December 12, 2019

And did Jesus minister exclusively to Jews and not Gentiles at all (an alleged Gospel inconsistency)?

Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University.  You can see (by the number in the title) how many times I have replied to his videos or articles. Thus far, I haven’t heard one peep back from him  (from 8-1-19 to this date). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. All I’ve seen is expressions of contempt from Dr. Madison and from his buddy, the atheist author, polemicist, and extraordinarily volatile John Loftus, who runs the ultra-insulting Debunking Christianity blog. Dr. Madison made his cramped, insulated mentality clear in a comment from 9-6-19:

[T]he burden of the apologist has become heavy indeed, and some don’t handle the anguish well. They vent and rage at critics, like toddlers throwing tantrums when a threadbare security blanket gets tossed out. We can smell their panic. Engaging with the ranters serves no purpose—any more than it does to engage with Flat-Earthers, Chemtrail conspiracy theorists, and those who argue that the moon landings were faked. . . . I prefer to engage with NON-obsessive-compulsive-hysterical Christians, those who have spotted rubbish in the Bible, and might already have one foot out the door.

John “you are an idiot!” Loftus even went to the length of changing his blog’s rules of engagement, so that he and Dr. Madison could avoid replying to yours truly, or even see notices of my replies (er, sorry, rants, rather).

This is one of the replies to Dr. Madison’s series, “Things we Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (podcast episodes 13-25). I have already replied to every previous episode. He states in his introduction to this second series:

[A]pologists (preachers and priests) who explain away—well, they try—the nasty and often grim message in many of the sayings attributed to Jesus. Indeed, the gospels are a minefield; many negatives about Jesus are in full view.

I am replying to episode 13, entitled, “Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus calls a Gentile woman a dog” (7-23-19).  Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue, and those of other atheists in purple, green, and brown.

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Matthew 15:22-28 (RSV) And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” [23] But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” [24] He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [25] But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” [26] And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” [27] She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” [28] Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In this installment, Dr. Madison trots out what is apparently a big favorite of anti-theist atheist polemicists. This is my fourth time dealing with it, so it’s nothing new. One atheist who goes by the nick “BeeryUSA” stated that this very thing ( a complete misunderstanding on his part) made him cease to be a Christian:

I recall the precise passage that I was reading when I realized that Jesus was actually a xenophobic nationalist . . . and therefore could not be any kind of god I could worship:

Matthew 15:24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

So this psycho Jesus refuses to treat a woman’s daughter simply because she was a Canaanite. All of a sudden, my desire to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt melted away and, with my new-found skepticism, it didn’t take long from there for all the rest of it to unravel.

Likewise, Bible-Basher Bob Seidensticker (whom I have refuted 35 times with no reply whatsoever), opined:

At the end of the gospel story, Jesus has risen and is giving the disciples their final instructions.

Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

This is the familiar Great Commission, and it’s a lot more generous than what has been called the lesser commission that appears earlier in the same gospel:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5–6)

This was not a universal message. We see it again in his encounter with the Canaanite woman:

[Jesus rejected her plea to heal her daughter, saying] “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:24–6)

You might say that a ministry with limited resources had to prioritize, but that doesn’t apply here. Don’t forget that Jesus was omnipotent. . . . 

Let’s revisit the fact that Matthew is contradictory when it says both “Make disciples of all nations” and “Do not go among the Gentiles [but only] to the lost sheep of Israel.” There are no early papyrus copies of Matthew 28 (the “Make disciples of all nations” chapter), and the earliest copies of this chapter are in the codices copied in the mid-300s. That’s almost three centuries of silence from original to our best copies, a lot of opportunity for the Great Commission to get “improved” by copyists. I’m not saying it was, of course; I’m simply offering one explanation for why the gospel in Matthew has Jesus change so fundamental a tenet as who he came to save.

Dr. Madison’s buddy, John Loftus also chimed in, along the same lines, in his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages). I have now critiqued it ten times without (you guessed it!) any counter-reply from him. In it, he  wrote:

[H]e also called a Syrophoenician woman part of a race of “dogs” and only begrudgingly helped her (Mark 7:24-30). (p. 123)

Now, Dr. David Madison comes along in his podcast and makes these claims:

But guess what? In Matthew 28, at the end of the Gospel, verse 19, the resurrected Jesus says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” . . . this Jesus quote was probably added to the story then [50 years after Jesus’ death] and it certainly does not match, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Gospel writer didn’t notice much, contradictions, sometimes. . . . what a nasty thing to say: “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” . . . The ideal Jesus that people adore is punctured by this Jesus, quote: this insult, calling her a dog.

Apologists Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt thoroughly dispense of this “objection” concerning Jesus’ use of the word “dog” (complete with a good dose of sorely needed humor) in their article, “Was Jesus Unkind to the Syrophoenician Woman?”:

To our 21st-century ears, the idea that Jesus would refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” has the potential to sound belittling and unkind. When we consider how we often use animal terms in illustrative or idiomatic ways, however, Jesus’ comments are much more benign. For instance, suppose a particular lawyer exhibits unyielding tenacity. We might say he is a “bulldog” when he deals with the evidence. Or we might say that a person is “as cute as a puppy” or has “puppy-dog eyes.” If someone has a lucky day, we might say something like “every dog has its day.” Or if an adult refuses to learn to use new technology, we might say that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In addition, one might say that a person “works like a dog,” is the “top dog” at the office, or is “dog tired.” Obviously, to call someone “top dog” would convey no derogatory connotation.

For Jesus’ statement to be construed as unkind or wrong in some way, a person would be forced to prove that the illustration or idiom He used to refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” must be taken in a derogatory fashion. Such cannot be proved. In fact, the term Jesus used for “little dogs” could easily be taken in an illustrative way without any type of unkind insinuation. In his commentary on Mark, renowned commentator R.C.H. Lenski translated the Greek term used by Jesus (kunaria) as “little pet dogs.” . . . Lenski goes on to write concerning Jesus’ statement: “All that Jesus does is to ask the disciples and the woman to accept the divine plan that Jesus must work out his mission among the Jews…. Any share of Gentile individuals in any of these blessings can only be incidental during Jesus’ ministry in Israel” . . .

Consider that Matthew had earlier recorded how a Roman centurion approached Jesus on behalf of his paralyzed servant. Jesus did not respond in that instance as He did with the Syrophoenician woman. He simply stated: “I will come and heal him” (8:7). After witnessing the centurion’s refreshing humility and great faith (pleading for Christ to “only speak a word” and his servant would be healed—vss. 8-9), Jesus responded: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (vs. 10, emp. added). . . .

What many people miss in this story is what is so evident in other parts of Scripture: Jesus was testing this Canaanite woman, while at the same time teaching His disciples how the tenderhearted respond to possibly offensive truths. . . .

Before people “dog” Jesus for the way He used an animal illustration, they might need to reconsider that “their bark is much worse than their bite” when it comes to insinuating that Jesus was unkind and intolerant. In truth, they are simply “barking up the wrong tree” by attempting to call Jesus’ character into question. They need to “call off the dogs” on this one and “let sleeping dogs lie.”

As to the groundless charge of internal contradiction (sent to Israel only / disciples evangelize Israel only “vs.” evangelizing the whole world), here is my reply:

First of all, being sent to Israel doesn’t also mean that He would ignore all non-Israelis. This is untrue. The woman at the well was a Samaritan. He told the story about the good Samaritan who helped the guy who had been beaten, and concluded that he was a better neighbor than a Jew who didn’t do these things. He healed the Roman centurion’s servant, and commended his faith as better than most Jews. The Bible says that He healed this woman’s daughter (and highly commended her mother for her faith).

In the whole passage (blessed context), we readily see that Jesus was merely asking (as He often did) a rhetorical question. In effect He was asking her, “why should I heal your daughter?” She gave a great answer, and He (knowing all along that she would say what she did) did heal her.

I fail to see how this passage proves that Jesus didn’t give a fig about non-Jews. He healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter! How does that prove what atheists contend? Jesus heals a Canaanite girl (after being asked to by her mother), and that “proves” that He only healed and preached to Jews; hence it is a “contradiction”? Surely, this is a form of “logic” that no one’s ever seen before.

Another example, even more famous, is Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-29). He shares the Gospel very explicitly with her, stating that He is the source of eternal life (4:14), and that He is the Jewish Messiah (4:25-26): a thing that she later proclaimed in the city (4:28-29, 39-42).

The text even notes that — normally — Jews avoided Samaritans: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samar’ia?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (4:9; RSV).

A third instance of Jesus’ outreach beyond the Jews is His interaction with the Roman centurion:

Matthew 8:5-13 As he entered Caper’na-um, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him [6] and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.” [7] And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” [8] But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. [9] For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and he does it.” [10] When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. [11] I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, [12] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” [13] And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Note how Jesus not only readily healed the Roman centurion’s servant (8:7, 13), but also “marveled” at his faith and commended it as superior to the faith of anyone “in Israel” (8:10). And that led Him to observe that many Gentiles will be saved, whereas many Jews will not be saved (8:11-12). But there is much more:

A fourth example is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The whole point of it was to show that Samaritans were truly neighbors to Jews if they helped them, as the man did in the parable. I drove on the road (from Jerusalem to Jericho) which was the setting of this parable.

A fifth example is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told His followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

A sixth example is the common motif of Jesus saying that He came to save not just Jews, but the world (Jn 6:33, 51; 8:12 [“I am the light of the world”]; 9:5; 12:46 [“I have come as light into the world . . .”]; 12:47 [“to save the world”]; ). The Evangelists in the Gospels, and John the Baptist state the same (Jn 1:29; 3:16-17, 19).

A seventh example is Jesus praying for His disciples in their missionary efforts: “As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).

An eighth example is the parable of the weeds, which showed a universal mission field fifteen chapters before Matthew 28: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; [38] the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; . . .” (13:37-38).

A ninth example is Jesus’ statements that “all men” can potentially be saved (Jn 12:32; 13:35).

The book of Acts recounts St. Peter and St. Paul massively reaching out to Gentiles. I need not spend any time documenting that.

As anyone can see, the evidence in the Bible against this ridiculous atheist critique is abundant and undeniable. Jesus never says (nor does the entire New Testament ever say) that He came to “save Israel” or be the “savior of Israel.” Anyone who doesn’t believe me can do a word search (here’s the tool to do it). Verify it yourself. He only claims to be the “Messiah” of Israel (Jn 4:25-26): which is a different thing. When Jesus says who it is that He came to save (i.e., provided they are willing), He states explicitly that He came “to save the lost” (Lk 19:10) and “to save the world” (Jn 12:47).

Likewise, St. Paul states that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Last I checked, sinful human beings were not confined solely to the class of Jews or Israelis.

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Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not ExistIf you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
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Photo credit: The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ (1784, by Jean Germain Drouais (1763-1788) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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December 10, 2019

Dr. David Madison is an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University.  You can see (by the number in the title) how many times I have replied to his videos or articles. Thus far, I haven’t heard one peep back from him  (from 8-1-19 to this date). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. All I’ve seen is expressions of contempt from Dr. Madison and from his buddy, atheist author and polemicist, the extraordinarily volatile John Loftus, who runs the notoriously insulting Debunking Christianity blog.

Loftus even went to the length of changing his blog’s rules of engagement, in order for himself and Dr. Madison to avoid replying to me. Obviously, I have “hit a nerve” over there. In any event, their utter non-responses and intellectual cowardice do not affect me in the slightest. No skin off of my back. If I want to critique more of their material, I will. If my replies go out unopposed, all the better for my cause.

This is a reply to a portion of Dr. Madison’s article, Christianity Gets Slam-Dunked (8-16-19).  Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.

*****

A review of Tim Sledge’s Four Disturbing Questions with One Simple Answer

. . . I always welcome books that expose the flaws, especially one that is as highly readable as Tim Sledge’s short new book (120 pages), Four Disturbing Questions with One Simple Answer: Breaking the Spell of Christian Belief. With ease and precision, Sledge focuses on just four realities that do indeed shatter the Christian spell.

. . . for thirty years he was an evangelical Southern Baptist minister, a Number 10 Christian. In his longer book, Goodbye Jesus: An Evangelical Preacher’s Journey Beyond Faith [my review is here], Sledge mentions his practice over the years of relegating his reservations—things about the faith that didn’t make sense—to a corner of his mind that he labeled, Exceptions to the Rule of Faith. Eventually the items deposited there became too weighty.

In his new book he distills many of these into four knockout categories, hence the title, Four Disturbing Questions:

(1) The Power Failure Question
(2) The Mixed Message Question
(3) The Germ Warfare Question
(4) The Better Plan Question

[. . . ]

This is the Germ Warfare Question:

“Why didn’t Jesus say anything about germs.” (p. 46)

We may wonder: Just when did Jesus become a full participant in the Holy Trinity, i.e., knowing everything that God knows? John’s gospel tells us that Jesus was present right there at creation. It’s bit difficult to reconcile this with a Galilean peasant preacher who could very well have been illiterate.

Really? It’s pretty tough to be illiterate when one reads biblical texts in a synagogue:

Luke 4:16 (RSV) And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read;

Moreover, there are the several instances of Jesus rhetorically asking about whether His detractors had read various Old Testament passages (ones that He had obviously read), with the words, “have you not read . . . ?” And there are His many references to “scripture[s]”: with which He was obviously familiar. But I guess this is the sort of “higher-level learning” and logic that is (amazingly enough) beyond Dr. David Madison, doctorate (in biblical studies) and all. For him, Jesus was — more likely than not — illiterate.

But if John got it right, why not use his time on earth to pass along really useful knowledge?

Sledge provides a helpful survey of discoveries about microbes in the 19th and 20th centuries, after billions of humans had suffered horrible deaths from disease. Yet we have a thousand pages of Bible that gives no information at all about how the real world works. “But it’s hard to argue,” Sledge says, “that any time was too soon for humans to learn about the microscopic organisms that cause so much sickness and death—germs.” (p. 35)

Yet Jesus the moralist was more concerned about sin. “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (Mark 7:15). Sledge is generous, but gets in his zinger: “…Jesus was focused on the importance of inner spiritual change over outward religious ceremony. But wouldn’t this have been a great time to explain that they should wash their hands for health purposes, a good time to tell people about germs, a good time to talk about why they should be careful where they get their drinking water, along with a few tips about sewage disposal?” (p. 42)

“Why didn’t the God of the universe—walking among mankind in the flesh as Jesus—do a sidebar talk on germs?” (p. 43)

“God had been watching silently for thousands of years by the time Jesus came along. It was late in the game, but couldn’t the Son of God—the one described as the Great Physician—have made a greater contribution to human health than healing a few people while he was on earth?” (p. 46)

Horrendous suffering—both human and animal—is built in; it’s just how the world works. Any theism that posits a caring, Master-Craftsman god, collapses on that fact alone, and this Sledge chapter is a good primer for those who rarely consider the implication of germs for their concept of a good God.

***

It so happens that I have already thoroughly answered this challenge. Atheists mostly recycle old chestnuts in their arsenal of Christian-bashing pseudo-pseudo [fallacious] supposed “arguments”. Thus, we observe that atheist Bob Seidensticker, whom I have also refuted 35 times (and again with utterly no reply back, since he is just as much an intellectual coward as Dr. Madison) brought this up in his hit-piece, “Yet More on the Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science (2 of 2)” (12-2-15), where he pontificated:

10. Germs? What germs?

The Bible isn’t a reliable source of health information. . . . physical health and basic hygienic precautions are not obvious and are worth a mention somewhere. How about telling us that boiling water minimizes disease? Or how to site latrines to safeguard the water supply?

I’ll re-post my lengthy and (I think) devastating reply to this accusation in a moment. But first let me provide my previous answer to his closing lie / potshot:

Let me close with a paraphrase of an idea from AronRa: When the answer is known, science knows it. But when science doesn’t know it, neither does religion.

That’s not true. As shown, Hippocrates, the pagan Greek “father of medicine” didn’t understand the causes of contagious disease. Nor did medical science until the 19th century. But the hygienic principles that would have prevented the spread of such diseases were in the Bible: in the Laws of Moses.

St. Augustine in the 5th century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th, both rejected astrology long before modern science, while even the most prominent modern scientists in the 16th-17th centuries, such as GalileoTycho Brahe, and Kepler firmly believed in it.

I could go on and on, but just a few examples suffice to decisively refute a foolishly ignorant universal negative claim.

And of course, modern science (virtually the atheist’s religion: “scientism”), for all its admirable qualities and glories (I love science!) is not without much embarrassing error and foolishness, and skeletons in its own closet: like belief in the 41-year successful hoax of “Piltdown Man”. This is true even up to very recent times, as I have detailed for atheists’ convenience.

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Here, then, is my reply (from over two months ago, contra Seidensticker’s similar “argument”) to the supposed “slam-dunk” against Christianity (made by Tim Sledge and ballyhooed by Dr. David Madison): alleged ignorance of God and the Bible regarding germs and their devastating effects:

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Once again, five minutes searching on Google would have prevented Bob from spewing more ignorance about the Bible. 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) . . .

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818 –1865), who was a Hungarian physician, . . . [He] proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 . . . He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Despite various publications of his successful results, Semmelweis’s suggestions were not accepted by the medical community of his time.

Why was Semmelweis research rejected? Because germs were virtually a foreign concept for the Europeans in the middle-19th-century. . . .

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).

Some other interesting facts regarding the Bible and germ theory:

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).

2. Leviticus 13 and 14 mention leprosy on walls and on garments. Leprosy is a bacterial disease, and can survive for three weeks or longer apart from the human body. Thus, God commanded that the garments of leprosy victims should be burned (Lev 13:52).

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).

Doctors today often note how the patient’s disposition and attitude has a strong effect on his health or recovery. The mind definitely influences the body. Solomon understood this in several of his Proverbs: written around 950 BC (Prov 14:30; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).

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Further note of 12-10-19: since Jesus observed Mosaic Law, including ritual washings, etc., He tacitly accepted (by His example of following it) the aspects of it that anticipated and “understood” germ theory. The knowledge was already in existence.

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Unfortunately, Money Trees Do Not Exist: If you have been aided in any way by my work, or think it is valuable and worthwhile, please strongly consider financially supporting it (even $10 / month — a mere 33 cents a day — would be very helpful). I have been a full-time Catholic apologist since Dec. 2001, and have been writing Christian apologetics since 1981 (see my Resume). My work has been proven (by God’s grace alone) to be fruitful, in terms of changing lives (see the tangible evidences from unsolicited “testimonies”). I have to pay my bills like all of you: and have a (homeschooling) wife and three children still at home to provide for, and a mortgage to pay.
*
My book royalties from three bestsellers in the field (published in 2003-2007) have been decreasing, as has my overall income, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.  I provide over 2600 free articles here, for the purpose of your edification and education, and have written 50 books. It’ll literally be a struggle to survive financially until Dec. 2020, when both my wife and I will be receiving Social Security. If you cannot contribute, I ask for your prayers (and “likes” and links and shares). Thanks!
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See my information on how to donate (including 100% tax-deductible donations). It’s very simple to contribute to my apostolate via PayPal, if a tax deduction is not needed (my “business name” there is called “Catholic Used Book Service,” from my old bookselling days 17 or so years ago, but send to my email: apologistdave@gmail.com). Another easy way to send and receive money (with a bank account or a mobile phone) is through Zelle. Again, just send to my e-mail address. May God abundantly bless you.
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Photo credit: Portrait of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818-1865), the Hungarian-Austrian physician, who discovered the principles of germ theory and hygiene, some 3000 years after Moses taught them in what became the Old Testament. Better late than never! This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post (archive). [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license]
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September 10, 2019

I continue my critiques of Why I Became an Atheist, by John W. Loftus.

I first ran across former Christian minister Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. . . . You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques: just like Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus decides to defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

The first thing we notice is that the Hebrew God is pictured with a body, just like the gods of their polytheistic neighbors. The gods of surrounding cultures had human and physical characteristics. There is no reason to suppose the Hebrews thought differently about their God fro what we read in the early parts of the Old testament. What we have in the Bible is an evolving understanding of the nature of God, so we find later statements to the contrary. In the New Testament, “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). (pp. 259-260)

As to the “evolving God in the Bible” myth, see my papers:

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Did the Jews ever believe that God had a body? According to Encyclopedia Judaica (“Anthropomorphism”), no:
[I]t is accepted as a major axiom of Judaism, from the biblical period onward, that no material representation of the Deity is possible or permissible. . . . 
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The evolutionary approach to the study of religion, which mainly developed in the 19th century, suggested a line of development beginning with anthropomorphic concepts and leading up to a more purified spiritual faith. It argued, among other things, that corporeal representations of the Deity were more commonly found in the older portions of the Bible than in its later books. This view does not distinguish between the different possible explanations for anthropomorphic terms. It especially fails to account for the phenomenon common in the history of all cultures, that sometimes a later period can be more primitive than an earlier one. In fact, both personifications of the Deity as well as attempts to avoid them are found side by side in all parts of the Bible. . . . 
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More important from a theological perspective are the anthropopathisms, or psychical personifications of the Deity. Scripture attributes to God love and hate, joy and delight, regret and sadness, pity and compassion, disgust, anger, revenge, and other feelings. Even if one explains these terms as being nothing but picturesque expressions, intended to awaken within man a sense of the real presence of God and His works, nonetheless they remain personifications. . . . 
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Ultimately, every religious expression is caught in the dilemma between, on the one hand, the theological desire to emphasize the absolute and transcendental nature of the Divine, thereby relinquishing its vitality and immediate reality and relevance, and on the other hand, the religious need to conceive of the Deity and man’s contact with Him in some vital and meaningful way. Jewish tradition has usually shown preference for the second tendency, and there is a marked readiness to speak of God in a very concrete and vital manner and not to recoil from the dangers involved in the use of apparent anthropomorphisms. . . . 
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There is no evidence of any physical representation of God in Jewish history (in contradistinction to the worship of Canaanite and other foreign gods by Israelites). Even the golden calves of Jeroboam represented, according to the view of most scholars, only a footstool for the invisible God. In archaeological excavations no images of the God of Israel have been unearthed. . . . 
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Although Jews have speculated on the anthropomorphic nature of God, visible representation of the Deity was clearly forbidden by the Mosaic law.
See also my own papers: 
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According to the Bible, God has arms. God has ears. God has eyes. God has hands. . . . God even has nostrils. (p. 260)
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According to Loftus’ wooden literalism in biblical interpretation (very common among atheists), we’re to believe that the ancient Hebrews also thought God had wings (Ruth 2:12; Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4), and/or looked like (take your pick), a cloud (Ex 13:21-22; 33:9-10; Num 12:5; 14:14; Dt 31:15; Neh 9:12, 19; Ps 99:7; Ezek 10:4, 18), fire (Ex 13:21-22; Num 14:14; Neh 9:12, 19; 2 Chr 7:1-4), or a burning bush (Ex 3:2-6). Even Loftus is not silly and foolish enough to believe that (I think!). So he is forced by logic to qualify his literalistic reading of descriptions of God.
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If we read these passages in light of the ancient embodied gods and goddesses in the polytheistic surrounding cultures, it becomes clear that the Hebrews thought their god had a body, too. (p. 261)
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This doesn’t follow. For the skeptical / atheist biblical “exegete” [cough / choke], everything is derived from surrounding cultures, and all is explained that way. It’s essentially the “anthropological” method of Bible interpretation. But Loftus is ignoring the stark difference between Hebrew monotheism and polytheism. Monotheism means what it means: one God, not many:

Deuteronomy 6:4 (RSV) Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; (cf. Mk 12:29; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5-6; 1 Tim 2:5; Jas 2:19)

Deuteronomy 32:39 . . . there is no god beside me . . .

Isaiah 37:20 . . . thou alone art the LORD. (cf. 37:16)

Isaiah 43:10 . . . Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

Isaiah 44:6 . . . I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.

Isaiah 44:8 . . . Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any. (46:6, 9; Mal 2:10)

Isaiah 45:5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; . . . (cf. 45:6, 22)

Isaiah 45:21 . . . And there is no other god besides me, . . . there is none besides me.

Isaiah 46:9 . . . I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

In the first commandment we read, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” They were not to worship other gods, divine beings presupposed to exist by the commandment itself. In some of the Psalms we read only that the Hebrew God is the “God of the gods” (Ps. 86:8; 95:3; 96:4,9; 135:5; 136:2; 138:1). Why didn’t the text deny the existence of any other gods at this point? The Hebrews started out believing in a plurality of gods, which was progressively brought down to the belief in just one God. (p. 269)
Loftus, in his list of supposedly polytheistic Psalms, lists 96:4: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.” He conveniently omits the next verse, which interprets this: “For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but the LORD made the heavens” (cf. 1 Chr 16:26). Psalms 135:15-18 also explains in context the reference to “gods” in 135:5, on Loftus’ list (see the almost identical 115:3-8 below). Other Psalms (contrary to Loftus’ groundless skepticism) refer to idols which are supposedly gods, but in fact are not:
Psalms 31:6 Thou hatest those who pay regard to vain idols; but I trust in the LORD.
Psalms 40:4 . . . those who go astray after false gods!
Psalms 97:7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols;
Psalms 106:36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them.
Psalms 115:3-8 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. [4] Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. [5] They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. [6] They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. [7] They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. [8] Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. (cf. 135:15-18)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (“Psalms”) states:
The dating of individual psalms poses an extremely difficult problem, as does the question of their authorship. They were evidently written over a number of centuries, from the early monarchy to post-Exilic times, reflecting the varying stages of Israel’s history and the varying moods of Israel’s faith. 
King David reigned around 1000 BC. Even this renowned secular source holds that at least some of the Psalms date back to his period. If even some of the above passages are that old, this would completely overturn Loftus’ myth about the Jews being thoroughgoing polytheists at that time and for several centuries afterwards. The Psalms are solidly monotheistic, just as the Torah is.
When other “gods” are referred to in the Old Testament, this must consistently be understood as rhetorical only, since the same Old Testament (including in the Torah) states that they are not real:

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

Deuteronomy 32:21 They have stirred me to jealousy with what is no god; they have provoked me with their idols. . . . 

Isaiah 37:19 . . . for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone . . .

Isaiah 42:17 They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in graven images, who say to molten images, “You are our gods.”

Isaiah 44:10 Who fashions a god or casts an image, that is profitable for nothing?

Isaiah 44:15 . . . he makes a god and worships it, he makes it a graven image and falls down before it.

Isaiah 44:17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol; and falls down to it and worships it . . . 

Isaiah 46:6-7 Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! [7] They lift it upon their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.

Isaiah 48:5 I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, `My idol did them, my graven image and my molten image commanded them.’

Habakkuk 2:18 What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For the workman trusts in his own creation when he makes dumb idols!

(cf. Ex 32:1-8 [golden calf] and New Testament: 1 Cor 8:4-6 [“so-called gods”]; Gal 4:8 [“beings that by nature are no gods”]) 

If the ancient Jews (in their codified religious writings) rejected polytheism, why is it out of the question that they would reject a corporeal God as well (God with a body)? They clearly went their own way. If we are to speculate about and posit supposed similarities and causative factors with regard to other cultures, we have to also take into consideration stark contrasts.
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But Loftus also needs to seriously consider the stark, strict ancient Hebrew prohibition of all images of God. Now, if in fact they believed that God had a body (which Loftus — not understanding anthropomorphism at all — seems to think is self-evident from the Bible), why would this be? An idol would simply be a visual representation of God, just as Christians have crucifixes and statues of Jesus, as aids in worship (which we say are permissible because of the Incarnation; God became man).
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It all seems perfectly natural and permissible to me: if that were the case. Why would there be such a strict, binding prohibition? Obviously, it’s because God was communicating that He did not have a body: that images of Him would be distortions of reality. Here are the prohibitions:
Exodus 20:4 [Ten Commandments] You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; (cf. Dt. 5:8)
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Leviticus 26:1 You shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no graven image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land, to bow down to them; for I am the LORD your God.
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Deuteronomy 4:16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, (cf. 4:23, 25)
As the Encyclopedia Judaica stated (above): “There is no evidence of any physical representation of God in Jewish history (in contradistinction to the worship of Canaanite and other foreign gods by Israelites).”

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Photo credit: Clandestino (4-23-15) [PixabayPixabay License]

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September 9, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. . . . You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

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John Loftus’ chapter 5 is entitled, “Does Morality Come from God?” (pp. 103-126).

Christians claim their moral foundation is superior to others in that their faith provides the only sufficient standard for morality. Other moral systems either do not, or cannot provide one. (p. 103)

This is simply untrue. To the contrary, we believe in natural law and conscience, and believe that it is innate in all human beings, and put there by God. St. Paul appears to teach this in Romans 2, and we have no less of an apologist than C. S. Lewis stating:

I send you back to your nurse and your father, to all the poets and sages and law givers, because, in a sense, I hold that you are already there whether you recognize it or not: that there is really no ethical alternative: that those who urge us to adopt new moralities are only offering us the mutilated or expurgated text of a book which we already possess in the original manuscript. (Christian Reflections, chapter four, “On Ethics” [1943?])

(1) The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum.

(2) Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting in into an unum necessarium. (Christian Reflections, chapter six, “The Poison of Subjectivism” [1943])

I noted in installment #4 of this series how Lewis compiled a list of common ethical precepts in different moral / religious systems:

All religions and indeed ethical systems (whether religious or not) have great commonalities. This was a central thesis of C. S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man. Anyone can word-search the free online version for “Appendix Illustrations of the Tao” to find many examples of commonalities in ethics. For example, Lewis found the Golden Rule in the Analects of Confucius: “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

It’s been argued that Confucianism is not even (technically) a religion, and that it is either a form of atheism, or that — for all practical purposes — an atheist could at least consistently practice it. The Wikipedia article “Confucianism” explains:

Tiān (天), a key concept in Chinese thought, refers to the God of Heaven, the northern culmen of the skies and its spinning stars, earthly nature and its laws which come from Heaven, to “Heaven and Earth” (that is, “all things”), and to the awe-inspiring forces beyond human control. . . . 

The scholar Ronnie Littlejohn warns that Tian was not to be interpreted as personal God comparable to that of the Abrahamic faiths, in the sense of an otherworldly or transcendent creator. Rather it is similar to what Taoists meant by Dao: “the way things are” or “the regularities of the world”, which Stephan Feuchtwang equates with the ancient Greek concept of physis, “nature” as the generation and regenerations of things and of the moral order.

Lewis is very widely considered the greatest Christian apologist in the second third of the 20th century. G. K. Chesterton (most would agree) filled that role in the first third. And he concurs with Lewis:

It seems to me that the mass of men do agree on the mass of morality, but differ disastrously about the proportions of it.  The difference between men is not in what merits they confess, but what merits they emphasise. Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable. (Illustrated London News, “The Proper Emphasis in Morality,” 10-23-09)

Christianity satisfied the previous cravings of mankind. (Illustrated London News, “The Neglect of Christmas,” 1-13-06)

Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; . . . One of the chief claims of Christian civilisation is to have preserved things of pagan origin. (The Superstition of Divorce, 1920, chapter six)

Now, if the great Chesterton and Lewis and even (I contend) St. Paul all agree with this natural law which is universal and innate in all human beings, and enshrined in the conscience, I think we can safely say that Loftus has grossly misunderstood, if not misrepresented, this aspect of Christian belief as regards morality.

Loftus’ caricature above might apply to the fundamentalist Christianity that he (and so many other atheists) came out of, but not to the vast mainstream of thinking man’s Christianity. He would do well to better comprehend the latter, or else he should change this book’s subtitle to “. . . Rejects Fundamentalism” rather than “. . . Rejects Christianity.”

I agree (over against divine command theory) with Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland, cited in the book (p. 105): “Morality is ultimately grounded in the nature of God, not independently of God.”

In a quick potshot against the Bible’s moral injunctions, Loftus notes, “the man would be the domineering patriarchal head of the house in which a wife is to ‘obey’ her husband just like Sarah obeyed Abraham (1 Pet. 3:6).” Of course, Loftus conveniently omits the next verse: “Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered” (RSV). Dr. Scott Hahn in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, comments: 

Genesis gives no indication that Abraham, for his part, lacked respect for Sarah or considered her a mere slave under his authority. . . . the weaker sex: The statement is made in reference to a woman’s physical constitution, not her moral character or intellectual ability. Because a man’s natural strength exceeds that of a woman, the husband is called to honor his bride, lest he misuse his physical advantage to intimidate or abuse her.

And as to “submission” we should also briefly consider the “classic” passage: Ephesians 5:21-29. Paul makes a general statement to all Christians:  “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Then after saying “Wives, be subject to your husbands” (5:22): the passage so despised by radical feminists and atheists alike, we see what he commanded the husbands to do: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (5:25).

This is a far more difficult command. The husband has to love the wife like Christ loved, which is the royal commandment: “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). And how does Jesus love His disciples? He washed their feet (Jn 13:5). Then He explained to them:

John 13:13-17 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. [16] Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. [17] If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 

This is the furthest imaginable thing from a husband “lording it over his wife” or abusing her as an inferior. Jesus elaborated on this same theme:

Matthew 20:25-26  . . . “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. [26] It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” 

This is true Christianity: not the caricatures of the skeptic and the atheist polemicist. Loftus took his shot by citing one passage out of its overall context of biblical teaching on marriage (which I provided in a nutshell form). He knew he could get “mileage” out of it. All he sees is legalistic bondage and oppression. The true teaching, on the other hand, is a beautiful partnership (not an ugly thing), with the husband (of the two partners) having the greater responsibility to serve his wife.

Now, do Christians husbands habitually fall short? Of course; this is the human condition (it’s why we continually need grace, the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, and a Savior). But Loftus attacked the biblical teaching on marriage, and I have shown how it was unwarranted. 

Loftus soon moves onto a long laundry list of alleged characteristics of God (especially as revealed in the Old Testament), claiming that Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is a “moral monster” (section title on p. 108). It’s a full-fledged attack upon God Himself: arguing that He is evil and wicked (like Satan).

Since this sort of thing is often the “passionate heart” of much anti-theist atheist polemics (what they feel is one of their “silver bullets”), and because the portrayals are so unjust and outright twisting of biblical teachings, I would like to spend considerable time on it. Fortunately, I have already dealt in depth with many of these “anti-God” claims in other papers, and so can simply link to them, where applicable.

[T]he biblical God, Yahweh, is a hateful, racist, and sexist God . . . (p. 108)

He customarily punishes people, even babies, for the sins of others beginning in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:16-18) . . . (p. 108)

This gets into original sin, which is a long discussion, but suffice it to say that Christianity believes that the fall of man was a corporate one:

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 

We all rebelled through Adam’s disobedience (Adam represented mankind), and we all can be saved (sufficient grace is available) through Christ our savior. So in that sense it is not judging one person for the sin of someone else. When it comes to the actual sin that each person commits, Scripture makes it clear that we’re all accountable for our own sin and no one else’s:

Deuteronomy 24:16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin. (cf. 2 Ki 14:6; 2 Chr 25:4)

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

Ezekiel 18:19-20 “Yet you say, `Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. [20] The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. 

[H]e punishes . . . the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of the parents who worship other gods (Exodus 20:3-5) . . . (p. 108)

I have dealt with this very passage in depth.

He even makes the parents of Jerusalem cannibalize their own children . . . (Jeremiah 19:9) (p. 108)

Jeremiah 19:9 And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and every one shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.

Bible scholar E. W. Bullinger explains this in his 1104-page tome, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (London: 1898). It’s also available for free, online. He explains the linguistic factors that explain this odd verse (pp. 823-824):

4. Active verbs were used by the Hebrews to express, not the doing of the thing, but the permission of the thing which the agent is said to do. Thus: . . . 

Ex. iv. 21. — ” I will harden his heart (i.e., I will permit or suffer his heart to be hardened), that he shall not let the people go.” So in all the passages which speak of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. . . . 

[I have written about this at some length, showing how all the passages taken together indication God’s permission, not causation]

[ . . . ]

So the A.V. Jer. iv. 10. — ” Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people ” : i.e., thou hast suffered this People to be greatly deceived, by the false prophets, saying : Ye shall have peace, etc.

Ezek. xiv. 9. — ” If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet “: i.e., I have permitted him to deceive himself.

[the previous chapter 13 describes the “foolish prophets” (13:3) who “prophesy out of their own minds” (13:2), who have “spoken falsehood and divined a lie; they say, ‘Says the LORD,’ when the LORD has not sent them” (13:6). God is “against” (13:8-9) “the prophets who see delusive visions and who give lying divinations” (13:9). Clearly God utterly opposes them, and 14:9 is non-literal metaphor for God allowing them to prophesy falsely]

Ezek. XX. 25. — ” Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good ” : i.e., I permitted them to follow the wicked statutes of the surrounding nations, mentioned and forbidden in Lev. xviii. 3.

Jeremiah 19:9 utilizes the same figure of speech. In similar cross-references (Dt 28:53-57; Lev 26:29; 2 Ki 6:26-29; Ezek 5:10; Lam 4:10), it’s clear that God is not in favor of cannibalism, but rather, is describing free will sinful actions of the Israelites. Jeremiah 19:9 has the same meaning, but contains the figure of speech, so it can be misinterpreted, as Loftus and other atheists have done for their purposes: not understanding this aspect of Hebrew literary genre.

Many other passages that Loftus cites in order to indict God have to do with judgment, including the death penalty in many cases regarding Jewish Law: which God as the prerogative to do. This is perfectly plausible and understandable, by the analogy of human laws and judges who enforce those laws. I’ve written about this many times:

God’s Judgment of Humans (Sometimes, Entire Nations) [2-16-07]

“How Can God Order the Massacre of Innocents?” (Amalekites, etc.) [11-10-07]

Did Moses (and God) Sin In Judging the Midianites (Numbers 31)? [5-21-08]

Israel as God’s Agent of Judgment [9-28-14]

Is God an Unjust Judge? Dialogue with an Atheist [10-30-17]

God’s Judgment of Sin: Analogies for an Atheist Inquirer [9-6-18]

Did God Immorally “Murder” King David’s Innocent Child? (God’s Providence and Permissive Will, and Hebrew Non-Literal Anthropomorphism) [5-6-19]

Madison vs. Jesus #9: Clueless Re Rebellion & Judgment [8-7-19]

David Madison vs. Paul and Romans #11: Chapter 11 (“Scary” & “Vindictive” Yahweh? / Endless Stupefied Insults of God / Judgment Explained Yet Again) [8-30-19]

Loftus argues that hell is unjust and indefensible (pp. 108-109). I’ve written about that many times, too:

Dialogue w Agnostic on Basic Differences and Hell [5-17-05]

Replies to Some Skeptical Objections to the Christian Doctrine of Hell (“Religion Is Lies” website) [5-24-06]

Dialogue w Atheists on Hell & Whether God is Just [12-5-06]

Hell: Dialogue with a Philosophy Graduate Student [12-26-08]

Dialogue: Hell & God’s Justice, Part II [1-2-09]

Can Hell Actually be Defended? My Shot … [10-7-15]

A Defense of Hell: Philosophical Explanations of its Plausibility, Necessity, and Factuality [12-10-15]

Exchanges with an Atheist on Hell & Skepticism [12-17-15]

Hell as a Deterrent: Analogy to Our Legal Systems [10-3-18]

Loftus (p. 109) goes after references to slavery in the Bible. I’ve dealt with that, also:

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*
Loftus claims that God favors rape (p. 109). No, He does not, as I have explained: Seidensticker Folly #6: God Has “No Problem with Rape”?  On the same page, he attacks the divorce of foreign wives (Ezra 10:1-19, 44; cf. 9:1-2, 14-15). But God had forbidden this practice, due to the influence of false religions which the foreign wives adhered to (e.g., Dt 17:17, Neh 13:23-28). That‘s why they were sent away.
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Loftus falsely claims that God commands child sacrifice (p. 110). This is sheer nonsense, which I have refuted. He cites Exodus 22:29-30 and Ezekiel 20:25-26 as supposed proofs of this. The argumentation here is among the most shoddy and embarrassing of Loftus’ long list of alleged errors and eisegesis of Holy Scripture. Amy K. Hall at the Stand to Reason blog demolishes this very argument (citing Loftus’ use of it), and shows that all that was meant was a dedication or consecration of the firstborn child to God.
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The Ezekiel passage uses the same figure of speech seen above, in the discussion of Jeremiah 9:9, and in fact, the scholar and expert on biblical figures of speech, E. W. Bullinger, included this very passage, in what I cited from him (see above). See a long list of biblical condemnations of child sacrifice (and abortion, which is a species of that).
*
Loftus (p. 111) goes after the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac. I’ve written about it. Nor can God be blamed for Jephthah’s daughter (same page).  Loftus argues (p. 111) that the prophet Micah is advocating child sacrifice (Micah 6:6-8) . He’s not at all. Pulpit Commentary explains:
Micah exactly represents the people’s feeling; they would do anything but what God required; they would make the costliest sacrifice, even, in their exaggerated devotion, holding themselves ready to make a forbidden offering; but they would not attend to the moral requirements of the Law. It is probably by a mere hyperbole that the question in the text is asked. The practice of human sacrifice was founded on the notion that man ought to offer to God his dearest and costliest, and that the acceptability of an offering was proportioned to its preciousness. The Hebrews had learned the custom from their neighbours, e.g. the Phoenicians and Moabites (comp. 2 Kings 3:27), and had for centuries offered their children to Moloch, in defiance of the stern prohibitions of Moses and their prophets (Leviticus 18:212 Kings 16:3Isaiah 57:5). They might have learned, from many facts and inferences, that man’s self-surrender was not to be realized by this ritual; the sanctity of human life (Genesis 9:6), the substitution of the ram for Isaac (Genesis 22:13), the redemption of the firstborn (Exodus 13:13), all made for this truth. But the heathen idea retained its hold among them, so that the inquiry above is in strict keeping with the circumstances.

We even read where the King of Moab sacrificed his son, which caused the Israelites to retreat in defeat. Moab’s sacrifice created a great “wrath” (ketzef) . . . indicating that his sacrifice caused some divinity to act on behalf of Moab (2 Kings 3:26-27). (p. 111)

I dealt with this very passage when fellow Bible-bashing atheist Bob Seidensticker tried to eisegete it:

There is nothing whatsoever in the text about some supposed defeat of God (Yahweh) by a false Moabite god. . . . Nor is it proof that God turned against Israel / Judah simply because the word “wrath” (RSV) is present (KJV: “indignation”). Bob assumes that too. The Hebrew is qetseph, which is usually used of God’s wrath, but not always, and not necessarily. For example, Esther 1:18 (RSV): “This very day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will be telling it to all the king’s princes, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty” (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:17). It can also be plausibly interpreted as the wrath of the king of Moab against Israel. The Bible refers (RSV) to “a king’s wrath” twice (Proverbs 16:14; 19:12).

The translation of 2 Kings 3:27 that Bob uses is the NET Bible: a relatively obscure translation. It’s very unusual (perhaps even singular) in that it inserts “divine” into the passage, making it definitively a case of God’s wrath against Israel. But I can’t find any other translation that does this. No one need merely take my word on this. They can consult the online pages with multiple translations of the passage (one / two) just as I did.

God’s prohibition of child sacrifice as an outrageous abomination is very clear. I found 18 passages concerning this in my paper, The Bible’s Teaching on Abortion. Jesus compared the ancient sacrifice of children to hell itself (particularly, child sacrifice to Ba’al or Molech).

Seidensticker ignored this counter-argument, as he has 34 more of my papers that respond to his arguments. Loftus gets in a dig against Jesus, implying that He was a bigot, and he employs an old atheist chestnut (these things are simply recycled over and over) that distorts a Bible passage, as usual:

[H]e also called a Syrophoenician woman part of a race of “dogs” and only begrudgingly helped her (Mark 7:24-30). (p. 123)

Mark 7:25-30 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. [26] Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoeni’cian by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. [27] And he said to her, “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” [28] But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” [29] And he said to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” [30] And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Apologists Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt thoroughly dispense of this “objection” (complete with a good dose of sorely needed humor) in their article, “Was Jesus Unkind to the Syrophoenician Woman?”:

To our 21st-century ears, the idea that Jesus would refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” has the potential to sound belittling and unkind. When we consider how we often use animal terms in illustrative or idiomatic ways, however, Jesus’ comments are much more benign. For instance, suppose a particular lawyer exhibits unyielding tenacity. We might say he is a “bulldog” when he deals with the evidence. Or we might say that a person is “as cute as a puppy” or has “puppy-dog eyes.” If someone has a lucky day, we might say something like “every dog has its day.” Or if an adult refuses to learn to use new technology, we might say that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In addition, one might say that a person “works like a dog,” is the “top dog” at the office, or is “dog tired.” Obviously, to call someone “top dog” would convey no derogatory connotation.

For Jesus’ statement to be construed as unkind or wrong in some way, a person would be forced to prove that the illustration or idiom He used to refer to the Gentiles as “little dogs” must be taken in a derogatory fashion. Such cannot be proved. In fact, the term Jesus used for “little dogs” could easily be taken in an illustrative way without any type of unkind insinuation. In his commentary on Mark, renowned commentator R.C.H. Lenski translated the Greek term used by Jesus (kunaria) as “little pet dogs.” . . . Lenski goes on to write concerning Jesus’ statement: “All that Jesus does is to ask the disciples and the woman to accept the divine plan that Jesus must work out his mission among the Jews…. Any share of Gentile individuals in any of these blessings can only be incidental during Jesus’ ministry in Israel” . . . 

Consider that Matthew had earlier recorded how a Roman centurion approached Jesus on behalf of his paralyzed servant. Jesus did not respond in that instance as He did with the Syrophoenician woman. He simply stated: “I will come and heal him” (8:7). After witnessing the centurion’s refreshing humility and great faith (pleading for Christ to “only speak a word” and his servant would be healed—vss. 8-9), Jesus responded: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (vs. 10, emp. added). . . . 

[see my related paper, David Madison vs. the Gospel of Mark #7: Ch. 7 (Gentiles) ]

What many people miss in this story is what is so evident in other parts of Scripture: Jesus was testing this Canaanite woman, while at the same time teaching His disciples how the tenderhearted respond to possibly offensive truths. . . . 

Before people “dog” Jesus for the way He used an animal illustration, they might need to reconsider that “their bark is much worse than their bite” when it comes to insinuating that Jesus was unkind and intolerant. In truth, they are simply “barking up the wrong tree” by attempting to call Jesus’ character into question. They need to “call off the dogs” on this one and “let sleeping dogs lie.”

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Photo credit: John Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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September 5, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. . . . You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks and probably months.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

John Loftus’ chapter 2 is entitled, “Faith, Reason, and My Approach to Christianity” (pp. 39-63).

It’s well beyond my purview and purpose in these critiques to tackle all of the various brands of philosophy of religion and strains and varieties of Christian apologetics. Reasonable Christians (and atheists) can differ in good faith about their relative strengths and weaknesses.

So I’ll confine myself to what I think are outright misunderstandings of misrepresentations of  Christian views: particularly as expressed in inspired Scripture. I agree with Loftus when he writes (p. 44): “I understand these are complex issues, which unfortunately, I can’t devote the needed space to . . .” He knows that this is a “large and lumpy” area of thinking; so do I.

I maintain a very extensive Philosophy, Science & Christianity web page, if readers want to see how I argue various positions, and how I come down on all the internal differences about how to defend Christianity and larger theism. I summed up on Facebook — in a very “nutshell” way — my overall philosophy of religion:

My Opinion on “Proofs for God’s Existence” Summarized in Two Sentences

My view remains what it has been for many years: nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” God’s existence. But . . .

I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

In my first installment, I noted how Loftus stated that “I present a cumulative case argument against Christianity. . . . I consider this book to be one single argument against Christianity, and as such it should be evaluated as a whole.” (p. 15; his italics)

I replied:

That’s exactly how I view my body of apologetics (50 books and over 2500 blog articles) in favor of Christianity and (in particular) the collection of diverse argumentation I have set forth in critique of atheism.

Just as Loftus considers his overall case against Christianity long and multi-faceted and complex (laid out in “one single argument” in a densely argued 536-page book); likewise, I consider my case for Christianity and against atheism to be very multi-faceted and complex and only able to be fully understood with very extensive reading of my 2500+ articles and 50 books (not all, of course, but quite a few!).

What our views have in common is that we both regard them as “a cumulative case.” There is no one single argument on either side (I think he’d agree, as I’m pretty sure would most atheists and apologists and philosophers of religion) that is a “knockout punch”. Loftus agrees, on page 54:

When it comes to Christian apologetics, the best approach seems to be the cumulative case method of the late Paul D. Feinberg . . . This best explains why there is no single apologetical approach that will cause people to convert, and it bets explains why there is no silver bullet argument that will convince believing Christians to abandon their faith.

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Scientific evidence, the evidence of the senses, and reasoning based on this evidence is what counts. (p. 44)

[W]hen I came to see things differently, sufficient evidence derived from science-based reasoning became the only game in town, so to speak, . . . the scientific method is the best (and probably the only) reliable guide we have for gaining the truth . . . (p. 57)

Here is where Loftus runs into what I consider to be insuperable problems, and self-refuting tenets. What he just described is empiricism, which is the philosophical outlook that senses and observations of physical things allow us to discover facts and truth. It’s fine as far as it goes (it’s the fundamental basis of science), but it just doesn’t go far enough or explain everything. There are many different ways of knowing (even mathematics and logic: both basic building-blocks of science, are axiomatic and non-empirical). We readily observe that this very sentence from Loftus is self-defeating:

1) He makes an epistemological statement about “what counts” [strongly implied, all that counts] in determining truth.

2) This very statement is not empirical. It is strictly philosophical, or metaphysical: about the relative value or worth of empiricism.

3) But if empirical observations are all that we can trust, and all that “count”, then his sentence has to be discounted, since it is not an empirical observation.

4) Ergo, it is self-defeating and self-refuting.

I’ve dealt with this false, misguided, tunnel vision “science only” or “scientism” mentality (very common in atheism) many times and from many different angles:

Atheist Myths: “Christianity vs. Science & Reason” (vs. “drunkentune”) [1-3-07]

Reply to Atheist Scientist Jerry Coyne: Are Science and Religion Utterly Incompatible? [7-13-10]

Christianity: Crucial to the Origin of Science [8-1-10]

Christians or Theists Founded 115 Scientific Fields [8-20-10]

Simultaneously Dumb & Smart Christians, Atheists, & Scientists [10-9-15]

Is Christianity Unfalsifiable? Is Empiricism the Only True Knowledge? [5-6-17]

Science, Logic, & Math Start with Unfalsifiable Axioms [1-6-18]

Science: “only discipline that tells us new things about reality” [???]: Scientism or Near-Scientism as a Very Common Shortcoming of Atheist Epistemology [8-9-18]

Rebuttal of Seidensticker’s Anti-Christian Science “History” [8-11-18]

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I have never thought that Pascal’s wager was a particularly strong argument: if an argument at all. But it is a clever thought experiment and something to definitely seriously consider. Again, this is beyond the purview of my purposes, so I’ll pass. Though I love Pascal (and Alvin Plantinga, Kierkegaard, William Lane Craig, the Late Norman Geisler, gary Habermas, and others he mentions in this chapter), I’m not here to defend every school and argument of the entire history of apologetics. I’m already devoting what will be many hundreds of hours to this long project. My purpose is to critique errors I see in Loftus’ own views, per my titles: “Loftus Atheist Error # . . .” 
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On pages 50-51, Loftus develops an interesting (though thoroughly fallacious and weak) “New and Better Kind of Wager.” He reasons that it would be a better state of affairs if God asked us “if we want to be born, knowing the risks involved”: including the calculus and consideration of a possibility of ending up in an eternal hell. “Why wouldn’t God give us a choice in the matter? It seems unethical for him not to do so . . . If I were given the choice, I would simply say, ‘No, count me out! Put me out of existence now.’ “
*
This stimulates several responses in my mind (which is a major reason why I absolutely love dialogue and back-and-forth discussion: because it can do that):
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1) I think it’s foolish to imagine and posit that he himself and many or most people would choose to be annihilated rather than to live a life on the earth. There is no good reason to believe this, that I can see. It’s essentially the view that we would all commit suicide, given the choice in the beginning: except that it would be an assisted suicide, with God’s help. I see no indication — by analogy of how relatively few people commit suicide in this world — that many folks would make this choice.
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And if Loftus would have done so, then, by his own reasoning (and a reductio ad absurdum) he would have to argue that people (including he himself) should kill themselves today (if they thought there was a God and a hell, or even that both might exist), since the potentialities and hypotheticals remain the same. Atheist or no, the great bulk of people in the world are simply not that hopeless and nihilistic.  Of course, Loftus doesn’t believe in God, and all of this is a mere hypothetical and mind game. But he is attempting to make a reasoned argument against the biblical God, and this doesn’t succeed in that purpose at all.
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2) I note in passing (consider this a “footnote”) that it is highly ironic that a person who believes in legal abortion is making an argument that all of us: at the beginning of our existence, should be asked whether we want to live or not. To be consistent, the one who is pro-abortion and who has an abortion, would contradict this: all the more so in the atheist’s case, since they eliminate the only life that baby will ever have (there being no afterlife). If Loftus thinks “it seems unethical for him [God] not to do so” I don’t see how he can possibly favor legal abortion, since it is radically anti-choice for the baby about to be killed (and in atheist metaphysics and ontology, annihilated and made nonexistent forever).
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3) I submit that it is absurd for God to ask a question of a human baby (which would presuppose that God temporarily gave them a mind that could reason enough to even have such a momentous discussion) about these things, when there are so many unknown factors. Obviously, in Christian belief, God is omniscient, and He deems it a good thing for human beings to “be fruitful and multiply.” For God, and for us Christians and pro-lifers, who consider life infinitely valuable and priceless, the very scenario is meaningless. Of course, life and creation as a whole is good and wonderful, and it is better to exist than not to. This is virtually self-evident for all who haven’t committed suicide, and the extremely strong instinct to preserve our own lives is evidence of it as well.
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4) In making his argument, Loftus smuggles in many notions that are false premises, to start with: thus making his conclusion erroneous or at the very least, dubious and indefensible.
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a) He says “we might not be raised in the right Christian family and might therefore be sent to hell because of it.” This is silly, simplistic argumentation. Granted, we all can have good or bad influences in many ways, that was beyond our choice.  But in the end, the biblical view is that each individual is given enough grace and power to be saved, if they make that choice, and that each will be individually responsible:
Ezekiel 33:17-20 (RSV) “Yet your people say, `The way of the Lord is not just’; when it is their own way that is not just. [18] When the righteous turns from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, he shall die for it. [19] And when the wicked turns from his wickedness, and does what is lawful and right, he shall live by it. [20] Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”
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Romans 14:10-12 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;  [11] for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” [12] So each of us shall give account of himself to God. 
We’re not sent to hell, so much as we choose to go there, by rejecting God’s free offer of grace for salvation and eternal life in heavenly bliss:
Joshua 24:15 And if you be unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” 
b) [T]he odds, according to most evangelicals anyway, are that most of the people who are born in this world will end up in hell.
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First of all, Christian theology is not determined by a head count of evangelicals, but by Scripture and unbroken apostolic tradition, passed down. Appealing to what evangelicals think is silly on two levels: 1) it’s the genetic fallacy, and 2) evangelicals are only a portion of Protestants, who are a small minority of all Christians, now and through history (they didn’t even exist until the 16th century).
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Secondly, the mainstream Christian position is that we simply don’t know how many end up in heaven and hell, proportionately. Jesus said:
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
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Luke 18:8 “. . . when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
On the other hand, in a recent argument that I came up with myself, I examined two of Jesus’ parables, which were about salvation and damnation, to see if they provided any clues about this, in a reply to atheist David Madison:
In the next chapter we have the great scene of the separation of the sheep and goats at the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). . . .  No indication in this text is given of relative numbers of the saved and the damned. In two of His parables nearby, however, He does give indication. . . . 
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In the parable of the ten maidens with lamps (Matthew 25:1-13), five were foolish and were damned (“the door was shut . . . I do not know you”: 25:10, 12) and five were wise and received eternal life (“went in with him to the marriage feast”: 25:10). . . . It’s a 50-50 proposition.
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The parable of the talents follows (25:14-30). Here, there are three servants, who are given five talents, two talents, and one talent [a form of money], respectively. The ones who are saved are the first two (“enter into the joy of your master”: 25:21, 23), while the servant with one talent, who did nothing with it, was damned (“cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness”: 25:30). So this parable suggests a 67% rate of final salvation and a 33% rate of damnation. 
Moreover, St. Paul expressly taught that even those who have not heard the gospel or Christian message could be saved, based on what they know (thus leaving open a wide potential for salvation indeed):
Romans 2:13-16  For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. [14] When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. [15] They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them [16] on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.  

Bottom line: we just don’t know for sure, but we know that there is grace for all and that there is significant indication that a huge proportionate number will attain heaven. In the end, each of us has to live our life and be judged as to how well we have done, by others, and by God.

c) “God should already know what the odds are and not choose that risk for us.”

This is what free will entails. God gives us all a choice: to follow Him and His moral laws or reject Him and go our own way. He can’t reasonably be blamed if we deliberately reject Him, in our free will. He thought that was better than a bunch of robots who could do not other than what He programmed them to do at every instant. I totally agree! I want free will to choose as I wish; not to have no choice and be totally controlled.

d) “And yet here I am, without any choice in the matter apparently condemned to hell.”

He is not “condemned to hell” at all. He has a free will and choice to repent and become a Christian again, and get on the road to salvation. What he says may be the Calvinist view, but of course they are a minority of a minority (with very few remaining adherents today), and not the be-all of Christianity. They believe in predestination to hell; virtually all other Christians today and throughout history do not. But even John Calvin stated that no one could know for sure who was among the elect. So Calvinists and fundamentalists can’t say John he is definitely hellbound, nor can I, nor can anyone else or he himself. If he repents, he can be reasonably assured that he is heaven-bound, provided he stays the course.

None of us could decide to be born into this earthly life (many now are prevented by abortion and infanticide from even having this life, whether they would have wanted to or not). Sorry, John: your parents thought your existence was a good thing. But we have a full choice as to where we decide to spend eternity., which is far, far more important if indeed we do have an eternal existence, since if that is the case, this life represents only an infinitesimally small portion of our entire existence (like one atom compared to the entire universe):

Psalms 39:4-5 “LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is! [5] Behold, thou hast made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight. Surely every man stands as a mere breath! . . .” (cf. 39:11)

Psalms 144:4 Man is like a breath, his days are like a passing shadow. (cf. 78:39)

James 4:14 . . . What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

***

Loftus argues (pp. 59-60) that the Israelite worldview prior to the exile to Babylon (after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC) was polytheistic (just as neighboring cultures’ religious view was). Well, duh! This is why God judged them (through Nebuchadnezzar) in the first place: precisely because they had forsaken Him, and monotheism, and adopted polytheism and idolatry: directly and deliberately against what He had urged and commanded them to do, for their own good.

This was the prophet Jeremiah’s message of warning prior to the Babylonian exile:

Jeremiah 1:15-16 For, lo, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the LORD; and they shall come and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah. [16] And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands. 

Jeremiah 7:9-15 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Ba’al, and go after other gods that you have not known, [10] and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, `We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations? [11] Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, says the LORD. [12] Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. [13] And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, [14] therefore I will do to the house which is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. [15] And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of E’phraim. 

Jeremiah 11:9-13 Again the LORD said to me, “There is revolt among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. [10] They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words; they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers. [11] Therefore, thus says the LORD, Behold, I am bringing evil upon them which they cannot escape; though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. [12] Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. [13] For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to burn incense to Ba’al. (cf. 13:10; 16:11-13; 19:1-9; 22:8-9; 35:15; 44:2-6, 15-17)

God allowed the temple to be destroyed because He had had enough of the disobedience and idolatrous compromises and hypocrisy and empty worship of too many of the Jews who worshiped there. They had to learn the hard way (so often sadly true of human beings and whole cultures), and so off they went in slavery to Babylon.

But alas, here comes Loftus “informing”us that the 6th century BC Israelites were polytheistic, as were their neighbors, as if this is some startling new insight unknown to Christians (or Jews)? It’s almost comical. It doesn’t follow at all that the actual teachings preserved in the Old Testament and the very rich Jewish oral tradition were not known and taught back then (which is, no doubt, what Loftus is driving at or insinuating). They were, but they were rejected and not followed.

This, in fact, is the central theme of the entire Old Testament: the continual straying of the Jews, followed by judgment and renewal, and then cycling toward to rebellion again. It was still happening in the New Testament when most of the Jews rejected Jesus, Who was indeed their expected Messiah.

So how is it that this supposedly casts doubt on the Bible: when it is teaching exactly the same thing? I hope that Loftus will explain this if he ever interacts with these series of critiques of his book. I’ve dealt with this nonsense that the earliest “formal” Jewish belief (not what was always practiced) in the times of Abraham, Moses, and even into David’s time (1000 BC) was in fact, polytheistic, in two replies to atheist Bob Seidensticker:

Seidensticker Folly #20: An Evolving God in the OT? (God’s Omnipotence, Omniscience, & Omnipresence in Early Bible Books & Ancient Jewish Understanding) [9-18-18]
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In every case when it comes to my reasons for adopting my skeptical presumption, the Christian response is pretty much the same. Christians must continually retreat to the position that what they believe is “possible,” or that it’s “not impossible.” (p. 62)
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[W]e want to know what is probable, not what is possible . . . Probability is what matters. (p. 63)
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As I’ve already stated above, this is not my view at all. I’ll repeat my view again:
I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

One sees nothing of “possible” or “not impossible” here.  I’m arguing from accumulation of various arguments and probability (exactly as Loftus advocates) and also plausibility.

***

Photo credit: John Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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August 21, 2019

Jesus Predicts His Passion & Death / Judgment Day / God’s Mercy / God as Cosmic Narcissist?

This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on Mark by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Not-Your-Pastor’s Tour of Mark’s Gospel: The falsification of Christianity made easy” (Debunking Christianity, 7-17-19). His words will be in blue below.

Dr. Madison has utterly ignored my twelve refutations of his “dirty dozen” podcasts against Jesus, and I fully expect that stony silence to continue. If he wants to be repeatedly critiqued and make no response, that’s his choice (which would challenge Bob Seidensticker as the most intellectually cowardly atheist I know). I will continue on, whatever he decides to do (no skin off my back).

Dr. Madison believes we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels. The atheist always has a convenient “out” (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway and that the text in question was simply made up and added later by unscrupulous and “cultish” Christian propagandists.

I always refuse to play this silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, because there is no way to “win” with such a stacked, subjective deck. I start with the assumption (based on many historical evidences) that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). 

Dr. Madison himself — in his anti-Jesus project noted above, granted my outlook, strictly in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.” Excellent! Otherwise, there would be no possible discussion at all.

*****

Dr. Madison called this installment: “‘Great’ Bible Texts…that Really Aren’t So Great: Extreme religion in disguise” (2-22-19).

Moreover, the cult was dead certain that Jesus would soon (not ‘any century now’) descend through the clouds to set up a Kingdom of God on earth reserved for the lucky few (the members of the cult) Everyone else would be killed off; that was Jesus’ view on how it would all unfold.

Really? How odd, then, that all these passages are in the Bible, from Jesus’ own lips. I see nothing about His quick (“soon”) return, followed by judgment (except for saying that He would rise again in three days, and allusions to His post-Resurrection appearances):

Matthew 16:21 (RSV) From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Matthew 17:22-23 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, [23] and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. 

Matthew 20:17-19 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, [18] “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, [19] and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” 

Matthew 26:1-2 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, [2] “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 

Matthew 26:31-32 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ [32] But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 

Mark 8:31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Mark 9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

Mark 10:32-34 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, [33] saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; [34] and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” 

Mark 12:1-11 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. [2] When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. [3] And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. [4] Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. [5] And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. [6] He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, `They will respect my son.’ [7] But those tenants said to one another, `This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ [8] And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. [9] What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. [10] Have you not read this scripture: `The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; [11] this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Luke 9:22 . . . “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 

Luke 9:44 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” 

Luke 18:31-33 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished. [32] For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; [33] they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 

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 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 

John 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, . . . 

John 10:15, 17-18 . . . I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . [17] 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.” 

John 12:23-24 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 

John 12:31-33 “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; [32] and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what death he was to die. 

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (cf. 14:18-19, 27-29)

John 16:5 But now I am going to him who sent me; . . . (cf. 16:7, 16-22, 28; 17:13)

See also the excellent article, “Passion Predictions,” by Paul Zilonka, C.P.

I dealt with this nonsense that only a very very few would be saved, according to Jesus (like during Noah’s Flood), in my paper, Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #3: Nature & Time of 2nd Coming.

But after Paul had departed the scene, the gospel writers took on the task of inventing the Jesus story, . . . Mark conjured the figure of Jesus that has become so familiar to us. 

Oops! I forgot about that . . . 

How does this [parable in Mark 12] square with Mark 4:10-12, where we read that Jesus told parables to prevent people from understanding his message.

Explained that here: Madison vs. Jesus #7: God Prohibits Some Folks’ Repentance?

As the next section of chapter 12 illustrates. Mark does not give his Jesus a lot of ethical teaching, but in verse 31 we find the ‘second’ great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But Mark’s primary concern in the final portion of this chapter is to coach the cult, explain what is expected of the followers. And here we find a demand (it’s called the first commandment) that is a marker of extreme religion:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Heart, soul, mind, strength. All. Focused on God. This is not the way even most believers function in the world—nor do they want to—and begs the question of why a self-sufficient god wants or needs unrestrained adoration. But cults thrive when people can be coaxed to this dark side; when they can be roped into zealotry. The reward promised by the Jesus cult was eternal life; but, as is usually the case, there must have been ego satisfaction for the cult leaders, including a propagandist like Mark.

The folks in the pews have been so used to hearing, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, yada, yada, yada,” in sermon and song, seeing it in stained glass and embroidery—well, don’t they just expect that sort of thing from the preacher? So it’s hard to notice just how jarring, how bizarre it really is.

I disposed of this hogwash, in my reply: Madison vs. Jesus #6: Narcissistic, Love-Starved God?

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Dr. Madison’s critique of Mark 13 contains nothing new. He merely regurgitates fallacious arguments that I have already refuted in this series of rebuttals or the previous one. When he can’t come up with anything new, he recycles his trash. Likewise; his critiques of chapters 14-16 are primarily a reiteration of radical biblical skepticism (complete with ample citation from the intellectually suicidal Jesus mythicists): which I have explained in my standard introductions in this series (see above) why I won’t enter into. So this concludes my series of (total of eleven) rebuttals, as regards the Gospel of Mark.

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Photo credit: The Flagellation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1880), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 7, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

*****

Dr. Madison’s tenth podcast of twelve is entitled: “On Mark 11:22-24, Jesus gets demerits for saying this about prayer.” Here is the latest “outrageous” saying of Jesus (or, oops, the fanatical cultist evangelists who supposedly made up His words):

Mark 11:22-24 (RSV) And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. [23] Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. [24] Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

This is a shallow, silly promise, and Jesus gets major demerits for this. . . . Jesus was wrong. . . . How much damage has this teaching caused? How many very devout people have prayed with all their might for a sick child to be cured, but the child dies? And then — far from blaming God for not delivering — they beat up on themselves for not having (you guessed it) enough faith. This damages people. This is harmful religion. . . . Jesus sounds like countless other cult fanatics that have come and gone in human history. . . . Why aren’t Christians themselves shocked by the cheap gimmickry? . . . baloney that Jesus has taught about prayer . . . 

First of all, of course this — especially the “mountain” reference — is a use of hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point), which we have thoroughly dealt with in installment one of this series of twelve rebuttals, and so need not reiterate here. It’s simply exaggeration, to make the literal point: “you can do some truly extraordinary things through faith and prayer.”

And (equally obvious) we all speak like this today, all the time. We observe people who are rather confident in their abilities in various areas, who will say, “I can do anything!” No one takes it literally. Or one can think of married couples who truly believe that their love can “conquer all”, or a parent telling a child who is now a young man or woman, considering a career: “you can do anything you want with your life. The sky’s the limit!”

These things are common because exaggeration or hyperbole is present in all languages and cultures. The problem is that a double standard is often applied to the Bible and Jesus: as if the ordinary complex aspects of language somehow don’t apply in those cases. They do; and this double standard or miscomprehension is the cause of countless atheist errors and fallacies in their endless polemical attacks.

Ironically, in this very podcast, Dr. Madison was discussing the parable of the fig tree, that occurs earlier in the same chapter, and states: “seeing the story in the context of this chapter, it seems to be Mark’s metaphor for the destruction of the Jerusalem temple . . . it is a literary device.”

Great! This is truly progress, as Dr. Madison has now recognized the perfectly obvious fact that the Bible contains literary devices and various genres, which include things like metaphor, exaggeration, anthropomorphism, and various non-literal poetic specimens. Yet he can’t see this when it comes to the text we are presently examining. And he — more often than not –, misses them altogether.

He does make a good point that there are many Christians (who interpret the passage as he is doing: as if Jesus intended it absolutely literally) who read this and think that God answers absolutely every prayer and heals absolutely everyone, just for the asking, and/or with enough faith in the person praying or the one afflicted.

This is indeed an actual and serious problem among far too many Christians, and a legitimate concern. But it comes from ignorance and stupidity in Bible interpretation (precisely the same error Dr. Madison is committing in every podcast in this series). These folks are taking things literally that were never intended to be so.

Again, I have dealt with both these errors in other papers, and so will cite them here. I addressed the “unanswered prayer ‘problem'” in my article, “No Conditional Prayer in Scripture?”: one of my 35 refutations of atheist Bob Seidensticker, which he has utterly ignored and left unreplied-to. Here are two instances, where the Bible shows that not all prayers are or should be answered:

Prayer is conditional upon being consistent with God’s will. So if we pray (to use an extreme example) for a difficult neighbor to be struck down and not able to talk or walk, that wouldn’t be in God’s will and God wouldn’t answer it.

1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

James 4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Even something not immediately immoral or amoral wouldn’t necessarily be in God’s will, because He knows everything and can see where things might lead; thus may refuse some requests. When Jesus says “ask and you shall receive,” etc., it’s in a familiar Hebrew proverbial sense, which means that it is “generally true, but admits of exceptions.”

Moreover, St. Paul’s petitionary prayer request for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” (thought by many Bible scholars to be an eye disease) was expressly turned down by God (2 Cor 12:7-9). I gave a few other examples in that paper:

The prophet Jonah prayed to God to die (Jonah 4:3): “Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (cf. 4:8-9). God obviously didn’t fulfill the request, and chided Jonah or his anger (4:4, 9). The prophet Ezekiel did the same: “O LORD, take away my life” (1 Kgs 19:4). God had other plans, as the entire passage shows. If we pray something stupidly, God won’t answer. He knows better than we do.

Jesus also tells the story (not a parable, which don’t have proper names) in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man, in which two petitionary requests (in effect, prayers: 16:24, 27-28, 30) to Abraham are turned down (16:25-26, 29, 31). Since Jesus is teaching theological principles or truths, by means of the story, then it follows that it’s His own opinion as well: that prayers are not always answered. They have to be according to God’s will.

But wait! Bob says, after all: “The Bible has no qualifiers” and “No limitations or delays are mentioned [for prayer].” Really? It’s sort of obvious, by now, ain’t it?: that Bob often is quite ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches. He displays his biblical illiteracy and ignorance rather spectacularly . . . 

Now, one might say that, “okay, some of these are obvious examples where God wouldn’t answer, because someone would be harmed. But why wouldn’t God answer all prayers for healing, because that is a good thing, and He has the desire and power to do so, if He is an all-loving and omnipotent Being?”

And that leads to the large, complex area of healing, as taught in the Bible and Christianity. The fact is that the Bible does not teach that everyone would or should be healed for the asking, or with enough faith. It’s not nearly that simple. I have already provided the example above of the Apostle Paul, who certainly had enough faith and holiness. It simply wasn’t God’s will to heal him. We don’t know all the ins and outs of why God heals in some instances and not in others.

We don’t know everything and can’t figure out everything God does. We should never logically expect to, given other truths expressed in the inspired revelation that all Christians accept, since He is omniscient and our knowledge is very limited. But I’m here to inform anyone who will listen what the actual biblical teaching about healing is. I documented it at great length in my paper, “Divine Healing: Is It God’s Will to Heal in Every Case?”

Sometimes people are supernaturally healed; most times they are not, or are healed through natural means that came from thinking and brains and medical science, by means of the abilities to learn that God gave us. And sometimes prayers are unanswered, per the reasons above.

There is nothing whatsoever in this passage — correctly understood — that isshallow, silly, wrong, harmful religion, sound[ing] like countless other cult fanatics, cheap gimmickry, baloney . . .” It’s Dr. Madison (in his ludicrous felt superiority to our Lord Jesus) who has been shown to be “silly” and “wrong”: as throughout these ten installments. There are many people who have a hard time properly interpreting the Bible, and he is assuredly one of ’em.

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Photo credit: Healing of the Blind Man (1871), by Carl Bloch (1834-1890) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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August 5, 2019

This is an installment of my series of replies to an article by Dr. David Madison: a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, who has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. It’s called, “Things We Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said” (Debunking Christianity, 7-21-19). His words will be in blue below. Dr. Madison makes several “generic” digs at Jesus and Christianity, in the written portion (it details a series of 12 podcasts):

A challenge for Christians: If you’re so sure Jesus existed, then you have some explaining to do. A major frustration is that, while believers are indignant at all the talk about Jesus not existing, they don’t know the issues that fuel the skepticism—and are unwilling to inform themselves.

Yes, I’m up to the “challenge.” No problem at all. I’m not threatened or “scared” by this in the slightest. It’s what I do, as an apologist. The question is whether Dr. Madison is up to interacting with counter-critiques? Or will he act like the voluminous anti-theist atheist polemicist Bob Seidensticker?: who directly challenged me in one of his own comboxes to respond to his innumerable attack-pieces against Christianity and the Bible, and then courageously proceeded to utterly ignore my 35 specific critiques of his claims as of this writing. We shall soon see which course Dr. Madison will decide to take. Anyway, he also states in his post and combox:

[S]o many of the words of Jesus are genuinely shocking. These words aren’t proclaimed much from the pulpit, . . . Hence the folks in the pews have absorbed and adored an idealized Jesus. Christian apologists make their livings refiguring so many of the things Jesus supposedly said.

The gospels are riddled with contradictions and bad theology, and Jesus is so frequently depicted as a cult fanatic—because cult fanatics wrote the gospels. We see Jesus only through their theological filters. I just want to grab hold of Christian heads (standing behind them, with a hand on each ear) and force them to look straight ahead, unflinchingly, at the gospels, and then ask “Tell me what you see!” uncoached by apologist specialists, i.e., priests and pastors, who’ve had a lot of practice making bad texts look good. . . . I DO say, “Deal with the really bad stuff in the gospels.” Are you SURE you’ve not make a big mistake endorsing this particular Lord and Savior? That’s the whole point of this series of Flash Podcasts, because a helluva lot of Christians would agree, right away, that these quotes are bad news—if no one told then that they’ve been attributed to Jesus.

Of course, Dr. Madison — good anti-theist atheist that he is — takes the view that we are not at all sure whether Jesus in fact said anything recorded in the Gospels in the first place. I don’t play that game, because there is no end to it. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall. The atheist always has their convenient out (when refuted in argument about some biblical text) that Jesus never said it anyway [wink wink and sly patronizing grin], and/or that the biblical text in question was simply added later by dishonest ultra-biased Christian partisans and propagandists. It’s a silly and ultimately intellectually dishonest game, and so I always refuse to play it with atheists or anyone else, because there is no way to “win” with such an absurdly stacked, purely subjective deck.

In my defense of biblical texts, I start with the assumption that the manuscripts we have are quite sufficient for us to know what is in the Bible (believe it or not). Going on from there, I simply defend particular [supposedly “difficult”] texts, and note with appropriate argumentation, that “here, the Bible teaches so-and-so,” etc. I deal with the texts as they exist. I don’t get into the endlessly arbitrary, subjective games that atheists and theologically liberal biblical skeptics play with the texts, in their self-serving textual criticism.

Dr. Madison himself (fortunately) grants my outlook in terms of practical “x vs. y” debate purposes: “For the sake of argument, I’m willing to say, okay, Jesus was real and, yes, we have gospels that tell the story.” And in the combox: “So, we can go along with their insistence that he did exist. We’ll play on their field, i.e., the gospels.”

Good! So we shall examine his cherry-picked texts and see whether his interpretations of them can stand up to scrutiny. He is issuing challenges, and I as an apologist will be dishing a bunch of my own right back to him. Two can play this game. I will be dealing honestly with his challenges. Will he return the favor, and engage in serious and substantive dialogue? Again, we’ll soon know what his reaction will be. A true dialogue is of a confident, inquisitive, “nothing to fear and everything to gain” back-and-forth and interactive nature, not merely “ships passing in the night” or what I call “mutual monologue.”

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Dr. Madison’s fourth podcast is entitled: “On Mark 10:9, Jesus’ disastrous teaching about divorce.” Here is the “offending” passage:

Mark 10:6-9 (RSV) But from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female.’ [7] `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, [8] and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. [9] What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” 

He starts out with a dig at evangelicals, who (according to a study he is drawing from) have a higher divorce rate than the general public, and higher than atheists as well. We see where he is going with this. That may be true, but if so, has to be closely examined. I have seen, myself, several social studies (and my major was sociology), indicating that couples who test high on religious piety and observance, have more successful marriages than their colleagues who lack such qualities.

He cites a study from Baylor University, which I located online. It, in turn, cites a more detailed report of the studies undertaken. In its section on marriage, the latter states:

Religion is popularly thought of as a social institution that encourages marriage and family growth, and conservative religious traditions are especially supportive of “traditional” family forms and values. But there are some interesting and not always predictable variations among and within different religious groups. . . . 

Thus the common conservative argument that strong religion leads to strong families does not hold up. Some have argued that evangelical Protestantism (the typical example of “strong religion”) is correlated with low socioeconomic status, and that this explains the increased risk of divorce. However, new research by Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak suggests that evangelical Protestants’ cultural encouragement of early marriage and discouragement of birth control and higher education attainment explain the higher divorce rate in counties with a larger proportion of evangelical Protestants.

What the same article also states, however, is the following:

Overall, couples who have higher levels of religious service attendance, especially if the couple attends together, have lower rates of divorce.

The “new research” cited in this article, from Glass and Levchak, was published in the American Journal of Sociology (February 2014). But it’s a lot more nuanced than these “triumphant” evangelical-bashing summaries would suggest. Charles E. Stokes explains:

[T]here is more to the story. Below I suggest a few additional considerations that are in order before rushing to declare conservative Protestants unwitting enemies of marriage.

. . . a few intriguing findings in the article are likely to get buried in mass media coverage of the main storyline. Early in the article, Glass and Levchak point out that “the average county would double its divorce rate as its proportion conservative Protestant moved from 0 to 100%,” but then they note “this effect is much smaller than the unaffiliated effect which is almost three times larger [emphasis mine].” The evidence from this article does not suggest that marriages would be better off in non-religious contexts but actually points in the opposite direction.

. . . it is important to note the comparison group throughout this study. Conservative Protestants are compared not to the non-religious (who, as noted earlier, are more divorce prone by comparison) but to all other major Christian groups.

. . . According to the logic of the article, it is the regularly involved conservative Protestants who should be most invested in promoting the “pro-marriage” norms that are paradoxically putting their marriages (and others’) at risk. But new data discussed below suggest just the opposite.

Figure 1 shows the proportion of ever-divorced young adults by religious affiliation and participation. These data are taken from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative study of young Americans who were first surveyed as teens in 1994 and most recently surveyed again as young adults in 2008. . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) Waves III and IV.
*Statistically significant difference at the .05 level from Other Christian: Active in logistic regression models.
^Statistically significant difference at the .05 level from Non-Religious in logistic regression models.

The comparison groups in Figure 1 are designed to mirror those of the Glass and Levchak study, but they are divided into active (attending religious services two or more times a month) and nominal (attending less than two times a month) subgroups. As the figure shows, active conservative Protestants are statistically no more likely to have divorced in the first few years of marriage than their active peers from other Christian denominations, and both groups who attend church frequently are significantly less likely to have divorced than their non-religious peers. The group that stands out in Figure 1 is the nominal conservative Protestants, the most likely group to have divorced. Thus, in the exact group (early-marrying conservative Protestants) whose marriages Glass and Levchak would expect to falter, active conservative Protestants are above average in marital stability early in marriage, while nominal conservative Protestants fare worse than the non-religious.

This hardly confirms Dr. Madison’s point. It’s a disconfirmation. One simply had to look deeply enough into the study cited, to see the more specific relevant data.

Dr. Madison then changes his approach and goes directly after Mark 10:9, stating: “Here Jesus seems to imply that every marriage is designed by God.” Well, not exactly. Jesus is saying that marriage is a divinely instituted sacrament, that ought not be broken. That’s far different from claiming that every specific marriage in fact was divinely ordained: as if there is no human free will involved (including the usual range of possible human mistakes, folly, immaturity, haste and lack of preparation and planning, possibly excessive lust, etc.). These human mistakes (and sins, where applicable) are not God’s fault, and it’s beyond silly to blame Him for them. And among the human free will actions or beliefs that can help cause an unsuccessful marriage are religious nominalism and cohabitation.

Dr. Madison stumbles into the truth, by asserting: “it doesn’t follow at all that God has engineered every marriage or put His seal on every marriage.” Exactly right. Lots of people get married who have no business doing so. He continues: “Just think of all the bad marriages that have happened since the beginning. People have been forced to marry for all sorts of wrong reasons: money: family pressures and expectations, political alliances, . . . people miserable in bad marriages.” Bingo again! This sort of human error and bad judgment has caused untold misery, but it’s absurd to blame God for it.

In fact, we have data in the Bible regarding God advising the ancient Jews not to enter into certain unwise marriages: with foreign women who followed contrary religious practices (Ezra 10:2-3; cf. Dt 17:17; Neh 13:23-28). Therefore, it can’t be that “every [particular] marriage is designed by God.” The institution was designed and sanctioned by Him, and as we know, any and every institution can be corrupted and abused. These men were actually commanded to “put away” or “send away” foreign women who worshiped false gods (Ezra 10:4-19, 44; cf. 9:1-2, 14-15). In my own apologetics I have used these examples as biblical analogies for the Catholic practice of annulment, which is the most sensible way to deal with marriages that were “wrong” from the beginning.

Thus, God approved and approves of ending an ostensible marriage: the very opposite of Dr. Madison’s claims that God ordains each and every human marriage forever, no matter how bad the situation is. There are many instances of God not approving of particular marriages:

Leviticus 21:7, 14 They shall not marry a harlot or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband . . . [14] A widow, or one divorced, or a woman who has been defiled, or a harlot, these he shall not marry; but he shall take to wife a virgin of his own people, 

Nehemiah 13:27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?

Ezekiel 44:22 They shall not marry a widow, or a divorced woman, but only a virgin of the stock of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest.

Tobit 4:12 . . . First of all take a wife from among the descendants of your fathers and do not marry a foreign woman, who is not of your father’s tribe; for we are the sons of the prophets. Remember, my son, that Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our fathers of old, all took wives from among their brethren. . . . 

Mark 10:11-12 [Jesus] And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; [12] and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 

Jesus taught that a valid marriage was indissoluble, and that divorce in these circumstances constituted adultery. But of course the key question is what constitutes a valid marriage. Dr. Madison himself notes several factors that would be prime instances of grounds for Catholic annulment: “People have been forced to marry for . . . money: family pressures and expectations, political alliances.” Thus, Catholic theology has a very practical and compassionate way to help people trapped in such circumstances, while not undermining the institution of marriage itself, or promoting an unbiblical divorce, because an annulment is a declaration (one that exists even in secular civil law) that marriage never actually existed from the beginning.

It’s the Protestants and the Orthodox (lacking annulments) who labor under such difficulties: but they do not represent all of Christianity. Catholicism is by far the largest portion. But Dr. Madison continues with unwarranted caricatures and juvenile swipes at God: “But hey, God designed them all, God brought all these folks to the altar, or if they just ended up there against their will, God still added His seal of approval; no escape ever. God did all that joining. . . . How could God be so incompetent?”

No, He does not approve of every ill-advised marriage that people enter into, and it’s ludicrous to assert that He does. But that’s what atheists do: they always want to irrationally and unjustly blame God for the mistakes and sins of human beings. It’s always His fault (whether He exists or not, is the comic element in it all).

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Photo credit: Houkouki (10-26-18) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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July 20, 2019

[Bob Seidensticker’s words will be in blue]

Former Presbyterian, Bible-Basher Bob’s blog, Cross Examined contains (according to the “About” page) “roughly a million words in more than a thousand posts” and a “quarter-million comments.” He advertises his efforts as “an energetic but civil critique of Christianity.” But the blog  is anything but “civil”: as a glance at any of his endless comboxes will prove. Here (as an altogether typical example) is the feeding frenzy on his site where I was the specific target.

He directly challenged me to answer his arguments, 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.” 

Again, Bob mocks some brave Christian (who dared show up in his toxic, noxious environment), in his comboxes 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 virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. I was happy to comply, so he came onto my site, but it was clear early on that he had no interest in genuine dialogue, so he was banned as a sophist troll, and I explained exactly why I banned him. Lest his atheists buddies think that this alone proves that I am the coward, he later banned me on his site, simply for disagreeing.

I ban, on the other hand, when people violate my simple rules for civil discussion. It’s a completely different rationale. Bob is still fully able to see all of my posts about him, and to reply on his own site. Banning on Disqus has no effect on any of that.

After Bob challenged me, I decided that enough was enough and that I would reply at great length. I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts.  Thus, I have now posted 32 critiques of his nonsense: written from August through October 2018, and the last two in April 2019.

And there will be more, if he writes something different about the Bible or Christianity; if he dredges up some semi-semi-semi quasi-“original” chestnut of anti-Christian polemics (many of his posts simply recycle the same old anti-Christian lies).

And guess how many times he has counter-responded to my 32 in-depth critiques, goaded on by he himself? You guessed right: zero, zilch, nada, nuthin’ . . . He hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply. His cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds.

It’s part of my job as a Catholic apologist, to examine the arguments (real or imagined) of atheist anti-theist polemicists, to see whether they can hold water. Not all (probably not even a majority of) apologists deal with atheist polemics or tackle the issues regarding science and its relationship to Christianity, and philosophy of religion. I do.

It’s largely thankless work, and few (on either side) seem to care about it, but someone’s gotta do it. On my site, one can learn how to counter and dismantle atheist arguments. And it is revealed how very weak they are. Don’t let the anti-theist atheist routine of blithely assumed intellectual superiority fool you. Anyone can talk a good game. But backing it up is often another story altogether.

I also specialize in critiques of atheist “deconversion stories.” Atheists and agnostics attempt to give (public) reasons why they should have left Christianity. I (likewise, publicly) show how they are inadequate and insufficient reasons.

And Bible-Basher Bob Seidensticker is Example #1 of this illusory facade of superiority. Imagine an idyllic vision of rational argument, where atheists seriously and amiably engage with Christians (minus all the usual mockery and tribalist cheerleading combox insult-fests, on both sides). Ol’ Bob doesn’t want any part of that. It would shatter the fairy tale of invulnerability that he makes up for his fan club and clones who sop up his every utterance as if they were GOSPEL TRVTH.

Bottom-line: can a person back up what they are arguing, against scrutiny and examination? Bob apparently cannot (he certainly will not), and so I can only conclude that he is an intellectual coward, who lacks the courage of his convictions (which — I freely grant — are sincerely held). Here is the complete list of my 32 posts contra Bible-Basher Bob:

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The usual nonsense and obfuscation in the combox commenced soon after this post went up:

So you’ve banned Bob Seidensticker from your blog, while he hasn’t banned you from his, yet he’s the intellectual coward?

Me: I’m banned on his blog (have been since August 2018; I just confirmed it over there, that it is still in force), and I was for simply disagreeing (as I mentioned in the post). I was in a good discussion with a reasonable and civil atheist there at the very time I was banned. But he was banned because he was being a sophist and a troll (as I carefully explained at length in a post).

1. He challenged me (back when I was still allowed to comment on his site) to refute his anti-Christian bilge (after I banned him).

2. I have now done so 32 times on as many topics.

3. He hasn’t uttered one peep in reply. That’s why he is a coward.

4. He can see my critiques (he can see this very post) and he is free to counter-reply to them on his blog. Being banned for trolling has nothing whatsoever to do with either of those things.

5. But again, he does NOT do so. Why? I have drawn my own conclusion as to the reason . . . If you or anyone have a better one, I’m all ears.

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Photo credit: OpenClipart-Vectors (10-21-13) [PixabayPixabay License]
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April 5, 2019

Atheist “Sporkfighter” was responding underneath my blog article, “The Nature & Function of Prayer: Reply to Two Atheists” (3-22-19). His words will be in blue.

*****

[Me] He urges us to pray in order to involve us in His actions. That’s how He likes it to be.

How could you possibly know what God wants?

I wouldn’t if He hadn’t revealed it in His revelation (the Bible).

He’s also revealed how we should acquire and treat our slaves, how we should submit if we are taken into slavery, and when to stone our wives and children.

How do you decide which parts of His revealed Truth to live by and which to ignore?

I’ve written about slavery in the Bible at length, too, in one of my 30 critiques that atheist luminary Bob Seidensticker completely ignored:

Seidensticker Folly #10: Slavery in the Old Testament

Seidensticker Folly #11: Slavery & the New Testament

The Old Testament law was very strict at first. But things develop, and that changed. When Jesus ran into the woman caught in adultery, He saved her from being stoned by saying, “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” You must have missed that part of the Bible.

Back then you at least had to do something wrong to be stoned by your own parents. Now you simply have to exist in the womb of your mother, and you can be torn limb from limb and sucked into a vacuum cleaner. And about half the country thinks that is fine and dandy (the Supreme Court agreed in 1973!), and most of those look down their noses at the Old Testament system of law.

You want to bring up Old Testament slavery, when we have the exact same concept believed today: a mother owns her own child (so much so that many absurdly claim that it is part of her own body) and can murder him or her at will, should she so desire. Any reason whatsoever will suffice.

What a strange world we live in. How much moral progress we have made, huh?, since the time of those backward, troglodyte Hebrews in the desert. How much more compassionate we are towards even the most helpless and innocent and vulnerable among us.

Are we gonna play Bible hopscotch now: with you jumping to all sorts of different topics? That’s what Bob loves to do. But it’s a fool’s game and not serious discussion.

[Robert H. Woodman] Prayer is not for God’s benefit. Our prayers do not inform God of anything of which He is unaware, nor do our prayers compel Him to do anything that He would otherwise not do or that He would do only with reluctance. God is not a vending machine or a slot machine, but many people “pray” to God as if that is the purpose of prayer.

Matthew and Luke disagree with you.

Matthew 17:20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

Luke 17:5-6 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.

I answered this objection in one of my replies to atheist Bob Seidensticker. Like the other 29, he left this completely unanswered:

Seidensticker Folly #7: No Conditional Prayer in Scripture?

Excerpts:

Jesus also tells the story (not a parable, which don’t have proper names) in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man, in which two petitionary requests (in effect, prayers: 16:24, 27-28, 30) to Abraham are turned down (16:25-26, 29, 31). Since Jesus is teaching theological principles or truths, by means of the story, then it follows that it’s His own opinion as well: that prayers are not always answered. They have to be according to God’s will.

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Here is the passage (mentioned above) where St. Paul’s petitionary prayer request was expressly turned down by God:

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh [Dave: many Bible scholars believe this to be an eye disease], a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. [8] Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; [9] but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

The prophet Jonah prayed to God to die (Jonah 4:3): “Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (cf. 4:8-9). God obviously didn’t fulfill the request, and chided Jonah or his anger (4:4, 9). The prophet Ezekiel did the same: “O LORD, take away my life” (1 Kgs 19:4). God had other plans, as the entire passage shows. If we pray something stupidly, God won’t answer. He knows better than we do.

In pointing out that elsewhere the Bible says otherwise, all you have shown is that the Bible is internally inconsistent.

It’s perfectly consistent. What you need to understand is the nature of ancient near eastern Semitic hyperbole. I give an elementary introduction to it in this article of mine: “All Have Sinned” vs. a Sinless, Immaculate Mary?

I see that you wrote elsewhere (in June 2017), in reply to a comment by Carl Sagan: “You can’t convince a believer of anything because their belief isn’t based on evidence but on a deep-seated need to believe”:

It’s been my experience that Carl Sagan is correct. I’ve never known a theist to be convince[d] by evidence presented to him. Those who have left their religion have had to come across reasons on their own and in a way that doesn’t raise their defenses immediately.

I’m 57 and my family is atheist going back at least two generations…I’ve had quite a few discussions about religion and why there’s no evidence to support the idea…probably spoken to five hundred people on the subject. Granted, that’s not the entire human race, but it leads me to say that statistically speaking, the chance of arguing someone out of a religious belief approximates zero. As for the variety of theist, I don’t expect that to matter much.

Why are you here attempting to persuade me, then (and doing a lousy job so far, as I have already dealt with your flimsy, garden-variety objections many times over, with atheists splitting virtually every time I give them a solid answer)? You have your experience; we Christian apologists (I am a professional, published one) have ours with atheists as well.

As I mentioned, Bob Seidensticker is a prominent atheist polemicist on Patheos, who gets a million comments under his articles. He challenged me directly, to answer his endless arguments (real or so-called) against Christianity. So I didthirty times. But alas, he is nowhere to be found. I had to send out a notice to the Missing Persons bureau.

If you ask why I seek to convince atheists, I do because I seek to convince anyone of the truths of Christianity and of Catholic Christianity in particular. It’s called evangelism, and a desire to share the Gospel and truths of Christianity out of love and compassion; to share the joy and peace and fulfillment that we have discovered as followers of Jesus Christ. And we apologists specialize in giving reasons for why we believe as we do, and why alternate worldviews are less plausible and filled with fallacies and shortcomings and internal inconsistencies.

There are atheists who have become Christians. My favorite writer, C. S. Lewis, was one of them. But even short of such a dramatic change of mind, I think it’s important to show atheists that we (on the whole, at least among the properly educated and committed Christians) think and reason and value evidence and science just as they do, and that good, plausible answers can be given to their recycled, tired arguments against Christianity and Jesus and the Bible.

Engaging in these arguments in a public venue is also a way to encourage Christians that atheist objections are by no means invincible; quite the contrary. I have collected scores and scores of my interactions with atheists on my web page devoted to that. I also have a very extensive web page about science and philosophy.

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Photo credit: [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license]

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