shine or defeat an enemy or cause crops to flourish.

The polytheistic materialist, on the other hand, is far more religious than that. He thinks that trillions of his atom-gods and their distant relatives, the cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, by their own power, possessed eternally either in full or (who knows how?) in inevitably unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Atomism (“belief that the atom is God”). Trillions of omnipotent, omniscient atoms can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason that anyone can understand (i.e., why and how the atom-god came to possess such powers in the first place). . . .

Oh, and we mustn’t forget the time-goddess. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level sufficient to shut up any silly Christian, who is foolish enough to believe in one God rather than trillions. . . .

Atomists may and do differ on secondary issues, just as the various ancient polytheistic cultures differed on quibbling details (which god could do what, which material made for a better idol, etc.), but despite all, they inevitably came out on the side of polytheistic idolatry, with crude material gods, and against spiritual monotheism. . . .

“Why” questions in the context of Atomism are senseless, because they can’t overcome the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Atomist possesses. The question, “Why do the atom-gods and cell-gods and the time-goddess exist and possess the extraordinary powers that they do?” is meaningless and ought not be put forth. It’s bad form, and impolite. We know how sensitive overly religious folk are. . . .

Yet we can’t help — almost despite ourselves — recalling with fondness the wonders and fancies and fairy-tales of childhood. Atomists seek very hard to maintain those marvels, and perhaps that’s not all bad. We must be tolerant and open-minded.

That is one way to approach it, and if you wanna see atheists foaming at the mouth and utterly unable to rationally defend what they believe, show them this. Be sure to be adequately prepared for the firestorm and tremendous fuss. Atheists like ntng less than this sort of turning-the-tables on them.

As I have contended above: belief in an eternal Creator-God is perfectly compatible with the Big Bang model, though not itself a scientific proposition. We have centuries of theistic philosophy on our side, too. There are only so many alternatives. If the atheist wants to mock our view then they are duty-bound in intellectual honesty to choose the other two main options (that I can see): an eternal universe (which is precisely what the Big Bang and present science has disproven) or the crazy notion that the universe created itself out of nothing.

Let’s take a brief look at these two options and see how plausible they look. Bob throws out more “nothing” in his attempt to evade his intellectual responsibility:

[R]elying on common sense at the frontier of science is to bring a knife to a gunfight. The Big Bang, the event that brought the universe as we know it into existence 14 billion years ago, might’ve been a quantum event, and quantum physics throws common sense out the window. It is completely counterintuitive—events without causes, virtual particles popping into existence, quantum entanglement, quantum tunneling, quantum superposition, and so on.

Before you hypothesize a Being that is the source of existence, show that natural explanations are insufficient. That is, don’t simply say that science has unanswered questions about the origin of the universe (yes, it does). You must show that no natural explanation is possible. Otherwise, the consistent record of failure of supernatural explanations means that we have no reason to expect such a thing.

Notice how he never for a second argues for a positive atheist viewpoint of how the universe got here. All he can do is endlessly throw it back to the Christians to explain. But we’ve made our explanations a million times. Science supports our view of creatio ex nihilo from God in a stronger way than it ever has before. It’s the atheists who have never remotely explained the plausibility of either an eternal universe or a universe from nothing.

I fully understand their reluctance. I sure wouldn’t want to have to explain and defend such scientifically, logically, and philosophically ridiculous things. Yet it seems clear and obvious that they must, in order to set forth atheism once and for all as the superior worldview, over against the despised Christianity (which is their raison d’etre [i.e., justification for their existence]).

Bob Seidensticker would never let Christians off so easily: without answering any challenge he outs out. Hence he wrote:

A word to the wise: whenever you read an apologetic article, make sure the Christian actually answers the question. Don’t be swayed with bluster and confidence so that you overlook them running from the question. . . . 

 That the question might make them uncomfortable isn’t the issue. They want to get the challenge dismissed on a technicality so they don’t have to answer it. Don’t let them. (11-19-19)

The late famous atheist scientist Stephen Hawking asserted in his 2010 book, The Grand Design: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing . . .  Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” Scientist John Lennox responded to this claim:

[C]ontrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions. . . .

[T]he laws of physics could never have actually built the universe. Some agency must have been involved.

To use a simple analogy, Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in themselves never sent a snooker ball racing across the green baize. That can only be done by people using a snooker cue and the actions of their own arms.

Hawking’s argument appears to me even more illogical when he says the existence of gravity means the creation of the universe was inevitable. But how did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth? . . .

For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws only reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine creative force at work. The more I understand science, the more I believe in God because of my wonder at the breadth, sophistication and integrity of his creation.

The very reason science flourished so vigorously in the 16th and 17th centuries was precisely because of the belief that the laws of nature which were then being discovered and defined reflected the influence of a divine law-giver. . . .

Some years ago, the scientist Joseph Needham made an epic study of technological development in China. He wanted to find out why China, for all its early gifts of innovation, had fallen so far behind Europe in the advancement of science.

He reluctantly came to the conclusion that European science had been spurred on by the widespread belief in a rational creative force, known as God, which made all scientific laws comprehensible.

Here are several more similar ludicrous utterances from atheists or agnostics:

It is now becoming clear that everything can—and probably did—come from nothing. (Robert A. J. Matthews, physicist, Ashton University, England)

Even if we don’t have a precise idea of exactly what took place at the beginning, we can at least see that the origin of the universe from nothing need not be unlawful or unnatural or unscientific. (Paul Davies, physicist, Arizona State University)

Assuming the universe came from nothing, it is empty to begin with . . . The fact that we have something is just what we would expect if there is no God. (Victor J. Stenger, Prof. of Physics, University of Hawaii; author of God: The Failed Hypothesis)

Few people are aware of the fact that many modern physicists claim that things—perhaps even the entire universe—can indeed arise from nothing via natural processes. (Mark I. Vuletic, Creation Ex Nihilo—Without God)

It is rather fantastic to realize that the laws of physics can describe how everything was created in a random quantum fluctuation out of nothing . . . (Alan Harvey Guth, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Discover Magazine)

The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice. (Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale)

[T]he most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. (philosopher Quinton Smith)

The one thing that always seems to be missing from these bizarre statements, is how and why this supposed process ever happened. And why is that? Well, because no one has a clue. There is no scientific experiment that could even suggest, let alone prove such a thing. So at best it is implausible philosophy, and at worst, fideistic religion: believed in by blind faith. Have you observed the high irony yet?: isn’t that the very thing that Christians are blasted for believing (and made out to be unsophisticated, anti-science troglodytes): in a God Who created everything and set the universe in motion — without ironclad, indisputable proof?

All of a sudden atheists find themselves having to explain origins just as they always challenge us to do, and they offer either more nothing or else they have to admit they have no more (I would say, a lot less) reason to believe as they do than we do (which is what I’ve been maintaining now for forty years, in my philosophically and scientifically informed Christian apologetics).
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It’s not just me saying this (although I think it is an utterly obvious conclusion). David Darling is an English astronomer who has written many books about science, and  maintains the online Internet Encyclopedia of Science. He wrote in NewScientist magazine on 9-14-96:

What is a big deal—the biggest deal of all—is how you get something out of nothing.

Don’t let the cosmologists try to kid you on this one. They have not got a clue either—despite the fact that they are doing a pretty good job of convincing themselves and others that this is really not a problem. “In the beginning,” they will say, “there was nothing—no time, space, matter or energy. Then there was a quantum fluctuation from which . . . ” Whoa! Stop right there. You see what I mean? First there is nothing, then there is something. And the cosmologists try to bridge the two with a quantum flutter, a tremor of
uncertainty that sparks it all off. Then they are away and before you know it, they have pulled a hundred billion galaxies out of their quantum hats.

I don’t have a problem with this scenario from the quantum fluctuation onward. Why shouldn’t human beings build a theory of how the Universe evolved from a simple to a complex state. But there is a very real problem in explaining how it got started in the first place. You cannot fudge this by appealing to quantum mechanics. Either there is nothing to begin with, in which case there is no quantum vacuum, no pre-geometric dust, no time in which anything can happen, no physical laws that can effect a change from nothingness into somethingness; or there is something, in which case that needs explaining. . . .

No, I’m sorry, I may not have been born in Yorkshire but I’m a firm believer that you cannot get owt for nowt. Not a Universe from a nothing-verse, nor consciousness from a thinking brain. I suspect that mainstream science may go on for a few more years before it bumps so hard against these problems that it is forced to recognise that something is wrong. And then? Let me guess: if you cannot get something for nothing then that must mean there has always been something. Hmmm.

Likewise, philosopher of science and physicist David Albert, stated:

[I]f what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise. (“On the Origin of Everything,”The New York Times, 3-23-12)

The agnostic Ron Rosenbaum wrote with remarkable candor and far-mindedness:

Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)

Faced with the fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing. (“An Agnostic Manifesto,”Slate, 6-28-10)

The other alternative is an eternal universe (which, of course, flies directly in the face of much scientific evidence for the Big Bang and a finite universe with a starting-point; and all that has to be overcome in order to believe it). Helge Kragh, in a paper on historic cosmology with regard to the universe’s origins, described Aristotle’s view:

He argued that the universe as a whole, apart from being unique (no other universes), was spatially finite but temporally infinite in both directions. In other words, it was eternal and hence uncreated as well as indestructible.

Albert Einstein, at the time of his theory of general relativity in 1917, following Newton, believed in an eternal, static universe. Helge Kragh describes his views:

The model presupposed that the universe as a whole was uniform and spatially closed corresponding to a positive curvature of space; it was finite yet with no boundary and therefore contained but a finite number of stars. Importantly, it was also static in the sense that the curvature of space and the mean density of matter remained constant. To maintain a static universe in accordance with astronomical observations Einstein had to introduce a new term in his cosmological field equations, the later so famous cosmological constant. Being static his universe had no temporal dimension but was eternal in both past and future time. For this reason alone the question of the origin of the universe did not enter Einstein’s mind. Nor did it enter the minds of the few other physicists and astronomers occupying themselves with his mathematically and conceptually abstruse theory.

Kragh chronicles the initial origin of the Big Bang Theory in 1931:

What became known as the big bang universe in a realistic sense was first proposed on 9 May 1931 in a brief note in the journal Nature. The author was Georges Lemaître, a 36-year-old Belgian astrophysicist and cosmologist who was also trained as a Catholic priest. “We could conceive,” Lemaître wrote in his 1931 paper, “the beginning of the universe in the form of a unique atom, the atomic weight of which is the total mass of the universe … [and which] would divide in smaller and smaller atoms by a kind of super-radioactive process.”

Einstein opposed his view at first (originally describing aspects of it as “abominable”), but was eventually won over in 1933 and stated: “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of the creation of the universe I’ve heard. “See more about their scientific relationship.

After the Big Bang Theory gained widespread and then nearly universal scientific acceptance from 1964, with the discovery of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). But in 1948, there had been an attempt to go back to the antiquated aristotelian eternal / static universe, with the “steady state” theory. Kragh provides a capsule history:

Finite-age models of the type proposed by Lemaître and Gamow were challenged by the fundamentally different steady state theory of the universe introduced by Fred Hoyle, Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold in 1948. According to this theory the universe had existed in an eternity of time and would continue existing eternally. . . .

What matters is that by assuming an infinite age of the universe the steady state theorists avoided the thorny question of a beginning. It was in this context that Hoyle, on 28 March 1949, gave a BBC broadcast in which he coined the name “big bang” for the kind of cosmological theory which assumed an origin of the universe in an explosive event. The following year he characterized “the big bang assumption [as] an irrational process that cannot be described in scientific terms.” What he had in mind was the old objection that there can be no causal explanation, indeed no explanation of any kind, for the beginning of the universe. At more than one occasion he associated the big bang theory with theism, suggesting that a temporal beginning of the universe implied divine creation and was therefore unscientific. For example: “The passionate frenzy with which the big-bang cosmology is clutched to the corporate scientific bosom evidently arises from a deep-rooted attachment to the first page of Genesis, religious fundamentalism at its strongest.”

Virtually no astronomer, physicist, or any kind of scientist continues to accept the steady-state theory today.

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Photo credit: Albert Einstein with Fr. Georges Lemaître, formulator of the Big Bang Theory (1932) [public domain / Reddit]

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April 15, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18: “you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 36 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

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

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Bob’s article, “BSR [Bite-Sized Reply] 5: The Bible Is Full of Contradictions” (3-30-20) is a classic case study of a fool hypocritically lecturing us supposedly ignorant, imbecilic Christians as to what a supposed logical contradiction is, when in fact he doesn’t have a clue himself. I suggest that he get up to speed on his elementary logic before attempting further articles of this nature:

Logic Pretest

Law of noncontradiction (Wikipedia)

Syllogism (Wikipedia)

Deductive reasoning (Wikipedia)

Fallacy (Wikipedia)

Let’s run through a few Bible contradictions and consider what real eyewitness testimony would look like.

Yeah, let’s . . .

(These Bite-Size Replies are responses to “Quick Shots,” brief Christian responses to atheist challenges. The introduction to this series is here.)

Challenge to the Christian: The Bible is full of contradictions.

Bite-Size Reply: No it ain’t!

Christian response #1: There’s a difference between a contradiction and a variation. Two reports about the same thing may not be identical, but that doesn’t mean they contradict.

Amen!

The gospels all have women telling the disciples about the empty tomb, except for Mark. In that gospel, the women are told by a man in the tomb to report the resurrection to the disciples. But “trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” And there Mark ends. That’s a contradiction.

Not at all. What Bob has done is assume that 16:8 is the end of the book. It’s true that there is a dispute over the authenticity of verses 9-20 as part of the biblical canon, and many modern biblical scholars agree with Bob that it is not. But then again, one can find in modern biblical scholars belief (or non-belief) in just about anything. It’s a radically mixed bag, and everyone has their starting premises, which may be and are questioned.

In the long version, Mary Magdalene (referred to in verse 1, as visiting the tomb) tells the disciples that she had seen the risen Jesus (16:9-11). Dr. Dave Miller wrote a superb, gloriously in-depth article, “Is Mark 16:9-20 Inspired?” Apologetics Press, 2005). Here are a few key excerpts (line breaks mean a break in the text):

Most, if not all, scholars who have examined the subject concede that the truths presented in the verses are historically authentic—even if they reject the genuineness of the verses as being originally part of Mark’s account. The verses contain no teaching of significance that is not taught elsewhere. [followed by numerous examples]

Those who reject the originality of the passage in Mark, while acknowledging the authenticity of the events reported, generally assign a very early date for the origin of the verses.

[T]he sheer magnitude of the witnesses that support verses 9-20 cannot be summarily dismissed out of hand. Though rejecting the genuineness of the verses, the Alands offer the following concession that ought to give one pause: “It is true that the longer ending of Mark 16:9-20 is found in 99 percent of the Greek manuscripts as well as the rest of the tradition, enjoying over a period of centuries practically an official ecclesiastical sanction as a genuine part of the gospel of Mark” (1987, p. 287, emp. added). Such longstanding and widespread acceptance cannot be treated lightly nor dismissed easily.

The patristic writings that indicate acceptance of the verses as genuine are remarkably extensive. From the second century, Irenaeus, who died c. A.D. 202, alludes to the verses in both Greek and Latin. [a host of other examples follows]

All told, the cumulative external evidence that documents the genuineness of verses 9-20, from Greek manuscripts, patristic citations, and ancient versions, is expansive, ancient, diversified, and unsurpassed.

Here’s another. The second Commandment against worshiping idols has this: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:5). In a more sober frame of mind in a later book, God changed his mind: “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” (Deuteronomy 24:16). That’s a contradiction.

It’s not. I already refuted this contention of Bob’s over a year-and-a-half ago: Seidensticker Folly #17: “to the third and fourth generations”? [9-11-18] Readers will, no doubt, be utterly shocked to learn that he never offered any counter-reply to it. So here he is, asserting the same tired argument that has long since been refuted. As Proverbs 9:8 (RSV) states: “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” 29:1 adds: “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”

There are thick books like The Big Book of Bible Difficulties that have rationalizations for hundreds of cases like these, . . . 

Precisely because there are thick anti-theist atheists like Bob, there is a need to compile thick books that thoroughly refute their endless fallacious and false contentions. That doesn’t prove in the slightest that the Bible is full of contradictions: only that (once all the evidence is in) its critics are.  Hence, this is my 37th refutation of Bob’s claims, which would probably add up to at least a small book. Also, I observed in my paper, Why We Should Fully Expect Many “Bible Difficulties” (4-5-19):

1. The Bible is a very lengthy, multi-faceted book by many authors, from long ago, with many literary genres (and in three languages), and cultural assumptions that are foreign to us.

2. The Bible purports to be revelation from an infinitely intelligent God. Thus (even though God simplifies it as much as possible), for us to think that it is an easy thing to immediately grasp and figure out, and would not have any number of “difficulties” for mere human beings to work through, is naive. The Bible itself teaches that authoritative teachers are necessary to properly understand it.

3. All grand “theories” have components (“anomalies” / “difficulties”) that need to be worked out and explained. For example, scientific theories do not purport to perfectly explain everything. They often have large “mysterious” areas that have to be resolved.

Here’s what eyewitness testimony looks like: “I Simon Peter and Andrew my brother took our nets and went to the sea” (from the Gospel of Peter). “I Thomas, an Israelite, write you this account” (the Infancy Gospel of Thomas). “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down” (the Gospel of Thomas). But this is apparently unconvincing because these books aren’t in the New Testament! And Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have no clear, identified eyewitness claims like these.

Oh, that’s cute. In writing a piece criticizing the Bible, Bob then introduces three passages from spurious late and Gnostic-influenced Gospels that were never accepted into the canon of Scripture. He (big surprise!) finds them superior in quality. David Heady, in his article, “The Gospels of Judas, Peter, and Thomas: Is Their Exclusion from the Canon Merited?” (2016) writes, concerning the Gospel of Peter:

No small amount of literature has been written pertaining to the apocryphal gospel of Peter. While a few attempts have been made to place its date of origin into the first century, they have generally been met with great resistance from scholars of a wide variety. Bart Ehrman states, “There are reasons for dating the text to a period after the canonical Gospels, probably sometime in the beginning or middle of the second century.”24 . . . Paul Foster goes even further by affirmatively stating, “Theories that attempt to press the text of the Gospel of Peter, or a source embedded within it, back into the first century are not sustainable. The text is best understood as a reflection on canonical traditions, and it also demonstrates theological trajectories that are part of later Christianity.”26 Hence, it would appear that the gospel of Peter could not have been written by someone who had walked with Christ or who had interviewed someone who had.

24 Bart D. Ehrman and Zlatko Plese. Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 376.

26 Paul Foster, “The Gospel of Peter,” The Expository Times 118, no. 7 (July, 2016): 324.

Its not enough for a reputed “Gospel” to simply state, “I Simon Peter . . . ” Anyone can claim to be anyone. Such books have to be proven to be early enough to have been eyewitness testimony as well. This one simply doesn’t pass the smell test. As for the Gospel of Thomas, David Heady noted:

As is the case with Peter and Judas, the general consensus is that Thomas originated in the mid-to-late second century. . . . It would be the only book in the canon to have a date of origin that is not just in the second century but is well into it. . . .

Kruger points out, “The broad consensus is that Thomas was written. . . by an unknown author (certainly not the apostle Thomas).” [Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 328]

Likewise, James Bishop in his article, “Jesus and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas: What Do We Know?” (3-23-20), writes:

The IGT was probably written in Greek at some point in the late second century CE. It is not therefore considered an early source for the historical Jesus as it is removed by well over a century. Like the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, the IGT claims its contents consist of the “stories of Thomas the Israelite”, hence from the original disciple himself. However, scholars are in agreement that this is not the case.

So much for Bible-Basher Bob’s rather novel brand of so-called “eyewitness testimony.”

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Related Reading

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Atheist Inventions of Many Bogus “Bible Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 9-4-18]
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Photo credit: aklara: “digital-fractal-abstract-geometry-lines” [public domain / Needpix.com]
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January 13, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself and my 35 critiques) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 35 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response to these 35 articles: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

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

*****

Bob’s article, “Jesus Thought Demons Cause Disease (Doctors Disagree)” [1-3-20] is a virtual encyclopedic catalogue of lies, whoppers, distortions, misrepresentations, cynically ignoring of relevant texts, and half-truths regarding Jesus and biblical teaching. Apologists (of which I am one) dream at night about finding such articles: that we can systematically refute and dismantle, so that Christianity and the Bible can be vindicated again for the umpteenth time, and the imbecilities of anti-theist Bible-bashing atheism can be yet again exposed for what they are. This is a gift!

Jesus cured disease with exorcisms.

Sometimes He did. Most times that He healed did not involve exorcisms or demons.

But if demons really are a cause of disease, why isn’t exorcism a part of medical practice today?

Quite obviously (for those who aren’t blinded by bigotry), because exorcism is a religiously-based ritual (confined mostly to Catholicism, within larger Christianity), not a scientific / medical exercise. It’s not part of science, by definition, and thus, no one would or should expect medical doctors qua doctors to perform it, just as we wouldn’t want a non-medically trained priest or pastor to perform heart surgery or to even give a simple shot.

That said, there are many instances of medical doctors and psychiatrists noting that they can’t explain from a scientific perspective, various phenomena that have been documented and recorded with regard to exorcisms of people who are thought to be possessed by a demon or demons (i.e., those who believe in faith that demons exist — as part of historic Christian belief — , think that they are in play in these cases). They are honest (and in effect, also humble) about their limitation of knowledge.

William Friedkin, director of the famous 1973 film, The Exorcist, wrote an article in Vanity Fair (10-31-16), in which he noted the opinions of eminent doctors and psychiatrists about exorcism:

Dr. Neil Martin is chief of neurosurgery at the UCLA Medical Center. He has performed more than 5,000 brain surgeries and is regularly cited as in the top 1 percent of his specialty. On August 3, I showed him the video of Rosa’s exorcism. This is his response: “Absolutely amazing. There’s a major force at work within her somehow. I don’t know the underlying origin of it. She’s not separated from the environment. She’s not in a catatonic state. She’s responding to the priest and is aware of the context. The energy she shows is amazing. The priest on the right is struggling to control her. He’s holding her down, as are the others, and the sweat is dripping off his face at a time when she’s not sweating. This doesn’t seem to be hallucinations. She appears to be engaged in the process but resisting. You can see she has no ability to pull herself back.”

I asked Dr. Martin if this was some kind of brain disorder. “It doesn’t look like schizophrenia or epilepsy,” he said. “It could be delirium, an agitated disconnection from normal behavior. But the powerful verbalization we’re hearing, that’s not what you get with delirium. With delirium you see the struggling, maybe the yelling, but this guttural voice seems like it’s coming from someplace else. I’ve done thousands of surgeries, on brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries, ruptured brain aneurysms, infections affecting the brain, and I haven’t seen this kind of consequence from any of those disorders. This goes beyond anything I’ve ever experienced—that’s for certain.”

I also showed the video to Dr. Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon and clinical specialist in epilepsy surgery, seizure disorder, and the study of human memory. He is based at both UCLA and the Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. This was his conclusion: “It looks like something authentic. She is like a caged animal. I don’t think there’s a loss of consciousness or contact, because she’s in contact with the people. She appears to respond to the people who talk to her. It’s a striking change in behavior. I believe everything originates in the brain. So which part of the brain could serve this type of behavior? The limbic system, which has to do with emotional processing of stimuli, and the temporal lobe. I don’t see this as epilepsy. It’s not necessarily a lesion. It’s a physiological state. It seems to be associated with religious things. In the temporal lobe there’s something called hyper-religiosity. You probably won’t have this in somebody who has no religious background. Can I characterize it? Maybe. Can I treat it? No.”

I asked Dr. Fried if he believed in God, and he took a long pause before answering: “I do believe there is a limit to human understanding. Beyond this limit, I’m willing to recognize an entity called God.”

The reaction of the neurosurgeons took me by surprise. I had expected they would quickly dismiss Rosa’s symptoms as madness or unintentional fraud or suggest that she might be cured by brain surgery. They did not.

They wouldn’t come out and say, “Of course this woman is possessed by Satan,” but they seemed baffled as to how to define her ailment, and both agreed it was not something they would attempt to cure with surgery.

I was eager to pursue another path, one devoted to the treatment and prevention of mental disorder. I took the video to a group of some of the leading psychiatrists in the country, all in residence at Columbia University: Jeffrey Lieberman, director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute; Michael B. First, professor of clinical psychiatry; Roberto Lewis-Fernández, president-elect of the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry; and Ryan Lawrence, M.D., assistant professor of clinical psychiatry.

After showing the Columbia psychiatrists the video on a 36-inch screen, they had an open discussion about it for an hour and a half. . . .

I went to these doctors to try to get a rational, scientific explanation for what I had experienced. I thought they’d say, “This is some sort of psychosomatic disorder having nothing to do with possession.” That’s not what I came away with. Forty-five years after I directed The Exorcist, there’s more acceptance of the possibility of possession than there was when I made the film.

Note that Friedkin himself characterizes his philosophical / religious view as “agnostic” in the article. He has no “Christian agenda.”

The Bible records Jesus performing seven distinct exorcisms (sometimes repeated between the gospels). The most famous may be the Gerasene demoniac, a man possessed by many demons. Jesus cured him by expelling the demons into pigs, which then drowned.

Where does disease come from?

Some of the sick people in these exorcism stories had what we would probably diagnose as mental illness, but some illnesses were physical. For example, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (Matthew 12:22–32).

These things can be mixed together. For example, a person could suffer from any number of physical maladies, and also from schizophrenia. The same person might eventually become demon-possessed. The presence of the latter doesn’t instantly wipe out the two former conditions. These aren’t “either/or” propositions. Doctors and psychiatrists also point out that diagnosis is often a very complex, tricky process.

Moreover, it can’t be absolutely denied (granting the existence of a devil and demons) that these evil forces may have some interference or causative influence on mental illness, generally speaking, or broadly considered. In Christian belief, demons love to make human beings miserable and to lead them away from happiness and fulfillment, and away from God. Mental illness is no picnic for anyone to experience.

So it’s possible to conceive that the devil and/or demons contribute in some way to the whole process, even short of visible manifestations deemed to be “possession.” But I’m simply speculating here and thinking out loud. Christians are not nearly as arbitrarily limited and bound as atheists, in terms of eliminating possibilities form the outset. We’re far more open-minded and willing to follow evidence (of all sorts) where it leads.

To make the picture more complicated still, one final category of illness is that caused by sin. Jesus cured the invalid at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–16) and cautioned him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 

I think it’s self-evident and indisputable that sometimes (not all the time: either biblically or scientifically) sickness can be adversely influenced by sinful (and/or “unhealthy”) behavior. Two brief examples will suffice to demonstrate this:

1) a person who keeps drinking to the point of alcoholism (the biblical sin of “drunkenness”) will eventually develop a much greater likelihood of contracting cirrhosis of the liver.

2) People who habitually worry too much (the biblical lack of faith or excessive anxiety) — or react to stress in unhealthy ways — can develop any number of debilitating conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

It’s also well-known and utterly uncontroversial that various states of mind or emotions can affect physical health. Solomon understood this in several of his Proverbs: written around 950 BC (Prov 14:30; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).

Sin and illness are also connected in the story of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1–12) and when Jesus’s disciples asked about a blind man, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1–7).

What Bible-Basher Bob deliberately ignores in the latter passage, is that it refutes his effort to pretend that the Bible wants to always or usually connect disease with sin. Jesus here expressly denied that the man’s blindness was caused by sin:

John 9:3 (RSV) Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.

He reiterated the same thought at another time:

Luke 13:1-5 There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. [2] And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? [3] I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. [4] Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo’am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? [5] I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

This sin/disease connection comes from the Old Testament. In the book of Job, Job’s friends assured him that his difficult situation must’ve been caused by his own sin, since God wouldn’t inflict this without cause. 

This is ludicrous. That book does not teach that Job was afflicted because of his sin. This was only the jaded, false view of the notorious group known to posterity as “Job’s comforters.” The overall thrust of the book — indeed, its central message — is quite to the contrary. I dealt with similar questions in refuting atheist David Madison:

God describes Job: “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8; cf. 2:3). Yet the entire book is about his extreme sufferings. Obviously, the teaching and “moral” of that book is not that he suffered because of his sins, but rather, in a state of extraordinary holiness.

The comforters and Job himself were roundly rebuked by God at the end of the book, for their lack of faith and their extreme presumption:

Job 38:2-5 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? [3] Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. [4] “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. [5] Who determined its measurements — surely you know! . . .

Etc., etc.

Moses lectured Israel that they’d better follow all of God’s commands. Of the many curses they would receive if they didn’t, “The LORD will plague you with diseases” (Deuteronomy 28:15–22).

But this is the judgment of God, which is a special case. It doesn’t establish that there is a direct causal connection of sin every time there is illness and sickness or any kind of malady. This connection was expressly denied by Jesus in John 9:3 and Luke 13:1-5 (above). Moreover, the lack of such a universal connection is shown in the Old testament dietary laws and other observances: given by God to the Jews. I demonstrated at length (in response to Dr. David Madison elsewhere) that the principles of germs, related to disease, and hygiene, were present in the Old Testament, long before they were discovered by modern science. I cite this paper of mine:

The Bible Ask site has an article, “Did the Bible teach the germs theory?” (5-30-16):

The Bible writers did not write a medical textbook. However, there are numerous rules for sanitation, quarantine, and other medical procedures (found in the first 5 book of the OT) . . .

Had the medical community paid attention to God’s instructions that were given 3000 years before, many lives would have been saved. The Lord gave the Israelites hygienic principles against the contamination of germs and taught the necessity to quarantine the sick (Numbers 19:11-12). And the book of Leviticus lists a host of diseases and ways where a person would come in contact with germs (Leviticus 13:46).

Germs were no new discovery in 1847. And for this fact, Roderick McGrew testified in the Encyclopedia of Medical History: “The idea of contagion was foreign to the classic medical tradition and found no place in the voluminous Hippocratic writings. The Old Testament, however, is a rich source for contagionist sentiment, especially in regard to leprosy and venereal disease” (1985, pp. 77-78). . . .

1. The Bible contained instructions for the Israelites to wash their bodies and clothes in running water if they had a discharge, came in contact with someone else’s discharge, or had touched a dead body. They were also instructed about objects that had come into contact with dead things, and about purifying items with an unknown history with either fire or running water. They were also taught to bury human waste outside the camp, and to burn animal waste (Num 19:3-22;Lev. 11:1-4715:1-33;Deut 23:12). . . .

3. It was not until 1873 that leprosy was shown to be an infectious disease rather than hereditary. Of course, the laws of Moses already were aware of that (Lev 13, 14, 22; Num 19:20). It contains instructions about quarantine and about quarantined persons needing to thoroughly shave and wash. Priests who cared for them also were instructed to change their clothes and wash thoroughly. The Israelites were the only culture to practice quarantine until the 19th century, when medical advances discovered the biblical medical principles and practices.

4. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” (born 460 BC), thought “bad air” from swampy areas was the cause of disease.

See also: “Old Testament Laws About Infectious Diseases.”

The entry on “Health” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology reveals that ordinary medicinal remedies were widely practiced in Bible times. There wasn’t solely a belief that sin or demons caused all disease (as Bob often implies in his anti-Christian writings, and in this paper: “According to the Bible, evil spirits cause disease.”). There was also a natural cause-and-effect understanding:

Ordinary means of healing were of most diverse kinds. Balm ( Gen 37:25 ) is thought to have been an aromatic resin (or juice) with healing properties; oil was the universal emollient ( Isa 1:6 ), and was sometimes used for wounds with cleansing wine ( Luke 10:34 ). Isaiah recommended a fig poultice for a boil ( 38:21 ); healing springs and saliva were thought effectual ( Mark 8:23 ; John 5 ; 9:6-7 ). Medicine is mentioned ( Prov 17:22 ) and defended as “sensible” ( Sirach 38:4). Wine mixed with myrrh was considered sedative ( Mark 15:23 ); mint, dill, and cummin assisted digestion ( Matt 23:23 ); other herbs were recommended for particular disorders. Most food rules had both ritual and dietary purposes, while raisins, pomegranates, milk, and honey were believed to assist restoration. . . .

Luke’s constant care of Paul reminds us that nonmiraculous means of healing were not neglected in that apostolic circle. Wine is recommended for Timothy’s weak stomach, eye-salve for the Thyatiran church’s blindness (metaphorical, but significant).

All of this establishes beyond doubt that the Bible is not “anti-scientific”. It doesn’t contradict the findings of science as we know them today. Nor is it fundamentally opposed to scientific inquiry and a reasoned approach to alleviation of physical maladies. And we have to somehow explain how the ancient Jews (though “pre-scientific” as opposed to, for example, the ancient Greeks), were able to obtain such remarkable knowledge regarding contagious disease over 3000 years before modern science figured it out. We explain it by supernatural revelation form God. And what alternate explanation is there?

And it demonstrates (our immediate purpose in this paper) how the biblical understanding of afflictions and disease is predominantly natural (natural causation, ruled by the laws of nature and science), while not ruling out other (or additional / multiple) causes in some cases, such as demons and God’s judgment or permissive will (as the case may be).

I see three explanations.

1. Demons/sin caused disease in the time of Jesus but not today

The Christian might argue that the Bible is accurate and that some diseases were caused by demons and others by sin. However, it doesn’t work that way today, and now all illness has an organic cause.

I’ve already shown how medical doctors and psychiatrists cannot explain instances that Christians would characterize as demon possession. So in those cases, they do not know the “organic cause.” They can’t explain it by present scientific knowledge and are honest enough to admit it. That is a truly agnostic and neutral, objective position; whereas on the other hand, an atheist like Bob would simply dogmatically deny that any supernatural explanation could possibly be correct. He can’t prove that. It’s a matter of blind faith for him: made necessary by his prior atheism and epistemologically outlandish belief that no miracle or supernatural occurrence could ever possibly happen anywhere.

To say, “we simply don’t know [according to science]” is vastly different from saying, “demon possession can’t possibly be the explanation, in any possible universe.” The first outlook recognizes its own ignorance and limitations (something Socrates praised and advocated). The second is equal parts intellectually arrogant and pretentious, and ludicrous. We shouldn’t pretend to know what we do not know.

This, of course, is stated without evidence. The Bible doesn’t say this.

Yes, that’s correct. Once in a blue moon, Bob gets it right. The Bible never states that demonic activity would cease over time. People simply stopped believing in it, at the same time, they stopped believing in any number of Christian beliefs. It’s a function of the general loss of faith, that can happen over centuries in formerly Christian cultures and societies.

The naturalistic explanation, as usual, is sufficient: we have categories labeled Pseudoscience and Mythology for stories like these.

It wasn’t sufficient for the neurosurgeons and psychiatrists interviewed by agnostic film director William Friedkin: documented above. They were intellectually honest and didn’t have a cynical agenda, like Bob does. So they are objective, whereas Bob is not at all.

2. Demons/sin caused disease 2000 years ago, and that’s still true today

This is what faith healers like Benny Hinn would tell us. I’d be more convinced by his claims if he weren’t taking money from desperate people who have exhausted conventional medicine or if he were magically curing people in hospitals or if he convinced skeptics like James Randi.

It’s what the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity teach, and we continue to observe people acting very strange, in a way that is not inconsistent with the hypothesis of demon possession. Christian belief is not confined to faith healers (real or so-called), and belief in demons does not depend on folks who are “taking money” (often unethically) from (in many cases) dupes. Bob does the old polemical trick of collapsing a belief-system into only the belief of lunatics, bad people, and other questionable characters. To say, “x is untrue because bad character y believes it” is merely the genetic fallacy (with a dose of good ol’ ad hominem thrown in), and of no explanatory or persuasive value. This is what he routinely does with Christians and the Bible. He’s a bigot, and a highly ignorant and obnoxious one to boot.

3. Demons/sin never caused disease, and the gospels are simply the product of a prescientific time

Different New Testament authors handled exorcisms and cures differently.

Now Bob will attempt to play the game of pitting biblical authors against each other, and I will shoot it down and expose the illogical and untrue nature of this pseudo-argument, built upon suspicious and factually untrue false premises.

The gospel of John had plenty of miracles but no exorcisms. 

Jesus refers to demons, when He was asked if He was possessed by one Himself (Jn 8:48): “I have not a demon” (Jn 8:49). Note that He doesn’t say, “there is no such thing as a demon.” He denies that He is possessed by one, while assuming that it is possible (therefore, deductively, that a removal of one, or exorcism, is also possible). Jesus also expressly accepts the existence of the devil (Satan):

John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

This is an important expression of New Testament belief in Satan. The author / narrator refers to “the devil” (Jn 13:2) and states that “Satan entered into” Judas Iscariot (Jn 13:27), and Jesus (Jn 6:70-71) calls Judas “a devil” (i.e., a demon; in context, “one whose actions are controlled or dominated or inspired by a demon or the devil”). Thus, supernatural evil spirits (demons) and Satan, who leads them, are hardly absent from the Gospel of John. And possession is referred to. Thus, exorcism is implicitly acknowledged (in complete harmony with the data in the other three Gospels).

Paul has no mention of healings; 

This is untrue:

1 Corinthians 12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.

St. Paul mentions his own supernatural conversion (i.e., a spiritual healing) and subsequent healing of his supernaturally-induced blindness, as recorded in the book of Acts:

Acts 22:6-13 “As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. [7] And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ [8] And I answered, `Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, `I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ [9] Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. [10] And I said, `What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, `Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ [11] And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. [12] “And one Anani’as, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, [13] came to me, and standing by me said to me, `Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him.”

St. Paul also referred to a miraculous vision that he had experienced:

2 Corinthians 12:1-7 I must boast; there is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. [2] I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. [3] And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — [4] and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. [5] On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. [6] Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. [7] And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.

Moreover, Acts records that he healed several people:

Acts 28:8-9 It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery; and Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. [9] And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.

. . . and that he did other miracles, and “indirect” healings (including exorcisms):

Acts 19:11-12 And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, [12] so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

in fact, Paul mentions no Jesus miracles of any sort.

This is also massively untrue. St. Paul repeatedly refers to Jesus rising from the dead. Jesus said that this was a miracle that He Himself performed:

John 2:19-21 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he spoke of the temple of his body.

John 10:17-18 “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”

[the Bible also says that God the Father raised Him [e.g., Gal 1:1; 1 Thess 1:10], and that the Holy Spirit did [Rom 8:11], because in Christian trinitarian theology, the three persons of the Trinity share their divine attributes; this is called circumincession or perichoresis ]

Here is the Apostle Paul referring to His resurrection, which was His own miracle (and the Father’s, and the Holy Spirit’s):

Romans 6:9 . . . Christ being raised from the dead . . .

Romans 7:4  . . . raised from the dead . . .

Romans 8:34 . . . Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead . . .

1 Corinthians 15:4 . . . he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures

1 Corinthians 15:12 . . . Christ is preached as raised from the dead . . .

2 Corinthians 5:15 . . . him who for their sake died and was raised.

St. Paul also repeatedly refers to the deity or divinity of Christ, and His [supernatural] incarnation:

Philippians 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

Colossians 1:18-19 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. [19] For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, (cf. 1:15-16)

Colossians 2:9 For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, (cf. 1 Tim 3:15-16)

Titus 2:13 awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,

St. Paul, thirdly, refers to His supernatural ascension into heaven (as well as His descent into Hades to deliver the “captives” there):

Ephesians 4:8-10 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” [9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? [10] He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

St. Paul simply didn’t have to recount the stories of Jesus’ life and many or all of His miracles, since it was already done four times in the Gospels. It’s awful silly for atheists to in effect demand that this must be done five times, or else Paul’s testimony is suspect. It’s absurd.

Paul assumes and repeatedly asserts that Jesus was 1) God, and that 2) He died on the cross on our behalf, 3) He rose from the dead; consequently, 4) we can be saved by His redeeming death, by God’s grace, made possible by the fact that He was God: proven by His resurrection. Paul’s task was to present Christian theology (as the first “systematic theologian”), not to be a biographer of chronicler of the events in the life of Jesus.

To recap: Paul does refer to at least three miracles of Christ: His incarnation, resurrection, and ascension to heaven.

Different authors had different agendas, which explains why some made a big deal of healings and some seem not to have known about them.

This is standard atheist skeptical, anti-miraculous supposed “explaining away” of biblical inspiration: leading to consistent teachings and theology throughout the Bible. I have demonstrated that his hostile premises are simply untrue. John knew about demons, the devil, and demonic possession (contrary to Bob’s claim), and St. Paul knew about miracles of Jesus and healings. Bob was dead-wrong, as usual. One thing we can always count on in his analyses of Christianity, is that he is consistently wrong, every time. It’s the only common thread that runs through his writings. He can’t get it right to save his life. His record for accuracy and truth-telling is even worse than an unplugged clock, which gives the correct time twice each day.

The Bible says that demons and sin cause disease

Again, Bob flat-out lies. He makes out (by subtle implication) that the Bible always explains disease by sin. This is simply not the case, as I have now massively shown. At most, it teaches that demons do sometimes trouble people, including physical symptoms.

but modern medicine has found no category of disease for which faith healings or exorcisms provide cures. 

It can’t do what is impossible for it to do, by definition and category. Science deals with matter, and demons and exorcisms do not deal with matter, but rather, with immaterial (and malevolent) spirits; spiritual entities and processes. It remains true that in fact, there are things called exorcisms which do indeed cure people of terrible maladies and suffering. Honest, objective doctors, and scientists will admit that this cannot be explained by modern science.

The naturalistic explanation works best. 

Of course: when it is a question of explaining matter . . . DUH!

There’s no reason to believe that the stories of Jesus’s healing miracles are accurate and every reason to conclude that they’re simply legend.

“Nice” ending of a bald, gratuitous assertion with no evidence or reason provided for believing it.

Related Reading:

Divine Healing: Is It God’s Will to Heal in Every Case? (Biblical Refutation of “Hyperfaith” / “Name-It-Claim-It” Teaching) [1982; rev. 7-5-02]

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Photo credit: The Two Men Possessed with Devils, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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July 25, 2019

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, 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“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.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day: “If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18“you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself and my 35 critiques) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 35 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response to these 35 articles: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

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

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In his article, George Washington Couldn’t Tell a Lie … But God Can (4-21-18; update of post from 8-11-14), Bible-Basher Bob provides a potpourri of ridiculous lies: all for the purpose of “proving” that the God revealed in the Bible is a liar. Let’s take each whopper in turn:

God lies in Garden of Eden story

We can’t even get out of the Creation story without seeing God lie. God says to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). Adam doesn’t, and he lives to be 930 years old.

Bodie Hodge, in his article, “Time of Death” (Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Volume 1: 10-20-08), explains this:

The Hebrew phrase in English is more literally:

“Tree knowledge good evil eat day eat die (dying) die”

The Hebrew is “die die” (muwthmuwth) with two different verb tenses (dying and die), which can be translated as “surely die” or literally as “dying you shall die,” indicating the beginning of dying—an ingressive sense—and finally culminating with death. At the point when they ate, Adam and Eve began to die and would return to dust (Genesis 3:19). If they were meant to die right then, God would have used muwth only once, as is used in the Hebrew to mean dead, died, or die, not beginning to die or surely die as die-die is used in Hebrew. . . .

[T]he Hebrew word yom for day in Genesis 2:17, . . .refers directly to the following action—eating—not the latter “dying die.” For example Solomon used an almost identical construct in 1 Kings 2:37 when referring to Shimei:

“For on the day (yom) you go out and cross over the brook Kidron, you will know for certain that you shall surely (muwth) die (muwth); your blood shall be on your own head.”

This uses yom (day) and the dual muwth just as Genesis 2:17 did. In Genesis 2:17, yom referred to the action (eating) in the same way that yom refers the action here (go out and cross over). In neither case do they mean that was the particular day they would die, but the particular day they did what they weren’t supposed to do. Solomon also understood that it would not be a death on that particular day, but that Shimei’s days were numbered from that point. In other words, their (Adam and Shimei) actions on that day were what gave them the final death sentence—it was coming, and they would surely die as a result of their actions. Therefore, the day in Genesis 2:17 was referring to when they ate (disobeyed), and not the day they died.

The rationalization that “die” only meant that Adam and Eve had been immortal before eating the fruit won’t work. Remember that God had to exile them from the Garden so they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life.

In a second related paper, Bob digs in even further:

Apologists respond that this instead means that they will die eventually, that this introduced physical death and they would no longer be immortal. But the text makes clear that they never were immortal. They were driven from the Garden so they wouldn’t eat from the Tree of Life. That’s what makes you immortal.

The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary explains this alleged discrepancy:

[T]he man had not yet eaten of the tree of life. Had he continued in fellowship with God by obedience to the command of God, he might have eaten of it, for he was created for eternal life. But after he had fallen through sin into the power of death, the fruit which produced immortality could only do him harm. For immortality in a state of sin is not the ζωὴ αἰώνιος , which God designed for man, but endless misery, which the Scriptures call “the second death” (Revelation 2:11Revelation 20:6Revelation 20:14Revelation 21:8). The expulsion from paradise, therefore, was a punishment inflicted for man’s good, intended, while exposing him to temporal death, to preserve him from eternal death.

Now it’s true that Genesis does not describe in great depth all of these elements: physical death, spiritual death, and the Christian doctrine of original sin. The New Testament develops it much further, as I have written about, although King David is aware of it: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5, RSV), and so is Moses, in the book of Genesis itself: “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (8:21).

It is standard biblical hermeneutics to interpret less clear portions of the Bible by means of clearer related cross-references. Nevertheless, there are several more Old Testament passages that describe the fallen condition of man, as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion (which Christians believe implicated all mankind: 1 Corinthians 15:22: “in Adam all die”). Here are other similar texts:

Job 15:14 (RSV) What is man, that he can be clean? Or he that is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?

Psalms 14:2-3 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. [3] They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.

Ecclesiastes 9:3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that one fate comes to all; also the hearts of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?

God’s solution to all this misery is salvation through the blood of Christ and His free gift of grace: received with repentance:

Romans 5:6-11 While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. [8] But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.

God lies to Ahab

Israel and Judah allied to fight the country of Aram across the Jordan River in 1 Kings 22. King Ahab of Israel consulted his 400 prophets and was assured of success. Prophet Micaiah was the sole holdout, but his prophecy turned out to be correct—the battle was lost and Ahab was killed. How then had the 400 other prophets gotten it completely wrong? Micaiah tells us that Yahweh wanted Ahab to die and authorized a spirit to cause the prophets to lie to lure him into the battle.

The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary states:

The manner in which the supernatural influence of the lying spirit upon the false prophets is brought out in Micah’s vision is, that the spirit of prophecy ( רוח הנבואה ) offers itself to deceive Ahab as שׁקר רוּח in the false prophets. Jehovah sends this spirit, inasmuch as the deception of Ahab has been inflicted upon him as a judgment of God for his unbelief. . . .

As he would not listen to the word of the Lord in the mouth of His true servants, God had given him up ( παρέδωκεν , Romans 1:24Romans 1:26Romans 1:28) in his unbelief to the working of the spirits of lying. But that this did not destroy the freedom of the human will is evident from the expression תּפתּה , “thou canst persuade him,” and still more clearly from תּוּכל גּם , “thou wilt also be able,” since they both presuppose the possibility of resistance to temptation on the part of man.

This is a common way of expressing God’s judgment and His providence. Romans 1 (mentioned above), explains it:

Romans 1:18-25 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; [21] 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. [24] Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, [25] because 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.

Note that the onus lies upon the people who “suppress the truth” and are engaged in “all ungodliness and wickedness” (1:18). They choose in their own free will to disobey God, then the text says that “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24). In other words, He didn’t cause their rebellion; He only allowed them in their free choices, to rebel.

Likewise, in the present scenario, God allowed the false prophets (see Deut 8:22) to lead Ahab astray, and this led to his judgment, which was inevitable (by Ahab’s own choice to be wicked and rebellious). Ahab chose to believe them. It was the false prophets who lied to Ahab, not God. The same dynamic is seen in the juxtaposition between Pharaoh freely hardening his heart, which is then applied to God (in a limited sense) doing it (which means that He allowed it, in His providence; He didn’t ordain it). I explain this at length, in two papers.

A fourth similar example occurs in the book of Job. Satan comes to God and challenges Him to allow him to torment Job. God responds, “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life” (2:6; cf. 1:12). So it is clear that Satan is behind the direct persecution of Job. But later, the text refers to “all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (42:11); that is (properly interpreted, with knowledge of the multitude of Hebrew literary devices), allowed in His providence. Then it is reported (now literally) that God “restored the fortunes of Job, . . . and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before” (42:10) and “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (42:12).

Bob himself virtually makes this same argument for me in his next section (I am answering as I read, so I didn’t see this before i wrote the above):

New Testament lying

Remember how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to prevent him from doing the right thing (Exodus 9:12)? We see the same thing in the New Testament. 2 Thessalonians predicts that “the lawless one” will deceive during the end times. To people caught by the lie, “God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thess. 2:11–12).

We see something similar when Paul describes God’s frustration at the people who don’t get it. “God [gives] them over in the sinful desires of their hearts” (Romans 1:24).

Explained above . . . 2 Thessalonians (also written by St. Paul) expresses precisely the same dynamic as we see in Romans 1 and the other three examples above. Men rebel in their wickedness (“they refused to love the truth and so be saved”: 2:10). Then it is stated (as a forceful hyperbolic manifestation of God’s providence and His permissive will) that “God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2:11-12).

It’s not a contradiction. This way of speaking is common in the Bible. When Paul talks about wicked men, he is being literal; but when He talks about God, it is hyperbolic and a form of sarcasm. 2:10 makes it quite clear what caused their damnation: “those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth.” Even 2:12 again reiterates that man’s rebellion was the cause of the demise of the damned: not because God willed and ordained it from all eternity.

The Jewish opponents of Jesus saw his miracles. They didn’t believe, not because the evidence was poor or because they didn’t understand or because they were stubborn. No, they didn’t believe because God deliberately hardened their hearts (John 12:37–40). John says, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts.”

But why harden the hearts of bad people? Were they going to do bad things on their own accord or not?

Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible, in its treatment of the Old Testament passage cited in John 12 (Isaiah 6:9-10) states:

What is prophesied in this passage is the judicial hardening of Israel in their rebellion against God. The prophecy is stated in different forms. Here it appears imperatively; but in other places the prophecy is referred to as self-accomplished as in Acts 28:27, or as having occurred passively as in Matthew 13:13-15. Here, as Dummelow pointed out, “The result of Isaiah’s preaching is spoken of as if it were the purpose of it.” . . .

The classical example from the Bible is that of Pharaoh, of whom it is stated ten times that “Pharaoh hardened his heart …” after which it is said that, “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” God never hardened anyone’s heart who had not already hardened his own heart many times. Thus it was said of this prophecy that Israel had themselves shut their ears, closed their eyes, and hardened their hearts.

Thus we may say that God hardened Israel, that Israel hardened themselves, and further, that Satan hardened their hearts. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The “blinding” of this passage and the “strong delusion” of 2 Thessalonians 2:11 KJV, and the “working of error” (2 Thessalonians 2:11, ASV) are all designations of exactly the same condition described here as “hardening.”

The key to understanding lies in the parallel passage of Acts 28:27, which the commentary above describes as “self-accomplished” rebellion. This shows the same dynamic as the “hardened hearts” passages. In the overall context of Acts 28, we don’t see the language of God deliberately blinding them, etc. We see their own choices causing these things. Hence, we see references to “others disbelieved” (28:24); then the Isaiah passage is cited, but in a milder fashion, followed by “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (28:28). In other words, these hearers would not listen. It was their fault; they were rebellious. God didn’t cause that.

Likewise, here is how Jesus put it in Matthew 13:13, 16: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. . . . their eyes they have closed . . . But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” If one looks at the larger context of John 12:37-40, one can also see that it is man’s rebellion, not God’s foreordination, that causes the disbelief and wickedness:

John 12:37, 47-48  Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him; . . . [47] [Jesus] If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. [48] He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.

Jesus lying

Jesus was wrong when he predicted an imminent end: “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34). The end of the world obviously didn’t happen in the first century. . . .

This may not be a deliberate lie like we saw from God but rather a false statement, but the result is the same when it comes from an omniscient being.

This is an old chestnut of anti-theist atheist polemics. A plausible explanation (where Jesus would be referring both to His hearers’ generation and the end times) is explicated by Glenn Miller at the wonderful Christian Thinktank site:

[W]hen we notice the structure of the ending in Matthew and Mark, we see how some of the items lay out.

The ending has four points:

    1. The lesson of the fig tree (Mt 24.32-33; Mk 13.28-29; Lk 21.29-31) [e.g. “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.”]
    2. The “this generation” saying (Mt 24.34; Mk 13.30; Lk 21.32)
    3. The “heaven and earth will pass away” saying (Mt 24.35; Mk 13.31; Lk 21.33)
    4. The “no one knows the hour” saying (Mt 24.36; Mk 13.31; not in Luke)

Now, the Lesson of the fig tree (Point 1) can only be a reference to the destruction of the Temple/City. It draws a distinction between “all these things” and “it is near”–all these things cannot logically then contain the 2nd Advent [which is the “it” in “it is near”-cf. D.A.Carson, EBC, in. loc.; and William Lane in NICNT (Mark):478: “They (all these things) cannot refer to the celestial upheavals described in verses 24-25 which are inseparable from the parousia (verse 26) and the gathering of the elect (verse 27). These events represent the end and cannot constitute a preliminary sign of something else.”]

With this “end” of the end-time continuum being identified in Point 1 (as the “these things” question of the disciples), Jesus then solemnly announces WHEN this ‘beginning of the end-times’ will occur–within that generation (Point 2). With this, He has answered the initial question of the ‘these things’–the immediate historical context of the question of the destruction of the temple.

He then turns (in point 3 above) to describe the “other end” of the end-times continuum–the destruction of the universe (cf. 2 Peter 2.10: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.). Here Jesus is pointing back to those descriptions of the very end, as in Mt 24.29: “Immediately after the distress of those days “`the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ and Lk 21.25f: On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. He points out that the Great End will be certain, as the continuance of His word is certain (yes!).

And then we have Point 4–the comment that no one but the Father knows the time of the Very-End. [The subsequent parables by Matt in 24.42ff and Luke in 12.39ff, which use the ‘thief’ image, connect this piece–via the 2 Peter quote above–with the Great-End, and NOT with the destruction of the Temple.]

So we have a reasonable structure for the ending sequence-(Point 1) pay attention to the beginning of signs; (Point 2) some of you will definitely see these beginnings; (Point 3) the Big-End pointed to by these signs will surely come; and (Point 4) but none of you can know when (with the implications that are immediately drawn in several of the texts to watchfulness, faithfulness, and industry.)

Thus, [F.F.] Bruce summarizes the same conclusion reached here . . .:

Jesus, as in Mark, foretells how not one stone of the temple will be left standing on another, and the disciples say, ‘Tell us, (a) when will these things be, and (b) what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?’ (Matt. 24:3). Then, at the end of the following discourse, Jesus answers their twofold question by saying that (a) ‘this generation will not pass away till all these things take place (Mtt 24.34) while, (b) with regard to his coming and ‘the close of the age’, he tells them that ‘of that day and hour no one knows…’ [Hard Sayings of Jesus, IVP, 1983, 229-230]

This would yield a very nice Hebraic parallelism:

 (A) Pay attention to my words–they come before (pre-announce) these things–the beginning of the end-times (destruction of Temple)
(B) When will it occur?–You know when, within your generation
(A’) Pay attention to my words–they outlast that day–the ending of the end-times
(B’) When will it occur?–No one knows when (except the Father)

(“On…was Jesus mistaken about this 2nd Coming?”: 10-22-96)

For related in-depth analysis of this general subject matter, see my papers:

Debate with an Agnostic on the Meaning of “Last Days” and Whether the Author of Hebrews Was a False Prophet.

“The Last Days”: Meaning in Hebrew, Biblical Thought

God is untrustworthy

In a recent post, I noted that God bragged that he had deliberately given his people bad laws:

So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 20:25–6).

As always (shown by multiple analogous examples above), the primary causation of all this is man’s rebellion. It’s no different in this larger passage:

Ezekiel 20:8 But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not every man cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

Ezekiel 20:13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness; they did not walk in my statutes but rejected my ordinances, by whose observance man shall live; and my sabbaths they greatly profaned.

Ezekiel 20:16 because they rejected my ordinances and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

Ezekiel 20:21 But the children rebelled against me; they did not walk in my statutes, and were not careful to observe my ordinances, by whose observance man shall live; they profaned my sabbaths.

Ezekiel 20:27-28 “Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: In this again your fathers blasphemed me, by dealing treacherously with me. [28] For when I had brought them into the land which I swore to give them, then wherever they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices and presented the provocation of their offering; there they sent up their soothing odors, and there they poured out their drink offerings.”

All that expressed, we also see the pungent Hebrew literary expression of God “giving them up” to their sins (cf. Micah 5:3; Acts 7:42; Rom 1:24-28; 2 Thess 2:11).

Since God has lied to us in the past, what’s to stop him from doing it again? . . . That’s the problem when you lie—now we can’t trust you about anything.

As I have shown, none of these alleged “lies” has been sufficiently proven . . . But Bob continually lies about God, Christianity, and Christians. That has been shown in these 35 refutations of mine.

Which of God’s current laws is also a deliberately bad law?

It was simply a sarcastic literary device. This is what Bob (along with the vast majority of anti-theist atheists) doesn’t grasp. But Bob gives the basic idea of the true meaning of the passage in citing 20:26, having to do with child sacrifice (very similar to our abortion today). Keil and Delitzsch elaborate:

It is perfectly self-evident that we are not to understand by these statutes and rights, which were not good, either the Mosaic commandments of the ceremonial law, as some of the Fathers and earlier Protestant commentators supposed, or the threatenings contained in the law; so that this needs no elaborate proof. The ceremonial commandments given by God were good, and had the promise attached to them, that obedience to them would give life; whilst the threats of punishment contained in the law are never called חקּים and משׁפּטים . Those statutes only are called “not good” the fulfilment of which did not bring life or blessings and salvation. The second clause serves as an explanation of the first. The examples quoted in Ezekiel 20:26 show what the words really mean. The defiling in their sacrificial gifts (Ezekiel 20:26), for example, consisted in their causing that which opened the womb to pass through, i.e., in the sacrifice of the first-born. העביר כּל־פּטר points back to Exodus 13:12; only ליהוה , which occurs in that passage, is omitted, because the allusion is not to the commandment given there, but to its perversion into idolatry. This formula is used in the book of Exodus ( l.c. ) to denote the dedication of the first-born to Jehovah; but in Ezekiel 20:13 this limitation is introduced, that the first-born of man is to be redeemed. העביר signifies a dedication through fire (= העביר בּאשׁ , Ezekiel 20:31), and is adopted in the book of Exodus, where it is joined to ליהוה , in marked opposition to the Canaanitish custom of dedicating children of Moloch by februation in fire (see the comm. on ex. Ezekiel 13:12). The prophet refers to this Canaanitish custom, and cites it as a striking example of the defilement of the Israelites in their sacrificial gifts ( טמּא , to make unclean, not to declare unclean, or treat as unclean). That this custom also made its way among the Israelites, is evident from the repeated prohibition against offering children through the fire to Moloch (Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 18:10). When, therefore, it is affirmed with regard to a statute so sternly prohibited in the law of God, that Jehovah gave it to the Israelites in the wilderness, the word נתן (give) can only be used in the sense of a judicial sentence, and must not be taken merely as indicating divine permission . . .

He hardened hearts to steer people away from the right path.

He did not, as I explained in depth, in two papers.

He demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac and then revealed that it was a ruse.

This is sheer nonsense, as I have also explained.

Sure, an all-powerful god can do whatever that he wants, but this god has shown himself to be untrustworthy.

In Bob’s fantasy world, this “god” has. But in the real world, where one must reason and present facts (and must subject one’s arguments to cross-examination and scrutiny), Bob has consistently failed to establish this.

Am I an atheist because God hardened my heart?

No; according to the Bible, rightly understood, it’s because he has hardened his own heart.

If so, why do I deserve hell when it was God’s doing?

It wasn’t His doing, as I have shown again and again. If Bob spends eternity in hell, it will be because of his deliberate obstinacy; his choice (that God allows him to make). It won’t be because of God, Who desires that none perish. Among many other things, God is providing these refutations of mine, to show Bob how he has greatly erred, and to provide him a way to reverse his rebellion and to repent and freely receive God’s offer of grace and salvation, by faith in Jesus Christ.

But, as we have seen, Bob ignores them. That’s how many folks are with regard to God. They simply ignore Him and go their merry way. Then at Judgment Day they finally get serious about the most important things in life, and (being atheist naysayers) accuse God of being unjust and not having adequately revealed Himself, etc. The time to repent and change one’s life is now: not at Judgment Day, when it’s too late.

***

Photo credit: Shinobu Kaitani (2005): Liar Game (ライアーゲーム) original manga logo. [source] [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




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