Who made God? A rebuttal of the atheist argument, “Who designed the designer?”

This atheist argument has been very popularly restated as, “Who designed the designer?” This is, by his own admission, the very central argument of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion.[63]

The following quotations demonstrate the ubiquity of the argument:

Richard Dawkins (in The Blind Watchmaker) wrote, “To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer.”

Prominent atheist, Christopher Hitchens, like others, asks the philosophically naïve question, Who created the Creator? The answer is in Sunday School 101.

Prominent atheist, Christopher Hitchens, like others, asks the philosophically naïve question, “Who created the Creator?” The answer is in Sunday School 101.

Christopher Hitchens (in God Is Not Great) wrote, “who designed the designer or created the creator? Religion and theology have consistently failed to overcome this objection.”

Daniel Dennett (in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea) references Richard Dawkins and declares that it is an “unrebuttable refutation, as devastating today as when Philo used it to trounce Cleanthes in Hume’s Dialogues two centuries earlier.”

And of course, Richard Dawkins (in The God Delusion) quotes Daniel Dennett who is quoting Richard Dawkins and proclaims that Daniel Dennett is correct in approving of Richard Dawkins!

This argument, although very popular and promulgated by atheist scientists and even atheist philosophers, is a premier example of what is generally termed “Sunday School Atheism”. It is called this because it is a Sunday School level question and one that Sunday School children are able to answer before achieving puberty.

God is eternal and thus does not need a cause.

To elucidate a bit, in the next section we will consider the cosmological argument which makes clear that everything that begins to exist has a sufficient cause. Since God never began to exist, God did not have a cause.

But is not claiming that God is eternal a mere way out of the problem of who made God? No.

Since time began to exist, time had a cause. Since time began to exist, whatever caused time is timeless (aka infinite or eternal). It is the linear time that we experience that makes cause and effect relationships possible: an effect follows a cause. Yet, since God exists outside of, or without, time, cause and effect relationships are impossible and thus God is the uncaused/uncausable first cause. It was God’s first action of creation that brought the space-time continuum into being and set cause and effect relationships into motion. Therefore, in God’s timeless realm there is no such question as “Who made God?” since this is a time space domain based question which simply does not apply. It is like asking “To whom is the bachelor married?”[64]

Note, however, that atheists have no problem believing in an uncaused first cause, at least when it is not supernatural, but Nature, as they promulgate the following assertions:

  • It is ignorant and superstitious to believe that God made everything out of nothing.
  • It is rational and scientific to believe that nothing made everything out of nothing.
  • It is ignorant and superstitious to believe that God is eternal.
  • It is rational and scientific to believe that matter (or energy) is eternal.
  • God is an effect and must have had a cause.
  • Matter/energy is the uncaused first cause.
  • If God made everything, then who made God?
  • Matter made everything and nothing made matter.

Footnotes:
[63]. “This chapter has contained the central argument of my book…who designed the designer”: Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.), 2006), pp. 157–158.
[64]. Sarfati, J., If God created the universe, then who created God? Journal of Creation 12(1):20–22, 1998; .

From: http://creation.com/atheism#religion-and-child-abuse

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99 thoughts on “Who made God? A rebuttal of the atheist argument, “Who designed the designer?”

  1. Naomi, if you understood basic logic from Philosophy 101, you’d realize that saying God is eternal and thus does not need a cause is a fallacy fatal to the cosmological argument. You can’t assume the conclusion, that God caused everything because everything needs a cause… except God!

    You can’t arbitrarily exempt God from exactly the same premises used to prove his necessary existence in the CA. It’s a case of special pleading, of circular reasoning, of moving the goal posts, of assuming exactly that which you set out to prove using the form of deductive logic. You – not Dawkins, not Dennett, not Hitchens – have made the thinking error here. You have not rebutted the argument; you’ve just waved it away.

    • Hi tildeb,

      Thank you for your comment. Sorry I took a while to reply, I think we may have timezone differences.

      I’ll state right up that I’m not a philosopher but I understand from my reading that the Cosmological Argument is as follows:

      1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

      2. The universe began to exist.

      3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

      Conceptual analysis of what it is to be cause of the universe will recover several of the principal attributes of God, so that the cause takes on the character of a personal Creator of the universe.

      As stated in the article I just posted up, since time began to exist, time had a cause. Since time began to exist, whatever caused time is timeless (aka infinite or eternal). It is the linear time that we experience that makes cause and effect relationships possible: an effect follows a cause. Yet, since God exists outside of, or without, time, cause and effect relationships are impossible and thus God is the uncaused/uncausable first cause. It was God’s first action of creation that brought the space-time continuum into being and set cause and effect relationships into motion. Therefore, in God’s timeless realm there is no such question as “Who made God?” since this is a time space domain based question which simply does not apply.

      What if the cause of the universe needs a cause? Could not an infinite chain of causes and effects exist stretching backwards in time throughout all eternity? The answer is no. It can be shown that an actual infinite set of causes is impossible. There had to be a first Cause. This first Cause must be uncaused. It could not be caused by another, for then it would not be the first cause. Nor could it be self-caused because it is absurd to say that a being preexisted its own existence in order to cause its own existence. Therefore, only an eternal, uncaused Cause can be the cause of the universe.

      The teleological and moral arguments for God’s existence can also be utilized to complete the cosmological argument. Since intelligent life is found in the universe, the Cause of the universe must be an intelligent Being. No one has ever shown how intelligence could have evolved from mindless nature. Intelligence cannot come from non-intelligence.

      Morality also exists in the universe. Without morality, there would be no such thing as right and wrong. The moral judgments people make show that they believe there is are right and wrong, but nature is non-moral. No one holds a rock morally responsible for tripping him. Since nature is non-moral, but morality exists in the universe, the Cause of the universe must be a moral Being.

      If morality is relative, then each person can decide for himself what is right and what is wrong. But then no one could condemn the brutal actions of Adolph Hitler. Society also cannot be the cause of moral laws since societies often pass judgment on one another. Therefore, one society, when judging another society, appeals to a moral authority that transcends all societies. Only an absolute moral Lawgiver who is qualitatively above man and societies can be the cause of a moral law that stands above man societies and judges their actions. Therefore, the uncaused Cause of the universe must be an intelligent and moral Being. This means that God must be a personal Being.

      I am interested to know what you consider the cause of the universe to be, if not God?

      • On the teleological argument, how does it follow that “Since intelligent life is found in the universe, the Cause of the universe must be an intelligent Being.” Why arbitrarily select intelligence and not some other feature of the universe?

    • No circular reasoning used here tildeb, though I too appreciate the argument.

      The argument stems primarily from the consideration of a first cause, it is not circular etc to logically conclude that there cannot be a cause of the first cause.

      The problem of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens et al is that of a Category mistake.

  2. Hi Kaleidocyte,

    “‘Conceptual analysis’ is just a fancy word for speculation.” True, but it’s not idle speculation. It is by reasoning about the origins of the universe that we can deduce the likely properties of its cause. These reasons were provided in my comment.

    Not sure if you’re being humorous here but I’ll take it as such – hope this doesn’t offend you.

    Thanks for dropping by and contributing to the discussion.

    • yr welcome, glad to drop in.

      Wanted to add my two bits of the KJV article but couldn’t, not sure how this all works, bit of a nube.

      • All good, I’ve just turned comments back on for the 2 relevant KJV articles. I had them turned off as they were quite old.

        Hope this helps.

        Looking forward to your input. 🙂

    • Thank-you for admitting to speculating. There are other speculations we could pursue (e.g., a Divine Flame). How do we determine which speculations likely have some truth to them?

      • You asked, “How do we determine which speculations likely have some truth to them?” The ideas we posit should fit with what we know about the origins of the universe scientifically, in harmony with the creation account in Genesis.

        I’m guessing you knew this would be my answer. 🙂

        I was wondering what your view of the origin of the universe is, if you don’t mind me asking?

      • In harmony with a literal interpretation of the Genesis account? What we currently know about the cosmos is deeply at odds with the Genesis account, if it is taken literally.

        I don’t know how the universe came to be.

      • Science is based on observation, and the only reliable means of telling the age of anything (such as the age of the universe) is by the testimony of a reliable witness who observed the events. The Bible claims to be the communication of the only One who witnessed the events of Creation: the Creator himself. As such, the Bible is the only reliable means of knowing the age of the earth and the cosmos.

        In the end I believe that the Bible will stand vindicated as more scientific evidence accumulates about the origins of earth and the cosmos, though I know you don’t agree. There are astronomical and other lines of evidence that challenge the old age of the earth and universe theory but I won’t include them here as space and time don’t permit it. You can read more about this here if so inclined: http://creation.com/age-of-the-earth

        So it seems we will have to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

        Thanks once again for taking the time to read my thoughts and comment on this blog.

        BTW, was there a “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment for you when contemplating leaving Christianity?

      • A few points. First, you need to establish the credibility of the witness. Not only are you unable to do that, but you can’t even establish that the witness in question is a real person. Second, what makes eye-witness testimony the gold standard? A voluminous body of research has shown that eye-witness testimony is far from perfect, which is why courts rely on other sources of evidence, particularly when multiple witnesses provide conflicting accounts. Third, the Bible is not the only holy text that purports to account the creation of the world. Why you are disregarding the others?

        It is doubtful that a literal interpretation of Genesis will be vindicated by science given how discrepant it is. In Genesis, for example, plant-life supposedly predates the sun and stars. This doesn’t accord with what we know from biology, geology and astronomy.

        I don’t recall a specific moment that counts as the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” It was a very gradual process, involving a great deal of reading, conversation and contemplation.

      • You asked me to “establish the credibility of the witness” and then charged that I am unable to do this, and that I cannot even establish if the witness in question is real or not.

        The crux of this comment concerns the reliability and authority of the Bible. I believe it is God’s Word and, as such, can be used to reveal His complete trustworthiness and authority in all matters, including what He says about the origins of the cosmos and the earth in Genesis. As I said in an earlier comment today, there are both internal and external evidences of the Bible’s reliability.

        The internal evidences are those things within the Bible that testify of its divine origin. One of the first internal evidences that the Bible is truly God’s Word is seen in its unity. Even though it is really sixty-six individual books, written on three continents, in three different languages, over a period of approximately 1500 years, by more than 40 authors who came from many walks of life, the Bible remains one unified book from beginning to end without contradiction. This unity is unique from all other books and is evidence of the divine origin of the words which God moved men to record.

        Another of the internal evidences that indicates the Bible is truly God’s Word is the prophecies contained within its pages. The Bible contains hundreds of detailed prophecies relating to the future of individual nations including Israel, certain cities, and mankind. Other prophecies concern the coming of One who would be the Messiah, the Savior of all who would believe in Him. Unlike the prophecies found in other religious books or those by men such as Nostradamus, biblical prophecies are extremely detailed. There are over three hundred prophecies concerning Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Not only was it foretold where He would be born and His lineage, but also how He would die and that He would rise again. There simply is no logical way to explain the fulfilled prophecies in the Bible other than by divine origin. There is no other religious book with the extent or type of predictive prophecy that the Bible contains.

        A third internal evidence of the divine origin of the Bible is its unique authority and power. While this evidence is more subjective than the first two, it is no less a powerful testimony of the divine origin of the Bible. The Bible’s authority is unlike any other book ever written. This authority and power are best seen in the way countless lives have been transformed by the supernatural power of God’s Word. Drug addicts have been cured by it, homosexuals set free by it, derelicts and deadbeats transformed by it, hardened criminals reformed by it, sinners rebuked by it, and hate turned to love by it. The Bible does possess a dynamic and transforming power that is only possible because it is truly God’s Word.

        There are also external evidences that indicate the Bible is truly the Word of God. One is the historicity of the Bible. Because the Bible details historical events, its truthfulness and accuracy are subject to verification like any other historical document. Through both archaeological evidences and other writings, the historical accounts of the Bible have been proven time and time again to be accurate and true. In fact, all the archaeological and manuscript evidence supporting the Bible makes it the best-documented book from the ancient world. The fact that the Bible accurately and truthfully records historically verifiable events is a great indication of its truthfulness when dealing with religious subjects and doctrines and helps substantiate its claim to be the very Word of God.

        Another external evidence that the Bible is truly God’s Word is the integrity of its human authors. As mentioned earlier, God used men from many walks of life to record His words. In studying the lives of these men, we find them to be honest and sincere. The fact that they were willing to die often excruciating deaths for what they believed testifies that these ordinary yet honest men truly believed God had spoken to them. The men who wrote the New Testament and many hundreds of other believers (1 Corinthians 15:6) knew the truth of their message because they had seen and spent time with Jesus Christ after He had risen from the dead. Seeing the risen Christ had a tremendous impact on them. They went from hiding in fear to being willing to die for the message God had revealed to them. Their lives and deaths testify to the fact that the Bible truly is God’s Word.

        A final external evidence that the Bible is truly God’s Word is the indestructibility of the Bible. Because of its importance and its claim to be the very Word of God, the Bible has suffered more vicious attacks and attempts to destroy it than any other book in history. From early Roman Emperors like Diocletian, through communist dictators and on to modern-day atheists and agnostics, the Bible has withstood and outlasted all of its attackers and is still today one of the most widely published books in the world.

      • Kaleidocyte, you seem to not be considering much of what is written here.
        There are logical themes that are following but you don’t seem to be picking them up, but rather are rolling on to your next argument as if on cue, without due consideration of what has been answered.

        The reality of God is not a preference point; if it is true it is true for all people in all places at all times. If the Bible is true, and I must say it is vastly distinct from every so called ‘Holy book’ you reference, then the consequences of rejecting the truth of it is eternal.

        This is no small issue that can be waved away by ignoring all the answers you have been given, as there is far too much at stake for you. Hell is not something that can be believed away by faith, and the saving of your soul not something rejected so quickly by regurgitated argument, this is far too important.

        In other words, the reality the Bible speaks of does not cease to exist based on your personal preference, it is either true or it is not true, the reality of either can not be subtracted from or added to by faith.

        Scripture simply states the nature of those who have rejected the simple reality of God observed in his creation as foolish, their hearts have been hardened even to their own consciences and that to their own hurt. Your love for sin will continue to blind you.

        Yet if you would even wake to the conscience you have been given, you would see your state for what it is before the one who gave his life a ransom for yours.

        Its not blind faith that recognises the logical reality of God through everything before us; its the simple, clinical observation of minds that work and hearts that understand.

        Your desire is a simple one, to never be held accountable for your own sin. But the Bible says that “… it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27)

        Yet you can have freedom from this, but only through the one who gave his life in exchange for yours. Rejecting this, you stand alone.

        My hope is that you would choose life that you might live (Deuteronomy 30:19)

        Warm regards, Edi.

      • Edi, you are taking just as much a risk as I am by not believing in all the other gods that might punish you for your failure to believe in them.

        Does your love of sin and your desire to evade accountability for your actions lead you to reject Islamic theology? If not, then why presume that others do not share your theology simply because they want to sin?

        As difficult as it might be for you to imagine, there are people who sincerely do not believe in the claims of your religion. They are unconvinced. The fault lies not with them for being unconvinced, but with your religion for failing to produce a convincing case. The “desire to sin” canard, which is little more than an attempt to guilt people into belief, is an admission of that.

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        This is where this conversation ends, given your last response to Edi. There is nothing Edi or I can do to reason you into faith, any more than you can reason us out of it. We can present all the apologetics in the world and you will keep on giving us failed and refuted secular arguments, in order to continue disbelieving. The whole process then becomes an exercise in futility rather than an honest debate, as I suspected would be the case once I discovered you had joined the thread as a committed atheist.

        The Bible clearly teaches that people who don’t believe in God have a heart problem, not an intellectual or reasoning problem:
        “The fool hath said IN HIS HEART, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”
        (Psalm 14:1)

        And it also teaches that it is God who grants “repentance unto life” leading to a person being spiritually saved and born again. No mere human being (or Christian apologist) can do this:
        “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”
        (Acts 11:18)

        “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”
        (John 3:7)

        So until God calls you (assuming He didn’t already when you were a Christian) and convinces you via His Spirit that His words in the bible are true, you will remain in the state you are currently in – spiritually blind and by default serving darkness rather than light:
        “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
        (John 3:19)

        I pray that God would indeed grant you repentance unto life, so you can enjoy blessings in this life and the next one too.

        God bless.

      • Hi Naomi, I’m aware that the Bible teaches that nonbelievers have a heart problem, but the Bible is wrong on this matter, IMO. Presumably your rejection of religions other than Christianity is not due to some nebulous “heart problem,” but because you are not convinced that their doctrines are true. Attributing nonbelief in your religion to the heart, or to the desire to sin, or to some other personal flaw, is a way to get your religion off the hook for failing to convince people of its truth.

        In my view, it’s also quite rude because it implicitly assumes that the nonbeliever is being insincere; that his only reason for rejecting the flawed reasoning of the theist is because there is something wrong with his heart. It’s easier (and perhaps more comforting) for you to believe that I am insincere than it is to admit that your reasoning may not be as compelling as you initially thought.

        I find your comment about not being able to “reason me into faith” revealing. If you believe that, then why present these arguments to begin with? Why blog about the teleological and cosmological arguments if you recognise that you cannot reason someone into your position? Isn’t this an admission that the arguments of apologetics are inadequate and that they ultimately have little to do with your theological commitments?

        Almost invariably, I have found that discussions like this conclude with the apologist attributing a nefarious motivation to nonbelievers (e.g., the desire to live sinfully), followed by recitations of scripture, preaching, and prayer. This is the point where it does become an exercise in futility rather than an honest debate. The focus switches away from the claims of the apologist to the alleged personal flaws of the individual unconvinced by the apologist’s case. It becomes a subtle ad hominem layered into ostensibly well-meaning prayer.

      • Hi again Kaleidocyte,

        You stated, “I find your comment about not being able to ‘reason me into faith’ revealing. If you believe that, then why present these arguments to begin with?” I blogged about the cosmological and teleological arguments for God in the hope that open-minded readers would be presented with reasonable arguments for God’s existence, thus helping them come to faith. What I didn’t want was to engage in endless debate with someone who has already made up their mind about God and thus cannot be reached by reasonable arguments. As a committed atheist, you appear to me to fall into this category, though of course you can feel free to present me with reasons why this is not the case and I will consider them.

        As to the worth of apologetics? The Bible teaches that we are to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” (1 Peter 3:15). Yet it also teaches us not to keep trying to reach people once they become fixed in their viewpoints about God, or hardened in unbelief:

        “But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.”
        (Acts 19:9)

        BTW, I had to laugh when I saw your answers to my latest comment. You are to be admired for your persistence, though we do not share the same world view.

      • If you already acknowledge that you cannot reason someone into faith, as you did in your previous comment, then the arguments are pointless – they serve no function in bringing others to belief. If, on the other hand, you believe that your theological commitments can be reached by reason, then you shouldn’t complain when your reasons are assessed by others. One doesn’t need to be a “committed atheist” to do that.

      • I note also that some of my previous comments are still awaiting your approval. Given your concern for an “honest debate,” it would be remiss of you not to publish them.

      • Yes, you have 2 comments still in moderation, addressed to me. I’ve approved the comment you directed to Edi about the development of complexity in the snowflake and the solar system. If he wishes to he can jump in and answer this.

        If you can convince me that you are not 100% closed to the God question I will publish the comments you made to me with answers. Otherwise there seems to be little point in continuing the discussion, for reasons I outlined earlier tonight.

      • I must admit I was influenced by Edi’s comment that you appear to be answering our defense of Christianity very quickly, as though due consideration of the arguments was not taking place. I had also noticed this.

        If however you are open to a reasonable discussion about these topics I am happy to continue.

      • I’ve encountered the arguments you have presented on multiple occasions previously. I don’t think you should interpret the speed with which I can reply as indicating anything more than the speed with which I can reply. That speed varies according to my other time commitments, so there may be an occasion when it takes me longer to respond than usual. This doesn’t mean I am considering the argument more or less than I would otherwise.

      • That’s good to know, though if you’ve encountered the arguments I’m presenting many times already, what do you hope to gain by engaging me? I did have a concern this morning when I saw you posted very early in the day. I hope you got enough sleep.

        BTW, I’m pondering on your other comment and will reply once I’ve gotten a proper answer together.

      • That’s interesting. I’m also from Australia so we should be near each other time zone-wise.

        I wanted to follow up on my previous question though, if I could: what do you hope to gain by debating a committed Christian?

      • I’m in Melbourne, so there shouldn’t be that much discrepancy? I’m not sure.

        My main purpose in responding, at least initially, was to respond to your argument. I haven’t really considered what I hope to gain beyond an interesting and hopefully edifying conversation.

      • Thanks for your candid response. Sorry if I sound untrusting. I’ve just seen some of my online Christian friends subjected to attacks from atheists recently (ad hominems, ridicule, threats). One atheist commented multiple times on my blog recently with the clear aim of deconverting me, which has made me feel somewhat targeted.

        I’m happy to trust that you want an open conversation and will engage with you with that aim in mind.

      • I’m a bit puzzled as to why I need to convince you that I’m not “100% closed to the God question.” I don’t know what would you lead to suspect that to begin with. Up until now I have assumed that you are not “100% closed” either. Am I am wrong in that assumption?

      • Wise in their own conceit, even more that seven men who can render a reason.

        He seems to find safety in pluralism, as if all are equally wrong or equally right, another failure both of logic and his own hope.

        Its difficult to live in a world that has abandoned truth, as if it can possibly true!

  3. Hi again Kaleidocyte,

    Sorry, for some reason I’m not able to reply directly to your comment about the teleological argument, so I hope you see this.

    I selected intelligence because this property of the universe encompasses a capacity for logic, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, learning, emotional knowledge, memory, planning, creativity and problem solving. It can also be more generally described as the ability to perceive and/or retain knowledge or information and apply it to itself or other instances of knowledge or information creating referable understanding models of any size, density, or complexity, due to any conscious or subconscious imposed will or instruction to do so. In other words, intelligence demonstrates will and purpose, qualities needed to conceive of and generate a life-sustaining world. As I’m sure you are aware, the word teleology itself comes from telos, which means “purpose” or “goal.”

    The idea is that it takes a “purposer” to have purpose, and so, where we see things in our universe that are obviously intended for a purpose, we can assume that those things were made for a reason.
    In other words, a design implies a designer. We instinctively make these connections all the time. The difference between the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore is obvious—one is designed, one is not. The Grand Canyon was clearly formed by non-rational, natural processes, whereas Mount Rushmore was clearly created
    by an intelligent being — a designer. When we are walking on a beach and find a wristwatch, we do not assume that time and random chance produced the watch from blowing sand. Why? Because it has the clear marks of design — it has a purpose, it conveys information, it is specifically complex, etc. In no scientific field is design considered to be spontaneous; it always implies a designer, and the greater the design, the greater the designer. Thus, taking the assumptions of science, the universe would require a designer beyond itself (i.e., a supernatural designer).

    The teleological argument applies this principle to the whole universe. If designs imply a designer, and the universe shows marks of design, then the universe was designed. Clearly, every life form in Earth’s history has been highly complex. A single strand of DNA equates to one volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The human brain has approximately 10 billion gigabytes of capacity. Besides living things here on Earth, the whole universe seems designed for life. Literally hundreds of conditions are required for life on Earth—everything from the mass density of the universe down to earthquake activity must be fine-tuned in order for life to survive. The random chance of all these things occurring is literally beyond imagination. The odds are many orders of magnitude higher than the number of atomic particles in the whole universe. With this much design, it is difficult to believe that we are simply an accident. In fact, top atheist/philosopher Antony Flew’s conversion to theism was based largely on this argument.

    • Hi Naomi, what suggests that the universe is designed, and therefore in need of a designer? Thanks to Darwin and others, we know now that the appearance of design does not always entail design, and that natural processes are capable of producing complex structures that might superficially appear designed. How might you distinguish between a universe that has been designed and a universe that hasn’t?

      You also claimed that “the whole universe seems designed for life.” This seems quite a strange proposition given that, as far as we are aware, the vast majority of the universe is inhospitable to life, and even on this small planet, only a tiny slither of its surface is capable of supporting our kind of life. You agree with this, noting that the conditions necessary for life to thrive are hardly prevalent. But you think this is somehow evidence for purposeful design. Why?

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        You asked an interesting question, “How might you distinguish between a universe that has been designed and a universe that hasn’t?” I’ll attempt to answer this as honestly as I can in this comment. BTW, I want to state up front that this is from the perspective of an interested lay-person: I’m no scientist.

        Before I do, I admit to doing some quick checks on you online (sorry – couldn’t help myself, I was curious) and have discovered that you appear to have sympathy for the New Atheist movement.

        If this is true, my world view is almost completely opposed to yours.

        My position, which I’m sure you’re well familiar with, supports a biblical view of creation. As our respective world views are opposed and no doubt well-entrenched, it would be the path of least resistance for me to
        simply refuse to engage any further but I felt that this was unfair (and perhaps cowardly). You have after all been fair and respectful in your dealings with me so I felt I should respond in kind.

        Even if, at the end of our discussion, we have no common ground, at least we have both made our views known openly and honestly. I also thought it was valuable to present a defense of biblical creationism
        for the benefit of my readers, most of whom are Christian.

        Back to your question.

        For me, the most persuasive argument that the universe that has been “designed” has to do with the fine-tuning of its physical laws. As physicist Paul Davies put it, “It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in numbers, has been rather carefully thought out…The seemingly miraculous concurrence of these numerical values must remain the most compelling evidence for cosmic design.” (Paul Davies, “God and the New Physics”, p189)

        Some physical parameters that show evidence of fine tuning are:

        1. Gravity
        Robin Collins, who earned a doctorate in physics from the University of Texas in Austin, gave an interesting illustration of the fine tuning of this physical law. He used the example of a ruler (stretching across the entire universe) to represent the range of force strengths in nature. Imagining that the ruler was broken into one-inch radio dial increments, even moving the dial from its current setting by a single inch would have a catastrophic effect upon life in the universe. That small adjustment of the dial would increase the gravitational force by a billion-fold. This sounds like a lot but relative to the entire radio dial (or range of force strengths in nature), the increase would be relatively small, just one part in ten thousand billion billion billion. Compared to the total range of force strengths in nature, gravity has an incomprehensibly narrow range for life to exist. Of all the possible settings on the dial, from one side of the universe to the other, it happens to be situated in the exact right fraction of an inch to make our universe capable of sustaining life.

        2. The cosmological constant
        Nobel-winning physicist Steven Weinberg, an avowed atheist, has expressed amazement at the way the cosmological constant – the energy density of empty space – is “remarkably well adjusted in our favour” (Steven Weinberg, “A Designer Universe?” New York Review of Books [October 21, 1999]). The constant, which is part of Einstein’s equation for General Relativity, could have had any value, positive or negative, “but from first principles one would guess that this constant should be very large, ” Weinberg said. Fortunately, he added, it isn’t. If it were large and positive, or large and negative, life would lose big time. But that’s not what has happened. “In fact,” Weinberg said, “astronomical observations show that the cosmological constant is quite small, very much smaller than would have been guessed by first principles.”

        Robin Collins stated that the unexpected, counterintuitive and stunningly precise setting of the cosmological constant “is widely regarded as the single greatest problem facing physics and cosmology today.”
        As to how precise the constant is, Collins estimated it to be at least one part in a hundred million billion billion billion billion billion.

        These are just two parameters that scientists have studied. Space in this comments area doesn’t permit me to look at them all. But one expert said that there are 30 separate physical or cosmological parameters that require precise calibration in order to arrive at a life-sustaining universe (Stephen C Meyer, “Evidence for Design in Physics and Biology” in Michael J Behe, William A Dembski, and Stephen C Meyer, p60).

        Various alternative theories have been proposed to explain the appearance of design in the universe, such as random chance and the multi-universe theory.

        As regards random chance, if someone bet you a thousand dollars that they could toss a coin and get 50 consecutive heads, and then proceeded to do just that, you wouldn’t accept it. You would most likely conclude that the game had been rigged as the odds against achieving the goal were so improbable – about one chance in a million billion. And the same for the fine-tuning of the universe – before you’d conclude that random chance was responsible, you’d conclude that there’s strong evidence that the universe is rigged. That is, designed.

        Concerning the multi-universe theory, which according to my reading looms as the most formidable challenger to the “universe is rigged” theory, there is no scientific evidence to back it up. Not only is there no evidence, the physics of our own universe requires that we will never be able to obtain any evidence about any other universe (even if it does exist). Even secular websites admit that such ideas amount to nothing more than unfalsifiable metaphysics:

        “Appeals to multiple or “parallel” cosmoses or to an infinite number of cosmic “Big Bang/Crunch” oscillations as essential elements of proposed mechanisms are not acceptable in submissions due to a lack of empirical correlation and testability. Such beliefs are without hard physical evidence and must therefore be considered unfalsifiable, currently outside the methodology of scientific investigation to confirm or disprove, and therefore more mathematically theoretical and metaphysical than scientific in nature. Recent cosmological evidence also suggests insufficient mass for gravity to reverse continuing cosmic expansion. The best cosmological evidence thus far suggests the cosmos is finite rather than infinite in age.” (The Origin of Life Prize [http://lifeorigin.org/rul_disc.htm] from the Origin of Life Foundation, Inc).

        I also wanted to address your question about the universe being “designed for life”, though I agree that the majority of the universe is inhospitable to life and only a small fraction of the earth’s surface can support human life. I believe I’ve covered the main reasons why I believe the universe is designed, as per my comments in the paragraphs above. As regards the earth, I believe special conditions exist that allow for life to flourish and that point to a designer. In short, our location in the universe (in our galaxy, in our solar system), as well as the size and rotation of the earth, and the mass of the moon and the sun, conspire together to make earth a habitable planet. Furthermore, the very same conditions that allow for intelligent life on earth also make it well-suited for viewing and analyzing the universe. A case can be made that the universe is literally designed for scientific discovery.

        As regards the prior point, Guillermo Gonzalez, who has a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Washington at Seattle, has stated that not only do we inhabit a location in the Milky Way that’s fortuitously
        optimal for life, but our location also happens to provide us with the best overall platform for making a diverse range of discoveries for astronomers and cosmologists. Our location away from the galaxy’s centre and in the flat plane of the disk provides us with a particularly privileged vantage point for observing both nearby and distant stars.

        BTW, when I was looking into your history online, I read that you were once a theist. If this is so, what caused you to move from belief in God to your current position? Hope you don’t mind me asking, I am just
        interested to know.

        Thanks for your time and comments, I’m enjoying the discussion.

      • 1. You presented three possible explanations for apparent fine-tuning. You discounted two of them, citing paucity of evidence, but you didn’t present evidence for your preferred explanation (design). If paucity of evidence is a problem for other explanations, it’s a problem for yours as well. The design explanation doesn’t triumph by default.

        2. Regarding your comment about the universe being designed for life: I still don’t see why you’ve settled for life in particular, and not something else. You seem to suggest that, because the conditions for life are rare, the universe must have been designed for life. I don’t see how this follows. Imagine you found a machine that produced a plethora of different outputs at different rates, some regularly and others infrequently. Suppose you then observed a particular output being produced only very rarely, perhaps once since the machine first started running 13.7 billion years ago. Would you conclude that, as a rule, the entire purpose of the machine is to produce this rare output? How would you know whether this output was what the machine was built for, and not some byproduct of the processes it was actually built to perform? In other words, why single out the rarest output as the reason the device was built?

        3. Yes, I was once a Christian, not so very long ago. I’ve been meaning to blog about my deconversion for a while, but I just haven’t found the time. Sadly, there is no way to answer your question about this in brief. I could try to answer a more narrowly focused question about it though?

      • You make a good point: “Suppose you then observed a particular output being produced only very rarely, perhaps once since the machine first started running 13.7 billion years ago. Would you conclude that, as a rule, the entire purpose of the machine is to produce this rare output? How would you know whether this output was what the machine was built for, and not some byproduct of the processes it was actually built to perform? In other words, why single out the rarest output as the reason the device was built?”

        However, even if I were to concede the above, rejecting design arguments for God’s existence does nothing to prove that God does not exist or even that belief in God is unjustified. Maybe we should believe in God on the basis of the cosmological argument or the ontological argument or the moral argument. Maybe our belief in God isn’t based on arguments at all but is grounded in religious experience or in divine revelation. Maybe God wants us to believe in Him simply by faith. Many Christian theologians have rejected arguments for the existence of God without thereby committing themselves to atheism.

      • I agree that disproving the design argument does not prove that God does not exist. But it does bring into question the basis for believing that he does exist. I also agree that you can reject all the arguments and still believe on faith. But the important thing to remember then is that it’s not unreasonable for others not to share your belief. It’s only when you claim that others should believe as you do that people rightly ask: on what basis? This then leads to a consideration of reasons for belief (i.e., arguments/evidence).

      • Your comment is fair and reasonable but I just wanted to clarify that I didn’t say that I believe the design argument has been disproved. I had to concede that you made a good point earlier and I then proceeded to logically explore the results of this (as concerns a person’s justifiability in continuing to put their faith in God once they have rejected the design argument for His existence). Just wanted to make that clear.

        In actual fact, I believe that people who reject the design argument for God’s existence are on very shaky ground. This is based upon my belief that what the Bible teaches about this kind of situation is authoritative. It clearly states that people who don’t believe in God are “without excuse” because contemplating creation itself should have lead them to see His hand behind it all:

        “because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
        (Romans 1:19-21)

        You may charge me with bias given that I choose to view the Bible as authoritative over the many other holy books that have been written. But my reasons for doing so are well considered and, I think, compelling. There are both internal and external evidences that the Bible is truly God’s Word, and that it reveals His character and purposes faithfully. I will expand on these in my answer to the second comment you made to me this afternoon.

      • The Quran says something very similar. As I recall, the specific passage is targeted to people of the “earlier revelation” (i.e., Christians and Jews). Apparently you are without excuse for not accepting the doctrines of Islam. If you are not convinced by this claim when it is presented in the Quran, then why expect others to be convinced of it when it is presented in the Bible?

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        The Quran directly attacks the major doctrines of Christianity. The Christian faith has several key beliefs. The teaching that is unique to the Christian faith is that there is one God who eternally manifests Himself in three persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is known as the Godhead or the Blessed Trinity. The second critical doctrine is that Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten Son of God; therefore He is unique from everyone else. His Father was not human, but the holy God of Israel. The third key doctrine is that the Lord Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin and then rose from the dead. There are other important doctrines, but these three really comprise the very heart of the Christian faith.

        Because Islam and Christianity contradict each other, at least one of them must be false. This is the case with all world religions: they all contradict Christianity, being salvation by works (or by man’s efforts and good deeds) not by grace. So either the world religions with their works-based salvation are true, and Christianity is false, or the reverse is the case. Or none of them are true (which I personally don’t believe, but I included this for logical completeness). The Bible teaches that all the world’s religions (with the exception of Judaism and Christianity) are “idols”, with demons sitting behind them seeking worship (1 Chronicles 16:26, Psalm 96:5, Deuteronomy 32:17, 1 Corinthians 10:20).

        More on the doctrinal differences between Islam and Christianity can be found at the reputable Christian apologetics site CARM:
        https://carm.org/comparison-grid-between-christianity-and-islamic-doctrine

        As I’ve stated in an earlier comment, reason may open the door to faith but it requires an act of God for a person to walk through it. In my case, I received direct revelation that Jesus is God and therefore to be followed in May 2013. My heart and mind were then opened to the Bible so that when I read passages from it, the truth of what I read was impressed upon me. Without the witness of God’s Holy Spirit when reading the Bible, however, a person can more easily dismiss it.

        I personally believe that there are valid reasons for following Christianity even without direct revelation from God that it is the truth. These reasons make a compelling case but faith is still needed to bridge the remaining gap between a person and God.

      • Hi Naomi, as you rightly pointed out, not all religious claims can be true, although they could all be false. The question then is this: how do we determine which claims are likely true? This isn’t a trivial question. After-all, according to many believers our eternal souls depend on us getting the right answer, so we had better find a good way of answering it.

      • You asked: “How do we determine which (religious) claims are likely true?”

        Leaving aside the special case of divine revelation (as you most likely do not subscribe to this), I think a religion’s claim must be verifiable in some way (ie. through archaeology, ancient documents concurrent with verifiable history, etc.) and must be rational. When a theological system cannot be verified using either normal historical examination or internal logical consistency, how can it be assumed to be true? It can’t.

        I could expand on this to consider the unique claims of Christianity compared to other belief systems but unless you indicate that you are interested in hearing about this, I’ll stop. I am interested now to know what your thoughts are on this question (ie. as to how you yourself assess whether a particular religious claim is likely to be true)?

      • I agree, religious claims need some way of being examined and this should include a consideration of the relevant evidence, whether that evidence comes from history, archaeology, biology, geology, cosmology, and so on. The type of evidence needed to support the claim depends on the type of claim being made.

        Importantly, evidence supporting one particular claim (e.g., the historicity of Jesus) should not be assumed as evidence for another claim (the divinity of Jesus), and current gaps in our understanding – in cosmology, for example – should not be assumed as evidence for anything except a current lack of understanding.

        Relatedly, accepting one particular claim does not commit one to accepting every other claim made by the religion, and discussion of the moral aspects of certain claims (e.g., the flood) does not commit one to accepting the claim as factual. (I find that this latter point is often forgotten by some Christians who seem to think that an ethical examination of the Biblical God’s actions cannot be done without first assuming that the events of the Bible actually happened.)

        In addition, as you yourself noted, the claims need to cohere when considered as a whole. Contradictions, inconsistencies, or nonsensical propositions would render at least some of the claims dubious.

        Taken together, I think there needs to be a good overall track record of successful claims.

      • Hi again Kaleidocyte,

        You said, “Taken together, I think there needs to be a good overall track record of successful claims.”

        I believe Christianity exhibits such a track record. You’ve touched on a lot of areas in your answer, I thought I’d focus in on just one: the divinity of Jesus.

        As you’re no doubt aware, there are extra-biblical references supporting the existence of Jesus (Josephus and Tacitus, to name two). What evidence do we have of His claim to be the Son of God? Aside from numerous references in the New Testament, which I consider to be a reliable account from various eye-witnesses (and will discuss later in this comment, though I’ll be zeroing in on the gospels), we have a reference to Jesus by the ancient historian Josephus:

        “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” (Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63)

        The above is not without controversy, however, as I’m sure you know. Some of the issues with this passage are discussed here: http://www.josephus.org/question.htm

        (In brief: In 1995 a discovery was published that brought important new evidence to the debate over the passage above. For the first time it was pointed out that Josephus’ description of Jesus showed an unusual similarity with another early description of Jesus. It was established statistically that the similarity was too close to have appeared by chance. Further study showed that Josephus’ description was not derived from this other text, but rather that both were based on a Jewish-Christian “gospel” that has since been lost. For the first time, it has become possible to prove that the Jesus account cannot have been a complete forgery and even to identify which parts were written by Josephus and which were added by a later interpolator.)

        Back to the New Testament. I wanted to present a defense of the Gospels, as these contain most of the accounts of Jesus’ alleged sinless life and alleged miracles. BTW, I agree with those who say that this question is not to be answered by appeal to the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels. The idea that the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability is a misconception fostered by popular Christian apologetics.

        Here we confront the very crucial question of the burden of proof. Should we assume that the gospels are reliable unless they are proven to be unreliable? Or should we assume the gospels are unreliable unless they are proven to be reliable? Are they innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent? Skeptical scholars almost always assume that the gospels are guilty until proven innocent, that is, they assume that the gospels are unreliable unless and until they are proven to be correct concerning some particular fact. I’m not exaggerating here: this really is the procedure of skeptical critics.

        But I want to list five reasons why I think we ought to assume that the gospels are reliable until proven wrong:

        1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased.

        2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary “urban legends.” Tales like those of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill or contemporary urban legends like the “vanishing hitchhiker” rarely concern actual historical individuals and are thus not analogous to the gospel narratives. Extra-biblical sources such as Josephus, as well as archaeological discoveries, have confirmed the existence of many New Testament people such as Jesus, Pilate, King Herod, John the Baptist, Annas, and Caiaphas. For example, in 1961 the first archaeological evidence concerning Pilate was unearthed in the town of Caesarea; it was an inscription of a dedication bearing Pilate’s name and title. Even more recently, in 1990 the actual tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest who presided over Jesus’s trial, was discovered south of Jerusalem.

        3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.

        4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus.

        5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability, especially Luke.

      • Hi Naomi, you have presented an impressive depth of research in your response, which I appreciate. Such a skill is bound to serve you well, even outside apologetics. Out of curiosity, have you studied history formally? Given your response I think that, if you haven’t, you certainly should consider it. (I myself haven’t studied it formally, but I am interested in it.)

        At best, I think the evidence you have reviewed supports the historicity of Jesus such that it would not be unreasonable to conclude that a man named Jesus lived in Judea roughly 2000 years ago; he had devout followers who perpetuated his teachings; and many believed he had performed miracles, fulfilled the messianic prophecies, and was the Son of God.

        Earlier, I noted that evidence supporting one particular claim (the historicity of Jesus) should not be assumed as evidence for another claim (the divinity of Jesus). Although the latter claim depends on the former being true, the former does not entail the latter.

        On point 1, what length of time do you consider sufficient to expect a legendary influence? Even if the interval of time between the events themselves and the recording of the gospels is too short for the memory of the events to have been erased, it is not too short an interval for distortions to creep into the narrative. We know now from research on eye-witness testimony that human memory is highly fallible. Perhaps the inconsistencies between gospel authors in certain aspects of the narrative reflects that.

        On points 2-5, while I find this interesting from a historical perspective (as I’m sure many people do), I don’t see how it lends support to anything other than the claim that Jesus was a real historical person.

        I might be mistaken, but you seem to be assuming that any evidence for the historicity of Jesus also counts as evidence for his divinity. To illustrate why this doesn’t follow suppose that, in the future, archaeologists discovered the mummified body of a man they confidently identified as Jesus. That would be the most compelling evidence for the historicity of Jesus ever discovered, yet it would undermine the claim that he divinely resurrected and ascended bodily to Heaven.

        Granting everything you have presented without contention would leave us only with the conclusion that Jesus was a real historical person (this too, however, is disputed). If belief in Christianity only required acceptance of the historicity of Jesus, then even Muslims and many Jews would be considered “Christians.” To be considered a Christian, however, requires more than that, as you yourself noted in your comment on 24 February at 10:37 am, wherein you outlined the core doctrines of Christianity.

      • Naomi, you give an excellent logical and rational case here. The notion that Darwin discovered anything relating to an answer to the universe is speculative at best. This idea has been refuted by many non creationist scientists and physicists (though obviously not in the public, popular domain).

        Darwin does not answer origins, not of life and certainly not of the universe. What is found in his writings are notions that are not repeatable nor verifiable, and therefore unscientific. Though this cuts against the grain of many faithful believers, who do indeed seem to have the desire to believe in anything other than special creation. Now they are postulating even multiverses and panspermia, exchanging one set of metaphysics with another, but only because Darwinism can’t explain Origins according to the data they have.

        If there was any evidence for a slow gradual evolution of species, why is Punctuated Equilibrium the new “Natural Selection” model?

        If Darwin’s ideas actually provided the answers, why seek alternatives? If indeed his Evolution model was “Fact”, as we and our children are continually sold, why such a fervent search for their own ‘Spaghetti Monster’?

        The Bible simply states that “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handiwork” Ps 19.

        The same passage states that this handiwork is demonstrated “day after day” in a language all can understand by the simplest of observation.

        The same book, and written over one thousand years later, confirms this ancient text saying “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom 1).

        The same book goes on to explain that when man rejects this logical knowledge that declares the reality of God, their hearts become hardened “Because when they knew God they glorified him not as God but BECAME vain in their IMAGINATIONS and their foolish hearts where darkened, professing themselves to be wise they BECAME fools.” (Rom 1:21-22).

        The tragic truth is that the Bible also demonstrates God to be good, loving, merciful and gracious. But tragically few desire him and choose to deny the very existence of him that is so plain; and yet he wonderfully promises “and ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

        Great post and good answers Naomi.

      • Edi, I never suggested that Darwin’s discoveries provide an answer to the origin of the universe. Darwin wasn’t even attempting to answer that question. He wasn’t a cosmologist. However, his discoveries in biology revealed an important insight: natural processes are capable of producing complexity. For this reason, the mere observation of complexity need not entail design.

  4. Thanks kaleidocyte;

    True, it was the Origin of the Species he attempted to provide insight to. The extrapolation of it was the desire of all aspiring atheists ever since.

    But all that has been ‘proven’ by Darwin is natural selection through adaptation, that is all, everything else has been an extrapolation of that notion that even he himself continued to propound with his speculative phrase “one may suppose” repeated over and over again in his book.

    But natural processes leading to greater complexity is not only unproven, but thanks to the discovery of INFORMATION in the cell, has been ruled out as impossible. Kaleidocyte, if Francis Crick realised the impossibility of Darwins ORIGIN of the species in concluding Panspermia ( An idea now held by the famous R. Dawkins), and if the Hopeful Monster of Punctuated Equilibrium tells us anything, its that Darwin did not prove the ORIGIN of anything.

    If leading Agnostics recognise this by their actions (if not their speeches) then we too need to return to the fact that only the Lord can create out of nothing, only he can be the INFORMER of the information in the Cell, and only he can bring new life even to those of us who know we would be dead in trespasses and sin.

    Kaleidocyte, the Bible teaches you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that even the hairs of your own head are numbered and kept by him. Its his love that is disdained, not his creation.

    “He came unto his own and his own received him not” John 1:11

    • I noted earlier that the insight did not belong to Darwin alone. He simply demonstrated how it related to biological evolution. There are other examples: from the snowflake to the solar system. We need not invoke supernatural agents to explain how these structures develop.

  5. Kaleidocyte, you have several other comments in my queue but I’ve decided to hold off on publishing them pending your response to Edi’s last comment (on Feb 22 at 9:45pm).

    You’ll have to scroll up a bit to find it, as this thread is getting rather long.

  6. Naomi

    This has been very engaging and useful. Thanks for the post and thanks for your strong defense of The Faith. A true soldier for Jesus.

    Edi..good job you you as well.

    You have both taught me some things so thank you both.

  7. I enjoyed this, Naomi. It is an elementary question being asked. So grateful we have the answer,
    Maria

    Colossians 1:16-17
    16 for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

    Isaiah 57:15
    15 For thus saith the high and lofty One
    that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy;
    I dwell in the high and holy place,
    with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit,
    to revive the spirit of the humble,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

    Micah 5:2Authorized
    2 But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah,
    though thou be little among the thousands of Judah,
    yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel;
    whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

    • I’m glad the article was edifying for you Maria. I’ve enjoyed putting it up. The discussion that followed was interesting also.

      Thanks for the lovely scripture references too.

      • Thanks Maria, I agree that it’s challenging. But I keep remembering the following scripture passage:

        “…but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”
        (1 Peter 3:15)

        I have to give credit to Kaleidocyte for helping the discussion remain civil, though we’re worlds apart in our view of the universe and God.

  8. Hi Kaleidocyte,

    I’ve moved this comment to the end of the thread so you can hopefully find it easier.

    No, I haven’t studied history formally though I find it very interesting (like you). I’m glad you find my answers comprehensive and reasonably thorough. I’m trying to be as accurate and honest as I can be. I also appreciate your ability to discuss these topics fairly without descending into fallacy or personal attacks.

    I wanted to cover your question about legendary influence on the gospels. Then, in a later comment, I can return to the divinity of Jesus.

    The standard scholarly dating, even in very liberal circles, is Mark in the 70’s, Matthew and Luke in the 80’s, John in the 90’s. Christ was crucified according to my reading between AD 30 and AD 33. So this means the gospels were produced within the lifetimes of various eye-witnesses who would have served as a corrective if false teachings about Jesus were being disseminated.

    A comparison might help here. The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than 400 years after Alexander’s death in 323 BC, yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy. Legendary material about Alexander did develop over time, but it was only in the centuries after these two writers. So whether the gospels were written 60 years or 30 years after the life of Christ, the amount of time is negligible by comparison.

    However, we can go back even earlier when trying to date fundamental beliefs in Jesus’ atonement, His resurrection and His unique association with God, according to Dr Craig Blomberg (author of “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels” and professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado). It’s important to remember that the books of the New Testament do not appear in chronological order. The gospels were written after almost all the letters of Paul, who converted to Christ around AD 32 and whose writing ministry most likely began in the late 40’s. Most of Paul’s major letters appear in the 50’s. To find the earliest information he recorded, one goes to his epistles and asks, “Are there signs that even earlier sources were used in writing them?”

    When this is done, according to Blomberg, we find that Paul incorporated some creeds, confessions of faith, or hymns from the earliest Christian Church. These go way back to the dawning of the church soon after the Resurrection. The most famous creeds include Philippians 2:6-11, which talks about Jesus being “in the form of God” and Colossians 1:15-20, which describes Him as being “the image of the invisible God” who created all things and through whom all things are reconciled with God by making “peace through the blood of his cross.”

    Perhaps the most important creed in terms of the historical Jesus is 1 Corinthians 15 (see https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+cor+15&version=AKJV – space doesn’t permit me to reproduce the entire passage here), where Paul uses technical language to indicate that he was passing along this oral tradition in relatively fixed form.

    So if the Crucifixion was as early as AD 30, Paul’s conversion was around AD 32. Immediately Paul was taken to Damascus, where he met with a Christian called Ananias and some other disciples. His first meeting with the apostles in Jerusalem would have been around AD 35. At some point along the way, Paul was given this creed, which had already been formulated and was circulating in the early church.

    Therefore you have the key facts about Jesus’ death for our sins, plus a detailed list of those to whom he appeared in resurrected form – all dating back to within 2 to 5 years of the events themselves. A good case can be made for saying that Christian belief in the Resurrection, though not yet written down, can be dated to within 2 years of that very event. Now you’re not comparing 30 to 60 years with the five hundred years that’s generally acceptable to other data (such as the biographies of Alexander) but a mere two years.

  9. Hi again Kaleidocyte,

    This comment addresses the divinity of Jesus, as reported on in the New Testament. My previous comment to you provided historical evidence for the fact that the earliest Christians held Jesus to be, somehow, God in the flesh.

    If we find that the earliest Christians did indeed regard Jesus as divine (and I think I’ve made a good case that they did), this doesn’t prove that they were right, of course. They might well have been mistaken.

    But as the historical record indicates that belief in Jesus’ deity goes back to the first Christians, then the popular notion of his divinity as a late addition to authentic Christianity is revealed to be a fiction.

    Furthermore, if we can establish that the gospels are generally reliable – not likely to have been “tainted” by legendary accumulations – then even the things that seem historically unlikely like miracles (walking on water, raising the dead, etc) become more credible. That is, unless one has a prior commitment to naturalism (which says that for every effect in the natural or physical world, there is a natural cause).

    I would grant that you shouldn’t appeal to the supernatural until you have to. You should first look for a natural explanation and only seek the supernatural if there is definite evidence for it.

    However, it seems very presumptuous to say that we know enough about the universe to say that God – if there is a God – can never break into our world in a supernatural way. That’s not presumption based on history; that’s in the realm of metaphysics.

    I think there should be a certain amount of humility in the historical investigation to consider as a possibility that Jesus did rise from the dead, and that it’s also just possible that His disciples actually saw what the gospels say they saw. And if there’s no other way of accounting for the evidence, let’s investigate that possibility.

    Ultimately, if the Jesus of faith is not also the Jesus of history, He’s powerless and He’s meaningless. Unless He’s part of reality, unless He established His divinity by rising from the dead, He’s just a feel-good symbol who’s as irrelevant as the Tooth Fairy.

    But I think there’s good evidence that He’s more than that. More historical material can be dug out about His character and resurrection, though time and space don’t permit me to do so in this comment. Maybe in future comments this can be discussed.

    • Hi Naomi, from my own reading, I would agree that belief in Jesus’ divinity arises relatively early in Christianity. However, there is still a gap between the evidence that establishes the historicity of Jesus on the one hand, and the supernatural claims made by gospel authors and early Christians on the other. Whereas one could plausibly build a case for the historicity of Jesus, that case alone is obviously not sufficient to argue that the core doctrines of Christianity are therefore true. You recognise this also, noting that “If we find that the earliest Christians did indeed regard Jesus as divine (and I think I’ve made a good case that they did), this doesn’t prove that they were right, of course.”

      You then go on to say that “if we can establish that the gospels are generally reliable … then even the things that seem historically unlikely like miracles … become more credible.” I disagree on this point. To consider the gospels “generally reliable” one would need evidence that its claims *generally* tend to be true. If there is partial evidence supporting some claims, contrary evidence for other claims, and a paucity of evidence for the remaining claims, then the gospels cannot be said to be “generally reliable.” They are, at best, partially reliable, and only for those claims that have been supported.

      If we conclude that the gospels are generally reliable because some of the claims have merit, but we ignore those claims that either lack evidence or are contraindicated by evidence, then our assessment is biased. Someone could, if they were so inclined, take the bias in the opposite direction and argue that because some of the claims are either unsupported or contraindicated by the evidence, then the gospels are generally unreliable.

      In principle, I have no objection to investigating the possibility that the “disciplines actually saw what the gospels say they saw.” However, in practice, how would you investigate this? Recall that you also said “You should first look for a natural explanation and only seek the supernatural if there is definite evidence for it.” Is there definite evidence for the supernatural claims made in the Bible? We have historical evidence that people really did believe these claims, but do we have definite evidence for those claims?

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        You asked, “Is there definite evidence for the supernatural claims made in the Bible? We have historical evidence that people really did believe these claims, but do we have definite evidence for those claims?”

        Before answering I will make the assumption that you accept that Jesus was an actual historical person who lived in first century Palestine and was executed on a Roman cross around AD 30 -33. These facts are well documented – biblically as well as extra biblically (subsets of them by Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus, notably) – and do not invoke the supernatural at all.

        Following on from the above, I’d like to focus on Jesus’ resurrection, as this is the greatest supernatural claim made by the Bible in my opinion. The entire Christian faith is based upon belief that this event really did occur: it’s perhaps the supreme vindication of Jesus’ claim to deity. BTW, I apologise in advance for the length of this comment. I attempted to present just the salient points from my reading but there was no way to do justice to the topic without covering certain issues in detail.

        Before considering the supernatural, however, we should look at all the natural explanations for this event and see if they hold up to close scrutiny. Then, if the only other explanation left standing is a supernatural one, I think we should be willing to go where the evidence points.

        1. The Crucifixion was a hoax
        The first theory we could consider is that the event was nothing more than an elaborate hoax. People have suggested that Jesus only fainted from exhaustion on the cross, or that He was given a drug that made him appear to die, etc. But what does the evidence really establish? What was Jesus’ cause of death? Is there any possible way he could have survived this ordeal? Looking at the medical evidence can help resolve this. Interestingly enough, due to the missing body, no autopsy has ever been performed on Jesus but we can look at the results of His type of death in other cases.

        Dr Alexander Metherell, MD, PhD, paints a picture of Jesus’ demise. He was savagely beaten (the Bible says “scourged” in Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, John 19:1) and Metherell says that “Roman floggings were known to be terribly brutal.” They usually consisted of 39 lashes using a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. The back would be so shredded that part of the spine was sometimes exposed. A third century historian by the name of Eusebius described a flogging by saying, “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” Metherell added that many people died of this type of beating before they could be crucified, after experiencing tremendous pain and undergoing hypovolemic shock. There is evidence in the gospels that Jesus underwent hypovolemic shock as he staggered up the road to the execution site at Calvary, carrying the cross (John 19:17). He finally collapsed and a Roman soldier ordered Simon to carry the cross for him (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21). Later Jesus suffered thirst (also a symptom of hypovolemic shock), at which point a sip of vinegar was offered Him. Because of the serious nature of the beating, Jesus was in a serious to critical condition even before being crucified.

        At this point we should ask, without a trained medical examiner to officially attest that Jesus had died, might He have escaped the experience brutalised and bleeding but nonetheless alive?

        The evidence goes against this. Hanging on the cross would have caused Jesus’ arms to be stretched, probably about six inches in length according to Metherell, and both shoulders would have been dislocated. This fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy in Psalm 22, which foretold the Crucifixion hundreds of years before it took place and says, “My bones are out of joint.” Jesus’ cause of death would have been agonisingly slow, by asphyxiation. Even before He died, the hypovolemic shock would have caused pericardial and pleural effusions (fluid around the heart and lungs), which is significant because it explains what happened when the Roman soldier thrust a spear into Jesus’ side to check if He was dead. The spear apparently went through the right lung and into the heart, so when it was pulled out, some fluid (the effusions) came out. This would have the appearance of a clear fluid, like water, followed by a large volume of blood, as the eyewitness John described in his gospel (John 19:34). At this point, according to Metherell, there was absolutely no doubt that Jesus was dead. The soldiers were experts in killing people and, if a prisoner escaped, those responsible would be put to death themselves. So they had a huge incentive to ensure that each and every victim was dead when he was removed from the cross.

        Even assuming Jesus survived the cross (which seems medically impossible), how could He walk around after nails had been driven into His feet? How could He appear on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-26) just a short time later, walking long distances? He would have had massive wounds on His back and a spear wound to His chest. A person in that kind of pathetic condition would never have inspired His disciples to go out and proclaim His victory over death.

        2. Jesus’ body was not really buried in the tomb
        Before looking at whether the tomb of Jesus was really empty, we need to establish whether His body had been there in the first place. History tells us that, as a rule, crucified criminals were left on the cross to be devoured by birds or were thrown into a common grave. At least some skeptics have posited that this was what happened to Jesus. Dr William Lane Craig, PhD, D. Theology, doesn’t subscribe to this viewpoint as it goes against the specific evidence. The gospels say that Jesus’ body was turned over to Joseph of Arimathea and the burial is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, where Paul passes on a very early creed of the church. The second line affirms that Jesus was buried. On top of that, according to Craig, the burial story in Mark (generally considered to be the earliest gospel) is so very early that it’s not possible for it to have been subject to legendary corruption. It’s also interesting that an embarrassing fact is recorded in the gospels concerning Jesus’ burial. It was done by a member of the Jewish leaders who had instigated his crucifixion, so it seems very improbable that the disciples would have invented a person who did the right thing and buried Jesus (while the gospels also report that the disciples themselves abandoned Him). Also, if the burial by Joseph were a legend that developed later, you’d expect to find competing burial traditions about what happened to Jesus’ body. But these are not found at all. The majority of New Testament scholars today agree that the burial account of Jesus is fundamentally reliable.

        3. Jesus’ body remained in the tomb, even after the alleged “resurrection.”
        Some people claim that the resurrection was only spiritual in nature, while Jesus’ body remained in the tomb. Yet this contradicts the Jews’ concept of the nature of resurrection, which they clearly understood to be physical in concept (see Job 19:26). For them, according to Craig, the primary object of the resurrection was the bones of the deceased. After the flesh rotted away, the Jews would gather the bones of their deceased and put them in boxes to be preserved until the resurrection at the end of the world. In light of this, it would have been a contradiction in terms for an early Jew to say that someone was raised from the dead but his body was still left in the tomb. So when the early Christian creed in 1 Corinthians 15 says that Jesus was buried and then raised on the third day, it’s saying quite clearly that an empty tomb was left behind.

        4. Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb.
        It is important to consider how secure Jesus’ tomb was from outside influences. Craig has described how this type of tomb looked based upon excavations of first-century sites. Apparently it would take several men to roll the stone across the door away in order to reopen the tomb. So in that sense it was quite secure. Some skeptics have attempted to cast doubt on the popular belief that Jesus’ tomb was carefully watched around the clock by guards, who faced death themselves if they failed in their duty. There is good evidence, however, that the guard story is historical. If there had not been any guards, in response to the claim that Jesus had risen, the Jews would have said, “No, the disciples stole his body.” Christians would reply, “But the guards would have prevented the theft.” Then the Jewish response would have been, “”What guards? There were no guards!” Yet history tells us that that’s not what the Jews actually said (see Matthew 28:11-15).

        5. Given the discrepancies between the gospel accounts, the empty tomb story is unlikely.
        Taken at face value, this objection seems to penetrate to the heart of the reliability of the empty tomb narratives. However, for a historian examining the accounts, the inconsistencies, interestingly enough, appear in the secondary details. The core of the story is the same: Joseph of Arimathea takes the body of Jesus, puts it in a tomb, the tomb is visited by a small group of women followers of Jesus early on the Sunday morning following His crucifixion, and they find that the tomb is empty. They see a vision of angels saying that Jesus is risen.

        The above suggests that there is a historical core to the story that can be relied upon, however conflicting the secondary details may be. Even the usually skeptical historian Michael Grant, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and professor at Edinburgh University, concedes in his book ‘Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels’, “True, the discovery of the empty tomb is differently described by the various gospels, but if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was, indeed, found empty.”

        We should note that if the four gospels were found to be identical in all their details, this would have left them open to the charge of plagiarism. Yet the differences between the empty tomb narratives suggest that we have multiple, independent attestation of the empty tomb story. There are also ways to harmonise the alleged contradictions between the accounts. For example, as concerns the number and names of the women at the tomb, none of the gospels pretends to give a complete list. They all include Mary Magdalene and other women, so we can safely assume that there was probably a group of these early disciples that included those who were named and probably a couple of others. It would be pedantic to say this was a contradiction. I could list other examples of alleged contradictions between the gospels that can be easily harmonised but for brevity’s sake I’ll hold off on this.

        6. The first witnesses to the empty tomb story cannot be trusted.
        At least one skeptic has charged that the first witnesses to the empty tomb (the women) had suspect testimony since they were “probably not objective observers.”

        We should ask, “Does the women’s relationship with Jesus call into question the reliability of their testimony?” William Lane Craig says this approach usually backfires on the skeptic. Though these women were friends of Jesus, the lowly role of women in first-century Palestine makes it quite extraordinary that they should have been the first discoverers of the empty tomb at all. Surely any later legendary account would have had male disciples discovering the tomb first – Peter or John, for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that – like it or not – they were the discoverers of the empty tomb. This shows that the gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing. This underscores the historicity of the story rather than its legendary status.

        7. The women went to the wrong tomb.
        This seems highly unlikely as the site of Jesus’ tomb was known to the Jewish authorities. Even if the women had made this mistake, the authorities would have been only too happy to point out the tomb and correct the disciples’ error when they began to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead.

        8. The disciples stole the body.
        They had no motive to do this and later die for a lie, so, again, this theory is highly unlikely.

        9. The empty tomb was a later legend that people were unable to disprove because by the time they went to do so, the location of the tomb had been forgotten.
        However, the empty tomb story goes back to within a few years of the events themselves, as I’ve stated in earlier parts of this comment. This renders the legend theory worthless.

        Now for some affirmative evidence that the tomb actually was empty:
        1. The empty tomb is definitely implicit in the early tradition that is passed along by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, which is a very old and reliable source of historical information about Jesus.
        2. The site of Jesus’ tomb was known to Christian and Jew alike. So if it weren’t empty, it would be impossible for a movement founded on belief in the Resurrection to have come into existence in the same city (Jerusalem) where this man had been publicly executed and buried.
        3. We can tell from the language, grammar and style (according to William Lane Craig) that Mark got his empty tomb story from an earlier source. There’s evidence that it was written before AD 37, which is much too early for legend to have seriously corrupted it.
        4. The empty tomb story in Mark is striking in its simplicity (ie. unadorned by theological reflection). Fictional apocryphal accounts from the second century contain all kinds of flowery narratives, in which Jesus comes out of the tomb in glory and power, with everybody seeing him, including the priests, Jewish authorities, and Roman guards. It’s important to realise that these legends didn’t come out until after the eyewitnesses to the events themselves had died out.
        5. The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the historicity of the empty tomb. In other words, there was nobody who was claiming that the tomb still contained Jesus’ body. The question always was, “What happened to the body?” If we look at the Bible we see that the Jews proposed the ridiculous story that the guards had fallen asleep. It seems they were grasping at straws. But the point is this: they started with the assumption that the tomb was vacant. Why? Because they knew it was.

        Upon analysis, every theory I’ve looked at seems to crumble under the weight of reason and evidence. The only remaining option is to believe that the crucified Jesus returned to life – a conclusion admittedly that many people find difficult to fathom.

        At this point we’re back to metaphysics and the question is raised as to whether or not one believes miracles are possible.

        Based on the evidence, God raising Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of what happened. What is improbable is the hypothesis that Jesus rose naturally from the dead. That seems frankly unbelievable. But the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead doesn’t contradict science or any known facts of experience. All it requires is the hypothesis that God exists, and there are – I think – good independent reasons for believing that He does. As long as the existence of God is even possible, it’s possible that He acted in history by raising Jesus from the dead. In fact, the Cambridge-educated Sir Norman Anderson, who lectured at Princeton University, concluded (after a lifetime of analysing this issue from a legal perspective): “The empty tomb, then, forms a veritable rock on which all rationalistic theories of the resurrection dash themselves in vain.”

        However, having stated all of the above, and having made (in my opinion) a reasonably strong case for the fact that Jesus’ tomb really was empty, I must say that by itself an empty grave does not a resurrection prove. It may point us in that direction but more evidence is needed to establish that Jesus really did rise from the dead. I think I’ve established beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus did die on the cross and that His tomb was later found empty. What I haven’t looked at yet, as space and time don’t permit it (and your patience probably doesn’t either!), is whether we can make a case for saying that Jesus appeared after His death to people. If the latter can be established, I believe I’ve defended the Resurrection adequately because dead people don’t normally do this. I can cover this in a future comment.

        Thanks for sticking with me Kaleidocyte, sorry again that this was so long.

      • Hi Naomi, I’m not sure that I agree that the resurrection is “the supreme vindication of Jesus’ claim to deity.” As you are no doubt aware, there are numerous reports of resurrection in the Bible. According to Matthew (27:52), at Jesus’ death, “the tombs broke open” and many saintly men and women were raised from the dead and wandered the city. Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus were also reportedly resurrected. In 1 Kings 17:17-24 we learn of Elijah raising a young boy from the dead. Clearly resurrection was not limited to Jesus, the purported Son of God. He wasn’t even the first.

        You then go on to outline and rebut a subset of plausible naturalistic explanations for the empty tomb. There’s nothing wrong with this per se: each explanation has its weaknesses. It’s what you do next that does not seem to follow. You say, “The only remaining option is to believe that the crucified Jesus returned to life” and “Based on the evidence, God raising Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of what happened.” The problem with this is that you haven’t actually provided any evidence supporting this explanation. You have gestured toward the flaws in other explanations, but you haven’t shown that your own preferred explanation is superior with evidence. If paucity of evidence is a problem for each of the theories you enumerated, it is just as much a problem for your preferred theory (if not more so).

        Your argument seems to be as follows: “We don’t know what happened to Jesus’ body; therefore, God must have raised him from the dead.” To illustrate why this is problematic, imagine if I had said that Jesus’ body must have been abducted and reanimated by aliens with resurrection technology. You would rightly demand that I provide evidence for this extraordinary claim. Suppose then that I pointed toward all the flaws in explanations 1-5 and said, “Every theory (1-5) I have looked at seems to crumble. The only remaining option is to believe that Jesus’ body was abducted and reanimated by aliens – a conclusion admittedly that many people find difficult to fathom. Alien abduction is the best explanation for Jesus’ missing body.”

        What’s wrong with this? First, it’s not the *only* remaining option, and second, I haven’t supported my claim with evidence. I’ve taken the hammer to other theories, but at the end of the day, my own theory doesn’t triumph by default.

        Toward the end, you seem to acknowledge this yourself: “having stated all of the above … I must say that by itself an empty grave does not a resurrection prove.” That’s right. An empty tomb is evidence of an empty tomb.

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        Sorry for the delay in responding, I’ve been on holiday over the past week.

        Now that I’m back, I first want to admit that my prior comment was not complete. In the limited space provided I defended the empty tomb theory with the necessary detail, only realising after I’d posted the comment that more was needed to defend Jesus’ resurrection (namely, the alleged appearances He made to various people afterwards). I could have simply unapproved my comment but left it as it was after I saw you had responded to it. As you noted, I did make mention of the incompleteness of my response towards the end of it: unfortunately, time didn’t permit me to go back and address the issues. I hope to do so in this comment.

        Before I do so, I wanted to address your charge that Jesus’ resurrection was nothing special, as other resurrection examples exist in the Bible. You mentioned Matthew 27:52, the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, the resurrection of Lazarus and the resurrection in 1 Kings 17:17-24. I will deal with all the resurrection examples that occurred before Christ’s crucifixion first, as it is important to realise that His death was a pivotal event theologically speaking.

        Christ’s resurrection effectively moved Paradise (the reward section of Hades) from Hades to heaven so that believers who died could then be reunited with God. Before Christ’s resurrection, believers went to a place of comfort and rest called “paradise” when they died, which was apart from God. The Old Testament taught life after death and that everyone who departed from this life went to a place of conscious existence. The general term for this place was Sheol, which could be translated “the grave” or “the realm of the dead.” The wicked were there (Psalm 9:17; 31:17; 49:14; Isaiah 5:14), and so were the righteous (Genesis 37:35; Job 14:13; Psalm 6:5; 16:10; 88:3; Isaiah 38:10). The New Testament equivalent of Sheol is Hades. Luke 16:19–31 shows that, prior to Christ’s resurrection, Hades was divided into two realms: a place of comfort where Lazarus was (Abraham’s bosom or Abraham’s side) and a place of torment where the rich man was (hell). Lazarus’s place of comfort is elsewhere called “paradise” (Luke 23:43). The place of torment is called “Gehenna” in the Greek in Mark 9:45. Between paradise and hell (the two districts of Hades) there was “a great chasm” (Luke 16:26). The fact that no one could cross this chasm indicates that, after death, one’s fate is sealed. What Christ’s death accomplished is that when a believer dies today, he is “present with the Lord” in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:6–9). There, he joins the Old Testament saints who have been enjoying their reward for thousands of years.

        In Matthew 27:52, at Jesus’ death, some of the Old Testament saints were also physically raised in resurrection bodies. These saints did not appear to people, however, until Christ’s resurrection. The names of these individuals were not recorded. It is believed that their purpose was to testify to the finality and perfection of Jesus’ sacrifice. Furthermore, examining Ezekiel 37 and the bones raised to life in connection with this story reveals that an Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the raising of these saints. Additionally, the raising of the saints relates directly to the coming kingdom. The raising of a few and not all of the saints shows that Jesus has power to resurrect, but also points forward to the second coming and judgment of Jesus Christ, which will include all those whose names are written in the Book of Life by faith in the grace of God.

        Now to the necessary follow-up to my prior comment dealing with Jesus’ resurrection. I’ve discussed and defended the empty tomb theory, showing, in my opinion, that this is a plausible event historically. I now want to deal with the second part of this issue: did Jesus really appear to people after His death? What evidence is there that people actually saw Him?

        The evidence for the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus didn’t develop gradually over the years as mythology distorted memories of his life. Rather, said Resurrection expert Gary Habermas, the Resurrection was “the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning.” The ancient creed from 1 Corinthians 15 mentions specific individuals who encountered the risen Christ, and Paul even challenged first century doubters to talk with these individuals personally to determine the truth of the matter themselves. The book of Acts (see the first 2 chapters in particular) is littered with extremely early affirmations of Jesus’ resurrection, while the gospels describe numerous accounts in detail (such as Matthew 28:16–17, Mark 16:14, Luke 24:33–37, John 20:19–20, etc). Concluded British theologian Michael Green, “The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity…there can be no rational doubt that they occurred.” I think it is also true to say that unembellished early narratives, as presented in 1 Corinthians 15, the gospels, and the book of Acts, are more likely to be historically true.

        Furthermore, there are supporting facts that point to the Resurrection. For example, JP Moreland’s circumstantial evidence added final documentation for the Resurrection. First, the disciples were in a unique position to know whether the Resurrection happened, and they went to their deaths proclaiming it was true. No-one knowingly and willingly dies for a lie. Second, apart from the Resurrection, there’s no good reason why skeptics like Paul and James would have been converted and would have died for their faith. Third, within weeks of the Crucifixion, thousands of Jews began abandoning key social practices that had critical sociological and religious importance for centuries. They believed they risked eternal damnation if they were wrong. Fourth, the early sacraments of Communion and baptism affirmed Jesus’ resurrection and deity. And fifth, the miraculous emergence of the church in the face of brutal Roman persecution “rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of Resurrection,” as CFD Moule put it.

        It is interesting here to consider a study by AN Sherwin-White, a notable classical historian from Oxford University. He meticulously examined the rate at which legend accrued in the ancient world. His conclusion: not even two full generations was enough time for legend to develop and to wipe out a solid core of historical truth. Now consider the case of Jesus. Historically speaking, the news of his empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts of his post-Resurrection appearances, and the conviction that he was God’s unique Son emerged very swiftly indeed.

        The 1 Corinthians 15 creed, affirming Jesus’ death for our sins and listing his post-Resurrection appearances to named eyewitnesses, was already being recited by Christians as soon as 24 months after the Crucifixion. Mark’s account of the empty tomb was drawn from material that dates back to within a few years of the event itself. The gospels, attesting to Jesus’ teachings, miracles, and resurrection, were circulating within the lifetimes of Jesus’ contemporaries, who would have been only too glad to set the record straight if there had been embellishment or falsehood. Concluded William Lane Craig (American analytical philosopher, theologian, and Christian apologist – I’ve been quoting him in earlier comments), “The time span necessary for significant accrual of legend concerning the events of the gospels would place us in the second century AD, just the time in fact when the the legendary apocryphal gospels were born. These are the legendary accounts sought by the critics.”

        There was simply nowhere near enough time for mythology to thoroughly corrupt the historical record of Jesus, especially in the midst of eyewitnesses who still had personal knowledge of him. Interestingly, when German theologian Julius Muller in 1844 challenged anyone to find a single example of legend developing that fast anywhere in history, the response from the scholars of his day – and to the present time – was resounding silence.

        One final good piece of advice I read about this topic stated, “Use your mind calmly and weigh the evidence, and then let experience be a confirming piece of evidence.” In other words, if all these lines of evidence really do point to the resurrection of Jesus – the evidence itself begs for an experiential test. This test is, “He’s still alive, and I can find out by relating to Him.” What would have to happen before you would be willing to take that step yourself?

      • Hi Naomi, Don’t apologise for the delay. Hope your holiday was restful and enjoyable!

        Let’s start with the claim that Christ’s resurrection was special because it “effectively moved Paradise from Hades to heaven so that believers who died could then be reunited with God.” Related to this, you claim that prior to Christ’s resurrection, believers were apart from God in “the realm of the dead,” a place that righteous and wicked shared together. Not meaning to sound obtuse, but how could you possibly know this to be true? I understand that this is what you believe happens in the afterlife, but recall that our conversation so far has focused largely on how we might critically examine religious claims to determine whether they are true or not. This presents yet another layer of claims for us to consider – claims about the afterlife.

        You go on to discuss the resurrection of the saints, but neglect the other resurrections that occurred prior to that (e.g., 1 Kings 17:17-24). This doesn’t seem to bode well for the claim that Jesus’ resurrection is “the supreme vindication of [his] claim to deity.” He is not the only one to have resurrected, although he is apparently the only one to have claimed that this entitles him to godhood.

        Regarding the purported appearances of Jesus after his death, you note that the disciples “went to their deaths proclaiming it was true. No-one knowingly and willingly dies for a lie.” This doesn’t inform us of anything other than the sincerity of the disciples’ belief. At most then, it tells us that they genuinely believed what they preached, which doesn’t seem all that surprising unless one presumes that they had mendacious motives. You noted that, out of fear of eternal damnation, thousands converted to this new religion. I’m not certain how this counts as evidence for a genuine resurrection, as it seems to testify more to the successful spread of the religion. Your fourth and fifth claims are in a similar vein. They don’t establish that the resurrection occurred, but that early Christians genuinely believed it occurred, which is hardly controversial.

        Craig’s claim that the time-span is too short for legendary influences to come into play seems dubious to me. Consider, as an example, religious traditions that have developed in more recent times, such as Mormonism. Given the *very short* time-span between Joseph Smith’s purported revelations and the writing of the Mormon scriptures, are we to conclude that it’s impossible for legendary influences to have crept into the text? Unless you happen to be a Mormon yourself, I think you might be reluctant to rule out a potentially mythic element simply because the time-span was so incredibly short.

        Many of the arguments you make here could feasibly be transformed into arguments for other religions as well. In particular, these arguments are well suited for religions that (1) have sacred texts that were either written in the prophet’s lifetime or shortly thereafter; (2) had initial success in obtaining followers who abandoned centuries-old religious traditions in favour of the new religion’s developing traditions; and (3) had early followers that were persecuted for their beliefs. Christianity is not the only candidate that meets these criteria.

      • Kaleidocyte, as you know, I had previously decided to close this thread. However, after a lot of mental toing and froing I’ve decided to re-open it, to continue the discussion. Though Edi’s last comment to me indicated that he views the thread (and indeed my entire blog ministry) as unbiblical, I haven’t found that talking with you has undermined my faith. Others who have happened across this thread have found it worthwhile also and I’m fairly sure we can continue to communicate civilly, though we’re likely to disagree on quite a few points. I have had a deep think about the whole idea of believers engaging non-believers online, and I find that I side more with Ray Comfort than Pat Robertson, who described atheists as “swine” (an article on their differing viewpoints can be found here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/pat-robertson-tells-viewer-to-stop-arguing-with-atheists-online-a-swine-is-hungry-for-nuts-119012/).

        I did have a concern that if I reopened the thread Edi, who attends my church, may take exception to it. However, this is my blog and I get to decide when a discussion is challenging but edifying, and when it isn’t. I ultimately don’t answer to Edi but to God.

        A few points in response to your comment:

        You mentioned that I said that “prior to Christ’s resurrection, believers were apart from God in ‘the realm of the dead,’ a place that righteous and wicked shared together.” I know this from what the Old Testament reports, as per my previous comment to you. The wicked resided in Hades or Sheol (Psalm 9:17; 31:17; 49:14; Isaiah 5:14), as did the righteous (Genesis 37:35; Job 14:13; Psalm 6:5; 16:10; 88:3; Isaiah 38:10). I realise that if a person doesn’t accept the Bible to be truthful in what it says, or to be God’s word, that these claims will not resonate. However, Christians do accept this so my previous comment about the realm of the dead was not unsubstantiated.

        You claimed that I said that “out of fear of eternal damnation, thousands converted to this new religion.” The point I made in my original comment needs clarifying as this was not what I meant to imply at all. It is striking that out of fear of eternal damnation if they left Judaism, thousands of people converted nonetheless to Christianity. Who would willingly do so unless they believed Christianity, and not Judaism, to be true?

        Regarding short time spans and mythic elements creeping into sacred texts, I don’t think Mormonism is a good example to give. Though its text was first published in 1830, relatively recently as you noted, Sandra Tanner wrote a book on a study that was carried out (on photocopies of the 1830 edition) that showed there were at least 3,913 changes made to it since publication.
        ********************************
        By way of contrast, the Bible’s observed accuracy since publication is 99.9%. In the strictest sense, no, the original documents that comprise the 66 books of the Bible—sometimes called the “autographs”—are not in the possession of any organization. However, in a very real way, yes, humankind does have the actual words and books that make up the Word of God. In the third century B.C., the Old Testament books from the prophet Ezra’s time were translated into Greek by a team of 70 Jewish scholars, with the finished work being called the LXX (which stands for “70”), or the Septuagint (a Latin word derived from phrase “the translation of the seventy interpreters”). The Septuagint was certainly used and quoted by the Apostles, including Paul, in their writings. The oldest manuscripts of the LXX include some 1st and 2nd century B.C. fragments.

        In 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the area of Qumran in Israel. Modern dating techniques state the age of the scrolls to be (depending on the scroll) anywhere from the 5th century B.C. to the 1st century A.D. Historians believe the Jewish scribes maintained the site to preserve God’s Word and most certainly to protect the writings from the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in A.D. 70. The Dead Sea Scrolls represent nearly every book of the Old Testament and comparisons with modern copies that exist today show them to be virtually identical, with the main deviations being the spellings of some individuals’ names and various numbers quoted in Scripture. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a testimony to the accuracy and preservation of the Old Testament and provide confidence that the Old Testament existing today is the same Old Testament as that which was used by Jesus.

        A similar situation exists with the compilation of the New Testament. The actual New Testament read today in modern Bibles was recognized much earlier and is an exact reflection of what the “autographs” contained. First, Scripture itself shows that the writings of the New Testament were considered inspired and on a par with the Old Testament. For example, Paul writes, “For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18, emphasis added). The latter quotation is from Luke 10:7, which shows Paul considered Luke’s Gospel on par with Scripture as a whole. Another example includes a statement made by Peter: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16, emphasis added). It is clear from Peter’s quote that he regarded Paul’s letter equal to the Old Testament canon.

        Second, quotations exist from the early church fathers that allow the near reconstruction of the entire New Testament as it is found today. For example, Clement (c. A.D. 95) quotes from 11 New Testament books, Ignatius (c. A.D. 107) quotes from nearly every New Testament book, and Polycarp (a disciple of John, c. A.D. 110) quotes from 17 New Testament books. Working with early church fathers’ quotes, the entire New Testament can be pieced together with the exception of some 20-27 verses, most of them from 3 John. Such evidence provides witness to the fact that the New Testament was recognized far before the Council of Carthage in A. D. 397 and that the New Testament reflects today what was written 2,000 years ago.

        Third, there is no literary rival in the ancient world to the number of manuscript copies and the early dating of the New Testament. There are 5,300 Greek, 10,000 Latin, and 9,000 miscellaneous copies of the New Testament that exist today and more continue to be unearthed via archaeology. The combination of early dating and the enormous number of New Testament copies causes historical experts such as Sir Frederic Kenyon (former director/principal librarian of the British Museum) to say, “The interval, then, between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”
        *************************************
        Back to the Book of Mormon. This text is both self-contradictory and contradicts the Bible so at least one of these religions must be false (see more here: http://www.bible.ca/mor-contradictions.htm). I would argue that Mormonism is the false belief system as it contradicts itself. There have been allegations made that the Bible is also contradictory but these arguments have been easily refuted online and in numerous publications (as I’ve stated earlier on this thread). I have several books resolving the vast majority of the alleged contradictions in the Bible. One I’d recommend in particular is “The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation” by Norman L Geisler and Thomas Howe.

        Finally, while it may be that there are other religions exhibiting a similar pattern to Christianity in terms of 1) having sacred texts that were written in the prophet’s lifetime or shortly thereafter 2) had initial success in obtaining followers who abandoned centuries-old religious traditions in favour of the new religion’s developing traditions 3) had early followers that were persecuted for their beliefs (so that maybe these arguments aren’t so persuasive in apologetics), I’d be interested to examine the internal coherence of their beliefs compared to Christianity. I am quite confident that Christianity can stand up to this sort of scrutiny, as a closer examination of Mormonism proves.

      • Hi Naomi, good to hear that you’re reopening the thread after having thought it through. I think it’s a worthwhile move seeing as there is still a great deal to discuss, particularly given your most recent comment. I’ll try to structure my response in point-form so that it’s clear how my responses connect to your preceding comment.

        1. Regarding your claims about the afterlife, you refer to several biblical passages and note that “Christians do accept this so [your] previous comment about the realm of the dead was not unsubstantiated.” The problem with this is that the claims you are referring to come from the Bible itself, so by referring to the Bible you are merely repeating those claims, rather than supporting them. This is a circular argument: the Bible’s claims about the afterlife are true because the Bible makes those claims. What’s then needed is evidence for biblical claims about the afterlife; evidence that is independent of the document making those claims.

        2. You ask the question, “Why would they willingly [convert to Christianity] unless they believed Christianity, and not Judaism, to be true?” There are various reasons why people forsake old religious traditions for new ones. One reason is that they are convinced by the claims of the new religion. This suggests that sincere belief underlies conversion, but it tells us very little (if anything) about the truth of the beliefs in question. People can be sincere but mistaken in their beliefs.

        3. The report of 3,913 changes to the Book of Mormon since its publication is interesting for a few reasons. (1) It shows that even incredibly short time-spans are no guarantee that a document will remain uncorrupted. (2) It also shows that the availability of the printing press did not render the text unchangeable, even though it made mass distribution much more feasible. Interestingly, if you look at the Wikipedia page on the Book of Mormon, it is claimed that most of the changes are corrections of spelling and grammatical errors, with little or no change in the meaning of the text. (3) This shows that even if a text is translated in the *same* language, there is still no guarantee that it will remain unchanged.

        Considering the above three points, the situation with the gospels is actually worse than with the Book of Mormon: the time-span between the time of the events and the time of their recording is longer; the gospel manuscripts we have today are hand-written copies of copies of original second-hand accounts; and those copies were translated across multiple languages, again by human scribes.

        Taken together, this goes against your previous argument that the short time-span protects the gospel accounts from corruption. Apparently not even Joseph Smith could accomplish such fidelity, and his task was considerably easier given the incredibly short time-span, the availability of the printing press, and the fact that he initially published in his native language.

        4. On the topic of biblical contradictions, there is a plethora of information cataloguing very clear contradictions within the gospel accounts. One could argue that these contradictions are somewhat minor and do not detract from the overall theme (e.g., who was at the tomb on the morning of the resurrection; how did Judas die?), but one cannot deny that they are there. If one takes a literal approach then these are certainly problematic and cannot be ignored. If, on the other hand, one allows a little ambiguity and accepts the imperfections of the text, they can be tolerated, but are concerning nonetheless given that this is supposedly the Word of God, and must be believed without question.

        5. Regarding your final point on internal coherence: There is evidence of both sharp and subtle theological discordance, with thousands of Christian denominations, each of which claim to have an internally coherent system of belief. It’s difficult then to judge what “internal coherence” means, given that Christians seem unable to decide among themselves what is and what isn’t “internally coherent” in Christianity.

      • Point 1:
        Without a person coming to the belief that the Bible is God’s word, it is a fruitless effort to discourse about the afterlife, as, to my knowledge, we have no-one outside of Biblical reports who has returned from the dead. So I will leave this discussion aside.

        Point 2:
        I accept your reasoning and will move on to point 3.

        Point 3:
        The book of Mormon, as I stated in my last comment, is self-contradictory and is therefore a false religion. It is not divinely inspired, as the Bible is (2 Peter 1:21). So it does not contain the same checks and balances as the Bible did when its texts were first authored.

        Point 4:
        Regarding alleged biblical contradictions in the gospels (and, by implication, in other parts of the Bible)… While the Bible is generally plain in its meaning, proper interpretation requires careful study and is not always an easy task given man’s pride and tendency to twist the plain meaning of the text to his own ends. Consider that the Bible was written over a period of roughly 2,000 years by 40 or more authors using three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek). The authors wrote in different genres and had different vocabularies, personalities, cultural backgrounds, and social standings. The Holy Spirit moved each of these men to produce His inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20–21), but He allowed their various writing styles and personalities to be expressed in its pages. It was written in a culture very different from our modern world and has been translated from its original languages. These are just some of the factors that must be taken into account as we interpret. I have shown in other comments on this thread how alleged gospel contradictions can easily be harmonised. I am happy to take up the challenge to resolve further “contradictions” if you provide examples. Kindly go ahead.

        Point 5:
        This touches on how the Bible should best be interpreted. It also touches on the nature of God Himself: is He a God of obscurity, who requires sophisticated hermeneutics and biblical analysis of His messages before they can be followed? Does one need an IQ of 180-plus to follow Him? No, I don’t believe so. It is instructive that God clearly states that He requires simplicity, not sophistication, of His followers:

        “…Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
        (Matthew 18:3)

        “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
        (2 Corinthians 11:3)

        Jesus even highly recommended the plain-spoken nature of Nathaniel, one of His early followers:

        “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
        (John 1:47)

        It is interesting here to note that guile is defined typically as “sly or cunning intelligence”, the opposite therefore of someone who is “simple.” Someone who is “full of guile” is therefore crafty, duplicitious, not plain spoken, dealing in double meanings. The Bible mentions this particular trait of people quite often in its writings and it is clear that it is regarded as a vice rather than a virtue (see Exodus 21:14, Psalm 32:2, Psalm 34:13, Psalm 55:11, 2 Corinthians 12:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:1, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 Peter 3:10, Revelation 14:5).

        How then should the Bible best be interpreted? It seems clear that this should be done in a way that respects the plain meaning of the text, wherever possible, and not in a way that may be seen as duplicitious, or forcing hidden meanings into it. The method of interpretation that best fits this model (and that not all Christian denominations follow, as you yourself have noted) is the literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic. This method, it can be shown, uses the same approach used in ordinary communication and so adheres to an approach “lacking in guile”, which, as I’ve demonstrated, is a great virtue in the Bible.

        Post-reformation biblical interpretation employs the above method of interpretation. Let us break this phrase down into its component parts. The dictionary defines literal interpretation as that type of interpretation that is “based on the actual words in their ordinary meaning…not going beyond the facts.” Two concepts seem to be in view. First, according to Bernard Ramm (see “Protestant Biblical Interpretation”, 3rd ed., p 89-92), literal interpretation encompasses the idea of assigning to every word the same meaning it would have in its normal usage, whether employed in speaking, writing, or thinking. Cooper’s “Golden Rule of Interpretation” incorporates such an understanding of literalism:

        “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.” (David L. Cooper, “The World’s Greatest Library Graphically Illustrated”, p. 11)

        Second, literalism resists going beyond what is written. Because literalism resists “going beyond the facts,” when interpreting a given text, literal interpreters resist the temptation to import foreign ideas from outside the text. A classic example of going beyond what the text says is the ancient interpretation that the four rivers in Genesis 2, the Pishon, Havilah, Tigris, and Euphrates, represent the body, soul, spirit, and mind. Such an idea is not readily apparent from studying the text in Genesis 2. One must go outside the text of Genesis 2 and bring into it foreign concepts in order to arrive at this conclusion.

        It should be noted in passing that literal interpretation has been unfairly criticized on the basis that it adheres to a wooden, inflexible literalism that fails to allow for types, symbols, figures of speech, and genre distinctions. (For an example of a work that levels this charge, see D. Brent Sandy, “Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic” (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity, 2002)). Such a straw man argumentation is easily recognizable by simply reading how those advocating a literal hermeneutic define the term literal. Charles Ryrie specifically notes that literalism “…does not preclude or exclude correct understanding of types, illustrations, apocalypses, and other genres within the basic framework of literal interpretation.” (Charles C. Ryrie, “Dispensationalism Today”, 1965, p. 86). Ryrie further explains that literal interpretation “…might also be called plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech.” Ryrie buttresses this point by appealing to the following quote from E.R. Craven:

        “The literalist (so called) is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols are used in prophecy, nor does he deny the great spiritual truths are set forth therein; his position is, simply, that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted (i.e., according to received laws of language) as any other utterances are interpreted-that which is manifestly figurative so regarded.” (E.R Craven and J.P Lange, ed. “Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation”, p. 98).

        Grammatical interpretation observes the impact that grammar plays in any given text. Thus, bible interpreters must correctly analyze the relationship that words, phrases, or sentences have toward one another. Such an analysis entails the study of lexicology (meaning of words), morphology (form of words), parts of speech (function of words), and syntax (relationship of words). (Roy B. Zuck, “Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth”, 1991, p. 100). Historical interpretation takes into account historical context, setting, and circumstances in which the words of Scripture were written. Milton S. Terry explains:

        “The interpreter should, therefore, endeavour to take himself from the present, and to transport himself into the historical position of his author, look through his eyes, note his surroundings, feel with his heart, and catch his emotion. Herein we note the import of the term grammatico-historical interpretation.” (Milton S. Terry, “Biblical Hermeneutics”, 1883, p. 231). In essence, the literal, grammatical, historical method of interpretation is designed to arrive at authorial intent by allowing the ideas plainly found within the text to speak for themselves.

        This same rationale also exists in the domain of legal interpretation. For the same reasons described above, when interpreting a contract, courts first of all observe the plain meaning of the contract language. Because courts understand that parties have a right to enter into contractual terms of their own choosing, courts understand that they are not in the business of rewriting contracts in a way that is contrary to the expressed wishes of the parties. Therefore, courts allow the authority in the interpretive process to reside in the contract language rather than in their own opinions regarding what the contract should or should not say (see Justice Flaherty, Quoted by E.Allan Farnsworth and William F. Young, “Cases and Materials on Contracts”, 5th ed., 1995, p. 603-4).

        The particular system of theology that I follow is Dispensationalism, which is a sub-branch of the literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic. This particular method of interpretation has as its starting point a consistent literal approach to scripture. This gives rise to a distinction between Israel and the Church, for example, unlike with many denominations (who incorrectly, in my view, assert that God has finished with the nation of Israel due to her rejection of Christ and that the church has therefore become “spiritual Israel”, inheriting her blessings). Dispensationalism does not have as its starting point the Israel/Church distinction that is then read back into the Bible. Rather it has as its starting point a consistent literal approach to Scripture. This approach causes the interpreter to recognize that Israel and the church are unique.

        Ryrie is clear that the system known as Dispensationalism did not originate from forcing a theological grid upon the biblical text (Charles C. Ryrie, “Dispensationalism: Revised and Expanded”, 1995, p. 40). Rather it arose when interpreters became committed to a consistent use of the literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic. For example, if the same literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic that is used to interpret other sections of Scripture is applied to Biblical prophecy, then the interpreter will naturally see a distinction between Israel and the church.

        I could say more on the above but will refrain as this comment is already rather long. Sorry! 🙂

      • 1. I’m also happy to leave discussion of the afterlife aside, though it’s worthwhile noting that there are accounts describing an afterlife outside of the Bible. These accounts don’t agree with the Bible in all respects. Moreover, there is disagreement even among Christians regarding what form the afterlife takes, what ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ look like.

        2a. I think there’s an interesting discrepancy between how you treat the contradictions found in the Book of Mormon and those found in the Bible. You note that the Bible draws together several literary strands from multiple authors writing at different times and in different situations. For this reason you encourage caution with interpretation, which is indeed advisable, and claim that apparent contradictions can easily be harmonised. What then makes the contradictions in the Book of Mormon fatal to its message? Couldn’t a member of the LDS similarly claim that the Book of Mormon needs to be interpreted carefully, and if interpreted “rightly” its contradictions simply evaporate? They could claim, for example, that if you perceive a contradiction in the Book of Mormon then you aren’t interpreting it “rightly.”

        2b. There’s also some tension between the claim that the Bible is “generally plain” in its meaning and the notion that it must be interpreted carefully, with the authors’ differing vocabularies, personalities, cultural backgrounds and social standings in mind. Whereas the former would suggest that the Bible can be read plainly without going awry, the latter suggests that a plain reading would too simplistic because there are multiple factors that bring to bear on the text. Although you seem to favour the “plain reading” approach, noting that the Bible seems to support this hermeneutic style, your own argument would suggest that a plain reading is not sufficient to accurately glean the text’s intended meaning. One would still need to take account of the various factors mentioned earlier (i.e., the vocabularies, personalities, genres of the author, etc), and those factors go far beyond what is plainly written.

        2c. You go on to refer to Bernard Ramm, defining literal interpretation as “the idea of assigning to every word the same meaning it would have in its normal usage, whether employed in speaking, writing, or thinking.” We can stress-test the plain reading of scriptural passages to examine whether Christians are consistent in interpreting sentences literally, according to their “normal usage” or not. Take the following sentence: “If you do X, on that day you shall surely die.” I’m sure you already know exactly where this sentence has been adapted from, but suppose that you didn’t. Suppose that you just read those words as you see them now. Based on the normal usage of those words, a literal interpretation of that sentence, what would you conclude? Bear in mind that, as you say, “literalism resists going beyond what is written.”

        2d. Interestingly, you seem to veer into a discussion of the factors that exist outside of the plain words themselves. For example, you quote Milton S. Terry in saying “The interpreter should, therefore, endeavour to take himself from the present, and to transport himself into the historical position of his author, look through his eyes, note his surroundings, feel with his heart, and catch his emotion.” (Is Terry channeling Schleiermacher here?) This task draws heavily on the imagination in that it requires one to imagine one’s self in the position of the author, and all that comes with that position. This goes far beyond a simple plain reading of the text and demands considerable effort on behalf of the reader. Ultimately I think such effort is necessary, but once again I note a tension between the plain reading you advocate on the one hand, and the intellectually laborious task you’ve set up on the other (see 2b). If you take plain reading to mean that one must consider the disposition, intentions, emotion and cultural background of the author, then that doesn’t seem very “plain” to me. Indeed, that is quite complicated as it requires some knowledge of the author and not just the words as they are written on the page.

        3. Your last comment about Ryrie is interesting because, to me, it reads as though he is saying that, if you interpret scripture his way, you will come to the same commitments he has. Is it really surprising that, if one reads the Bible as Ryrie does, one should come to the same conclusions as he does? This doesn’t seem to set Ryrie’s approach apart from any of the others, because anyone could make a similar claim: if you read the Bible as a Catholic would, then you would agree with the doctrines of the Catholic Church. The problem isn’t that Christians cannot read the Bible consistently (they can), it’s that they consistently read it very differently, and thus arrive at vastly disparate theological commitments. I’m not sure that a plain reading approach is likely to resolve these differences.

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        Point 1:
        Thank you for agreeing to lay a discussion on the afterlife aside. You are right, there are people out there who claim to have had NDE’s (Near Death Experiences), which they say gives them an insight into what lies beyond the physical realm. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, there is no consistency with what is reported. Some reports support the Bible, some do not. Without some sort of external standard, how are we to judge which reports may be true from those that are false? We clearly cannot.

        Then there is the issue of how we are to interpret Biblical passages referring to the afterlife to ensure that our expectations of it match reality. As per my last comment to you, I would argue that descriptions of heaven and hell in the Bible are to be taken at face value wherever possible, and I trust that I’ve already made a strong case that this fits the hermeneutic that the Bible most clearly approves of.

        I know we’re leaving this discussion aside but I did read an interesting book a few months ago about a man who claimed to have experienced hell for a short time while still living. As a biblical Christian who accepts a literal method of interpreting the scriptures wherever possible, I accepted his account of his experiences – over many others – as they closely matched a plain reading of scripture passages on the after-death state. The book is called, “23 Minutes in Hell” by Bill Wiese. For the record, I believe that other, non-biblical reports of heaven and hell are due to other sources such as psychological disturbance, deliberate deception and possible demonic activity. Again, I don’t expect you to agree with my mentioning of the latter, as the Bible is not your gold standard when investigating the truth of various matters. But it’s my honest viewpoint so I’ve included it for completeness.

        Point 2a:
        The Book of Mormon, as I’ve stated earlier, contradicts the Bible so at least one of these religions must be false. Both cannot be true.

        I would argue also that the contradictions found in the book of Mormon cannot be easily harmonised, unlike with the Bible, and would ask you to provide examples of where this is not so. From my reading into the alleged harmonisation of contradictions in Mormonism, I remain skeptical of this claim.

        I’m going over old ground on this thread here but there are other issues with Mormonism aside from the contradictions in the text (found here for example: http://www.bible.ca/mor-contradictions.htm). For example, archaeological science does not support the claims of the Book of Mormon. Many scholars and laymen have searched the known history of the Americas for evidence that The Book of Mormon is true, as has similarly been done with the Bible in the Middle East. While the Bible continues to prove itself to be accurate through archaeological findings, evidence for claims made in The Book of Mormon continues to be lacking.

        According to the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, D.C., USA, the following items (which, according to The Book of Mormon, existed in the Americas between 600 B.C. and 421 A.D.) have absolutely no evidence for existing in the America’s during the time in question:

        * Silk—Alma 4:6, Nephi 13:7, Alma 1:29
        * Horses—Enos 1:21, Alma 18:9, 3 Nephi 3: 1, Nephi 18:25
        * Steel—Jarom 1:8, 2 Nephi 5:15,16, 1 Nephi 4:9, 16:18
        * Iron—2 Nephi 5:15, 20:34, Jarom 1:8, Mosiah 11:8
        * Coins—Alma 11:5-19
        * Donkeys—1 Nephi 18:25, Mosiah 5:14, 12:5
        * Cattle, Cow, and Oxen—Enos 1:21; 3 Nephi 3:22, 6: 1 Nephi 18:25
        * Pigs—3 Nephi 7:8
        * Grain and Wheat—Mosiah 9:9; Helaman 11:17

        If The Book of Mormon is true, certainly some evidence for the items mentioned above should have been unearthed by modern-day archeologists. But where are the objects of steel, iron, and brass that are mentioned throughout The Book of Mormon? Has the Mormon church uncovered even one coin as mentioned in the book of Alma?

        Following on from the above, I would ask you to identify credible archaeological finds that confirm the Book of Mormon.

        Then we come to the Bible. Although it is not possible to verify every incident in the Bible, the discoveries of archaeology since the mid-1800s have demonstrated the reliability and plausibility of the Bible narrative.

        Here are some examples:

        * The discovery of the Ebla archive in northern Syria in the 1970s has shown the Biblical writings concerning the Patriarchs to be viable. Documents written on clay tablets from around 2300 B.C. demonstrate that personal and place names in the Patriarchal accounts are genuine. The name “Canaan” was in use in Ebla, a name critics once said was not used at that time and was used incorrectly in the early chapters of the Bible. The word tehom (“the deep”) in Genesis 1:2 was said to be a late word demonstrating the late writing of the creation story. “Tehom” was part of the vocabulary at Ebla, in use some 800 years before Moses. Ancient customs reflected in the stories of the Patriarchs have also been found in clay tablets from Nuzi and Mari.

        * The Hittites were once thought to be a Biblical legend, until their capital and records were discovered at Bogazkoy, Turkey.

        * Many thought the Biblical references to Solomon’s wealth were greatly exaggerated. Recovered records from the past show that wealth in antiquity was concentrated with the king and Solomon’s prosperity was entirely feasible.

        * It was once claimed there was no Assyrian king named Sargon as recorded in Isaiah 20:1, because this name was not known in any other record. Then, Sargon’s palace was discovered in Khorsabad, Iraq. The very event mentioned in Isaiah 20, his capture of Ashdod, was recorded on the palace walls. What is more, fragments of a stela memorializing the victory were found at Ashdod itself.

        * Another king who was in doubt was Belshazzar, king of Babylon, named in Daniel 5. The last king of Babylon was Nabonidus according to recorded history. Tablets were found showing that Belshazzar was Nabonidus’ son who served as coregent in Babylon. Thus, Belshazzar could offer to make Daniel “third highest ruler in the kingdom” (Dan. 5:16) for reading the handwriting on the wall, the highest available position. Here we see the “eye-witness” nature of the Biblical record, as is so often brought out by the discoveries of archaeology.

        Basically, Mormonism is like every other religion on the planet except for Bible-believing Christianity: performance based, an attempt by its adherents to earn their way to heaven. As Cary Schmidt’s handy eBook explains, there are just two religions in the world: DO and DONE. If you’re stuck on the former you are missing the central message of the Bible. We cannot earn our way to God. We must come to Him on His terms or not at all.

        God wants more than cold religion. He wants a relationship. Cary’s little booklet “Done” is what most religions don’t tell you about the Bible. If you want to know the true message of the Bible, then I would advise reading this book:

        http://www.caryschmidt.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/done.pdf

        Point 2b.
        Some clarification is needed here. The central message of the Bible, that of the redemption and salvation of mankind, has been made simple enough for a child to understand it. Thus a plain reading of the following New Testament passages, for example, will be sufficient to enable a person of very average intelligence to grasp what is meant and be saved: Ephesians 1:13, Romans 1:16, Acts 3:19, Romans 10:9-10, 13, the gospel of John. If the message of salvation was all a person was to glean from reading the Bible, that would be sufficient to secure them heaven and eternal life, which is surely what matters the most to anyone.

        I still say that the following approach by David Cooper should be adopted wherever possible:

        “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”

        One passage some Christians have had difficulty with (in adopting a literal interpretation to it) is the Song of Solomon. Firstly, I would argue that this book is not essential for God’s message of salvation but is rather “the icing on the cake” in a Christian’s spiritual life. While it can be interpreted literally, quite profitably, as God’s map of a successful courtship and marriage, some interpreters have also understood it to have elements that foreshadow the Church and her relationship with her king, Jesus. I am personally not convinced by the latter but find it an interesting possibility nonetheless. To me this sort of allegorisation still fits within the main themes of the Bible and has not departed from a reasonable analysis of the passage. Arguably it still fits within the framework of Cooper’s definition of the historical literal grammatical method.

        Point 2c:
        Here you mention a biblical passage (“If you do X, on that day you shall surely die”), presumably to underscore the inappropriateness of the literal approach in such a situation as this? The passage is from Genesis 2:17 and needs to be read in context to determine its meaning. In my previous discussions with you I didn’t mean to suggest that when following the historical literal grammatical hermeneutic one could take passages in isolation when interpreting them. That is not how anyone would normally interpret a work of literature: much more so the Bible, then, which I contend is God’s word. A face reading of this verse alone would give the following meaning: that on the day that X is performed, the person will physically die. However, Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and lived to tell about it. How can we reconcile God’s warning with their continued existence?

        Interpreters typically answer this question in one of two ways. First, many note that Adam and Eve did die, though not immediately. The Hebrew phrase translated “in the day” in Genesis 2:17 is sometimes used to mean “for certain” (e.g., Exodus 10:28; 1 Kings 2:37, 42). So, Adam and Eve “certainly” died; it’s just that their death took place much later (Genesis 5:5). This view is also supported by Genesis 3:22, in which God determines to bar man from the tree of life to prevent him from living forever. Adam and Eve lost eternal life, were expelled from the Garden of Eden, and eventually experienced physical death.

        The second way to view the warning of Genesis 2:17 is that “death” refers to spiritual death. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they experienced a separation from God, a loss of relationship due to their sin. Their first actions after sinning were to cover themselves up and hide from God (Genesis 3:7-8). This alienation from the Source of Life can be viewed as spiritual death.

        A third approach understands that both physical and spiritual death were with the result of original sin. The moment Adam and Eve sinned against God, their souls were separated from God, and their bodies began to die. Their spiritual deadness and susceptibility to physical death have been passed on to all humanity (Romans 5:12).

        In interpreting this passage via the above three approaches, it is important to realise that I have not departed from a plain reading of the passages in question. I haven’t “spiritualised” the text, or read hidden meanings into it that others would not readily be able to decipher.

        Point 2d.
        It may very well be that Terry is referencing the theologian Schleiermacher and, on reflection, I find myself a little uneasy with this. I myself have a tendency to be imaginative and creative, yet unless this tendency is tethered to a firm bedrock of facts, it can be frivolous and possibly misleading.

        To be honest I hadn’t heard of Schleiermacher before you mentioned him. I had to do some digging. Wikipedia says, interestingly enough, ‘”Understanding” for Schleiermacher is the art of experiencing the same process of thought that the author experienced. Therefore, the process of understanding is not only a historical process, learning about the context in which the author wrote, but also a psychological process, drawing upon the connection between interpreter and the author…’

        I think on reflection that I don’t agree with Terry’s comment here. How can we know the internal psychological state of a book’s author without indulging in idle speculation? Doesn’t pursuing this line of investigation leave a person open to setting himself up as an authority over the book’s interpretation and perhaps departing from its core messages? What are your thoughts here?

        Point 3:
        I must politely disagree with your assertion that “the problem isn’t that Christians cannot read the Bible consistently.” The problem with many denominations is that they adopt a historical grammatical literal hermeneutic to many non-prophetic passages, while spiritualising or allegorising prophetic ones. They are not consistent in their approach to Biblical passages at all. I’m over-simplifying here for brevity’s sake, but that is the general trend. In many Protestant and Catholic denominations today (with the exception of Bible-believing fundamentalist churches) the church is seen to have replaced the nation of Israel, becoming “spiritual Israel.” Likewise, the Kingdom of God is also seen as being fulfilled spiritually rather than literally (and physically, by Christ’s second coming on earth). This has lead to all sorts of injustices over the centuries including the persecution of Jewish people by many in the Christian church.

        I was going to post this answer up in 2 or more sections, as it’s rather long, but thought I may as well post it all up now. At least then you can follow the one train of thought. 🙂

      • Hi Naomi, apologies for the delay in my response. It’s been quite a busy week for me and tomorrow is set to be just as busy. I’ve written part of my response but will hold off posting it until it’s complete, which will most likely be by Saturday evening or Sunday.

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        No worries about the delay, like all of us you have a life outside this thread. I hope you get some time to relax over the next few days. 🙂

        It’s actually good for me too if we can take more time over our responses as I’ll be more busy offline from next week onwards. While I’ll still be responding to the thread, it will most likely be that I take a few days to reply to responses. I know this slows the dynamic of the conversation but unfortunately I have other duties pressing on my time. I also don’t want to rush responses as I feel this defeats the purpose of having a thoughtful discussion.

        I hope this suits you too.

        Naomi

      • Hi Naomi, thank-you for understanding. Yes, this suits me well also. I understand in particular the pull of other duties, and how blogs and forums can sometimes distract from other more demanding commitments. Incidentally, this is why I tend to limit my online discussions to only the most thoughtful ones I can hope for, which is why I’ve enjoyed this thread in particular. I’ll return with my response to your comment in coming days. Have a good weekend!

      • Hi Naomi, apologies for the long delay. I’ve been busier than usual, which has kept me away for a while. I hope to resume where we left off.

        I appreciate the point-by-point structure, so I’ll try to stick to it from now on. The task of responding to comments is usually so much easier on forums where quote tags can easily be used, but this doesn’t appear to be a feature available on WordPress sadly.

        1. You express skepticism regarding the Book of Mormon because the archaeological evidence for many of its claims is either scarce or contrary to what would be expected if the claims were true. This is not unreasonable, particularly if one reads the text literally. You then make mention of archaeological evidence supporting the claims of the Bible. Consistency is highly relevant here. Read literally, the Bible makes certain claims that should be amenable to investigation because they lead us to expect a particular pattern of data, whether in geology, biology or archaeology. We can therefore examine the data to test whether these claims, interpreted literally, have any merit to them. As an example, in Genesis we learn of an apocalyptic worldwide flood that is said to have ravaged animal and plant life. We also learn that the only survivors of this apocalypse comprised a handful of human beings and two of every animal kind. If this story is taken literally, one would expect an event of this scale to leave traces detectable in (1) the geology of the planet, and (2) in the genomes of the surviving animals and humans. One might also expect to find corroborating archaeological evidence of pre-Flood civilisation and post-Flood civilisation. Without going into detail, data examined in those fields of study doesn’t match what we would expect to find if such a flood occurred as literally described in Genesis; so it appears that, on at least this matter, a literal interpretation of the text is flawed at best, outright false at worst.

        Biblical apologists often attempt to rescue the case by making ad hoc rationalisations for why we don’t find what we would expect to find if the story unfolded as it is literally described. But there are also a number of ad hoc rationalisations a Mormon apologist could produce to explain the conspicuous scarcity of archaeological evidence for the Book’s claims. (Some interesting rationalisations are to be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeology_and_the_Book_of_Mormon).

        To many, these rationalisations are sufficient to account for the anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, but I suspect you are not convinced by them. Neither am I. And this is where we come to consistency. There is archaeological evidence supporting some of the places, figures, and events recorded in the Bible (you reviewed some of these in your previous comment). But there is also a conspicuous paucity of evidence for others (e.g., Noah’s Flood). In lieu of such evidence we have a string of ad hoc rationalisations for why supporting evidence is missing, just as we find with the Book of Mormon. The difference, however, is in how the two books are treated: in one, the faults are considered fatal to the prophetic message, whereas in the other, the faults are either denied or explained away. This would not happen if there weren’t an overriding theological commitment to one book over the other.

        2. Regarding your explanation for Genesis 2:17, I think you have indeed departed from a literal interpretation of what those words mean. Recall that, according to you, “literalism resists going beyond what is written.” The passage in question, even read in its proper context, does not say that ‘to die’ means some sort of spiritual separation from the divine. That’s not a “normal usage” of the terms in question at all. Similarly, the normal usage of “on this day” is not typically taken to mean on *another* day, or several years hence. If we go by Ramm’s definition of literal interpretation, according to which we should assign “to every word the same meaning it would have in its normal usage, whether employed in speaking, writing, or thinking,” we never end up with the conclusion that such a statement must literally mean some sort of spiritual decay. To say that it does is to go beyond what is literally written, and to assign to those words special meanings not found in their “normal usage” in speech or writing.

        In my view, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with interpreting ‘death’ to mean the downfall of sin and the spiritual disconnection between God and man; however, I don’t consider this to be a literal interpretation at all, because this is not what is specifically written. My point then is not to argue on whether your interpretation of the passage is correct or not, but to emphasise that strict literalism can lead to some bizarre conclusions (e.g., that God lied to Adam and Eve about them dying the day they ate the forbidden fruit). We therefore have to either abandon a strict literal interpretation in favour of a more nuanced reading, or remain consistent in our literalism, which will inevitably pose problems.

        You offer another interpretation worth considering: that the Hebrew phrase “in the day” actually means “for certain.” Rather than detracting from my point, this reinforces it; because in order to interpret the passage in this way you needed to go beyond a plain reading of the words on the page and consider what such a phrase might have meant in the original Hebrew. As I said earlier, this doesn’t seem very “plain” to me; it’s quite a bit more complicated than that.

        Incidentally, if one interprets “on this day” to mean “for certain,” then the passage reads awkwardly because there is already a “for certain” in it: “you are not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because you will certainly die during the day that you eat from it.” The reference to certainly dying is redundant because, on this interpretation, “on this day” already conveys the same meaning. This relates to a point I alluded to earlier: the meaning of a text can be subtly distorted when it is translated across multiple languages. The nuances of semantics are not so readily appreciated by a plain reading of the text, which assumes that each word means exactly what it does in its “normal usage.”

        3. Terry’s view does seem to be a very close fit to Schleiermacher’s. I first studied Schleiermacher’s work a few years ago, so I’m a bit rusty. Schleiermacher proposed that understanding a text requires more than merely understanding the language it is written in; one must also understand the origins of the author who wrote it. To glean meaning from a text the interpreter must capture some semblance of the author’s state of mind – to see from the author’s point of view. Schleiermacher acknowledges that it is probably impossible to do this perfectly; we can only ever approximate the author’s state of mind, and therefore the “correct” interpretation. There are some interesting objections to his thesis, but they aren’t at my fingertips at the moment (I wrote an essay on this long ago, and now I can’t find it). My impression is that hermeneutics has moved in a different direction, dethroning the author from the privileged position assigned to him/her by Schleiermacher. I could be wrong about that though, as I’ve lost touch with the literature on this topic.

        4. In saying that Christians can and do read the Bible consistently what I meant was that they read the Bible in a manner that is consistent with the particular interpretive tradition they most closely adhere to. Thus what appears inconsistent in your tradition is not necessarily inconsistent in someone else’s. From their perspective, it’s your reading that is inconsistent, not theirs. The problem that arises then is how to resolve differences between these incompatible interpretive traditions given that they produce disparate theological results. I’m not convinced that literalism is the panacea to the array of difficulties that this causes. Literalism may actually be part of the aetiology of these difficulties in the first place.

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        No worries at all regarding taking time to reply. It’s hard when life intervenes and competing priorities surface. I understand that online interactions take second place to ‘reality.’ 🙂

        I wanted to respond to your well thought out comment tonight, just briefly, so you weren’t kept waiting. It will take me several days to address each point you raised in detail, however, so I hope you don’t mind a bit of a delay on my front as well.

        I did want to publish your latest response to me tonight, however, so people can see that you did indeed come back to this thread as you said you would. I felt that demonstrating that you stood by your word was important.

        Naomi

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        1. The book of Genesis does refer to an apocalyptic world-wide flood and I believe that there is evidence for such a flood in the geologic record. It may help here to pose the question, “What evidence would one expect from a global watery cataclysm that drowned the animals, birds and people not on the Ark?” All around the world, in rock layer after rock layer, we find billions of dead things that have been buried in water-carried mud and sand. Their state of preservation frequently tells of rapid burial and fossilization, just like one would expect in such a flood. Many fossils, such as fossilized jellyfish, show by the details of their soft, fleshy portions that they were buried rapidly, before they could decay. The presence of fossilized remains of many other animals, buried in mass graves and lying in twisted and contorted positions, suggests violent and rapid burial over large areas. These observations, together with the occurrence of compressed fossils and fossils that cut across two or more layers of sedimentary rock, are strong evidence that the sediments encasing these fossils were deposited rapidly – not over hundreds of millions of years. The worldwide fossil record is, therefore, evidence of rapid death and burial of animal and plant life by a worldwide, catastrophic flood. The fossil record is not evidence of slow change.

        Then we come to the earth’s sedimentary layers. There is abundant evidence that many of the rock strata were laid down quickly, one after the other, without significant time breaks between them. Preservation of animal tracks, ripple marks and even raindrop marks, testifies to rapid covering of these features to enable their preservation. Polystrate fossils (ones which traverse many strata) speak of very quick deposition of the strata. The scarcity of erosion, soil formation, animal burrows and roots between layers also shows they must have been deposited in quick succession. The radical deformation of thick layers of sediment without evident of cracking or melting (such as at Eastern Beach, Auckland, New Zealand) also shows how all the layers must have been still soft when they were bent. Dykes (walls) and pipes (cylinders) of sandstone which connect with the same material many layers beneath show that the layers beneath must have been still soft, and contained much water. That the sandstone could be squeezed up through cracks above to form the ‘elastic’ dykes and pipes, again shows rapid deposition of many strata. Furthermore, the earth’s sedimentary layers are typically parallel to adjacent layers. Such uniform layers are seen, for example, in the Grand Canyon and in road cuts in mountainous terrain. Had these parallel layers been deposited slowly over thousands of years, erosion would have cut many channels in the topmost layers. Their later burial by other sediments would produce nonparallel patterns. Because parallel patterns are the general rule, and the earth’s surface erodes rapidly, one can conclude that almost all sedimentary layers were deposited rapidly relative to the local erosion rate – not over long periods of time.

        The limited geographic extent of unconformities (clear breaks in the sequence of deposition with different tilting of layers, etc.) is also consistent with the reality of the global Flood. And there are many other evidences for the Flood.

        The problem is not the evidence but the mind-set of those looking at the evidence. One geologist testified how he never saw any evidence for the Flood – until, as a Christian, he was convinced from the Bible that the Flood must have been a global cataclysm. Now he sees the evidence everywhere.

        2. Re. Genesis 2:17: the construction “dying you shall die” and beyom in Genesis 2:17 do not require us to conclude that God was warning that “the very day you eat from the tree is the exact same day that you will die physically.” The Hebrew wording of Genesis 2:17 allows for a time lapse between the instantaneous spiritual death on that sad day of disobedience and the later physical death (which certainly did happen, just as God said, but for Adam it was 930 years later). As Scripture consistently teaches, both kinds of death (spiritual and physical) are the consequence of Adam’s rebellion.

        The phrase “you shall surely die” can be literally translated from the Hebrew Biblical text as “dying you shall die.” In the Hebrew phrase we find the imperfect form of the Hebrew verb (you shall die) with the infinitive absolute form of the same verb (dying). This presence of the infinitive absolute intensifies the meaning of the imperfect verb (hence the usual translation of “you shall surely die”). This grammatical construction is quite common in the Old Testament, not just with this verb but others also, and does indicate (or intensify) the certainty of the action. The scholarly reference work by Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Conner, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), gives many Biblical examples of this, and they say that “the precise nuance of intensification [of the verbal meaning] must be discovered from the broader context”…

        More can be read on this here: https://answersingenesis.org/death-before-sin/genesis-2-17-you-shall-surely-die/

        3. If you do manage to dig up that essay on Schleiermacher, kindly let me know. I’d be very interested to read it.

        4. I hope by what I’ve written in the points above to have shown that it is not necessary to abandon a consistent literal interpretation to the Bible. I look forward to your response but wanted to reassure you that you can take your time, as I have.

        Naomi

      • Hi Naomi,

        1. I’m in no position to make authoritative comments regarding the claims you make in point 1, given that I do not have formal training in either palaeontology or geology. That said, I believe my knowledge is nonetheless sufficient to point out that the sources of evidence you are claiming for Noah’s Flood do not, in fact, support what you are claiming they do. The fossil record is not neatly divided into pre-Flood and post-Flood eras. Had the Flood occurred, and all surviving animals dispersed from a single point post-Flood, we would expect to find a particular geographic distribution of post-Flood fossils, particularly with regard to species that traversed massive distances to reach their present “native” locations. Yet this is not what we observe. Moreover, contrary to your claim, the fossil record does indeed show signs of slow change, with different rock layers being deposited at different points in time, and with different fossils found in these layers. The claim that these layers were all deposited quickly during an exceptionally tumultuous period in Earth’s history (i.e., the Flood), rather than being laid down over millions of years, is an example of the kind of ad hoc rationalisation I was referring to earlier.

        The larger point I was making in referring to the Flood was that a literal interpretation of the Bible often places it in conflict with science. The Flood is only one example of this, but perhaps the most striking one because the claims, if they are taken literally, are so outlandish. Another example is the 6-day chronology given in Genesis 1, which places the creation of the earth and plants ahead of the creation of the sun and stars. There are some very old plants, but none as old as the oldest stars.

        In arguing point 1, it troubles me that you have copied-and-pasted text from another source without giving credit to that source. In fact, it appears that the text comprising point 1 is an amalgam from multiple sources, including the Center for Scientific Creation, creation.com, and various message boards. This is disappointing, to say the least, and I’m not quite sure how I should respond. Though I have tried to address these comments, I do not feel obliged to as they are not your comments; the text comes from someone who isn’t even a participant in this conversation.

        2. To support this interpretation you had to go beyond a plain reading of the text and contextualise the phrase in Hebrew, going so far as to reference a book on Biblical Hebrew syntax. What more evidence is needed to show that plain reading is inadequate? None of the steps you took would have been necessary if a plain reading were sufficient to glean the meaning of the text.

        This all goes back to what is meant by “plain reading”. What you have done in interpreting Genesis 2:17 is far from “plain” in my view. It’s considerably labour-intensive on the reader’s behalf, which isn’t a bad thing per se; it’s just not “plain”. I have tremendous respect for people who thoughtfully interpret the Bible, but I would never presume to claim that theirs is a “plain” reading that others could just as easily accomplish without even considering things like Hebrew syntax.

      • Hi Kaleidocyte,

        I am not an authority either on paleontology or geology, and I’ve never claimed to be. Nor am I an academic. I’ve also had personal issues lately which have greatly restricted my time in blogging, as I’ve already communicated to you. I attempted to get an answer out to you tonight without my usual discipline of referencing all of my sources. This was careless of me and I apologise. It was not done with malicious intent, however, I’ve been under quite some pressure offline.

        For your information, some of the arguments I have referenced tonight have been taken from “The Creation Answers Book” by Don Batten, David Catchpoole, Jonathan Sarfarti and Carl Weiland (pages 159-160). The other book I have referenced is “In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood” by Walt Brown, PhD (page 11).

        Given your latest response I don’t see any point in continuing this discussion with you. You’re clearly very familiar with the arguments I am presenting and have rejected them on prior occasions, so it seems disengenuous of you to claim that engaging with an ordinary apologist such as myself is beneficial. I also find it disappointing that you are not prepared to refute the arguments I have given tonight (concerning the geologic record) using sources of your own: as a psychologist and man of science, surely you’re up to the challenge?

        I genuinely hope you find future conversations with believers more edifying and I wish you all the best.

        Naomi

      • Hi Edi,

        Though your comment appears just after my latest response to Kaleidocyte, I can tell from the time you posted it that you are responding to my last comment to you. Just wanted to clarify that before I continue.

        As concerns your last comment to me, if a fellow Christian told you the following, after you’d spent nearly 20 months building up a faithful and positive online ministry (with clear evidence of this), what would be your reaction?
        “…the ministry of the saints is not biblically found in an environment of impersonal irresponsibility such as the internet.”

        Though you may have had helpful intentions, the above is a black and white statement that has this negative outcome: it paints people who minister to others online – such as myself – as unbiblical and, by definition, unchristian.

        I took exception to this, as the statement is clearly untrue, and told you this. Your comment was a major factor causing me to consider closing the thread, as I felt that a fellow Christian was attempting to shame me into silence. I realise that this may not have been your intention, but that was nonetheless the effect of what was said upon me.

        You would have noticed that I’ve since decided to re-open the thread as I don’t believe, on reflection, that the conversation is unbiblical or unedifying (either for myself, for Kaleidocyte, or for other readers who have happened across it, as you can see if you read the comments trail). If you disagree, you are of course free to leave, you do not have to participate.

        I’m sure that this is just a misunderstanding and that you don’t actually believe that online ministry is so dubious. Otherwise, why would you have followed my blog in the first place and why would you continue to respond on this thread?

        Regardless of your viewpoint, or what you decide to do concerning this thread, I wish you all the best as a fellow Christian.

  10. Hi Kaleidocyte,

    I have read your latest comment but the time needed for me to respond to it thoroughly is more than I have at present.

    I’ll be away from my computer over the next week, just so you know.
    I hope to resume the conversation again next weekend. I’ll publish your comment then, with my response.

    Sorry for the delay, but in a way it works out well because I think this topic is too important to be rushed.

    Proving the second part of Jesus’ resurrection (the appearances He allegedly made to people after His death), however, requires much reading and contemplation. I should get a chance to do so this week.

    Naomi

  11. Naomi there is a Biblical point at which the dust needs to be shaken from your shoes, I truly believe that Kaleidocyte is well beyond this point.

    You can not be even beginning to discuss the resurrection of Christ when the most basic reality of God is not conceived by this individual. Do not answer a fool after his folly, and our Lord warned about the casting of Pearls before swine.

    Why should we pass the glorious truths of Christ, his death and resurrection, to one who considers his origin from pond scum and his sin as justified? This is an argumentative individual who is filled with self conceit and has not the presence of mind to recognise the illogical state of argument, a fool in the perfect sense.

    Please Naomi, take great care in the effort taken with blogs, as a brother in Christ (and from good experience) the ministry of the saints in not biblically found in an environment of impersonal irresponsibility such as the internet.

    With love and joy in the Saviour.

    • Hi Edi,

      Thanks for your comment. While Kaleidocyte’s postion on God may not have changed during our debate, this thread has been valuable for other Christians (and non Christians) who have happened across it. I don’t subscribe to the view that “blind faith” is all anyone needs to be a Christian. While I’m not portraying simple faith in Christ as invalid, I believe a convincing rational case can be made for Him before one decides to test this claim experientially.

      I’ve now reached the point where I’ve covered the rational case for Christ adequately in my view, so I’ll stop. This thread will stand as testament to the fact that there is a compelling case for believing in Him, for Christians and non-Christians alike who may happen across it.

      I do take on board your comment about not casting “pearls before swine” and shaking the dust from one’s feet when dealing with someone who seems impervious to the gospel (as Kaleidocyte does). As I said, I wanted to finish making my case for the benefit of others before wrapping this up.

      BTW, I do have to disagree with your view that “the ministry of the saints is not biblically found in an environment of personal irresponsiblity such as the internet.” This is painting the internet as “all bad”, which I don’t think is true at all. Actually, the Bible says nothing about the internet. I’ve met many wonderful Christians online who have been a great source of joy and encouragement. The internet has great potential for witnessing and communicating Christ’s message of salvation, as well as the day-to-day experiences of people actually living out their Christian faith (which can be a powerful testimony to non-believers). I’ve seen people drawn to Christ’s message through simply witnessing an online gospel tract to them and engaging with them on their blogs.

      The internet is a tool which can be used for good or ill in building relationships with people. Christians hope to use it (and many do) to lead people to Christ. Yes, you do have to be careful but this is my blog and I have a comments policy excluding people who are obvious trolls or whose only interest is in being argumentative. I’ve refused to engage other atheists in the past due to this. While we’re worlds apart obviously in our world view, Kaleidocyte was always fair and rational to deal with, without resorting to name calling or obvious fallacy, so I was happy to engage him for as long as it took to make the case for Christ.

      Now that I’ve done so adequately, in my view, we’re done on this thread.

      God bless.

  12. I have to admit Naomi that your comments to me and everything you said to K, while alluding to me, had taken me quite by surprise and was quite upsetting. I am not sure how you came to so many conclusions and am left startled that what began as a simple defence toward you was taken so wrong as it was not intended in any way to offend you.

    I do not believe Blogs to be Evil, I stated in that same post that I had a great deal of experience with them but I have learnt much since, something I had hoped I may impart to you as you seem to be falling into the same trap I did.

    Your posts since then had inadvertantly proven a point I had made in the negative, that blogs are impersonal. After I had caused offence to you a telephone call may have avoided the remarks that contrast the Lords promise of Loving witness between Christians to unbelievers, your discussions with K seemed to show more patience and love. The problems associated with Blogs are often the knee jerk manner with which we respond and often reflect whatever our emotional state is at the time, a personal one on one conversation avoids all that, which is why that is what our Lord refers to in scripture.

    That blogs are “irresponsible” I do also believe to be self evident. Should people desire to be held accountable they would use their full names and not pseudonyms. This is what I meant by it, but perhaps ‘irresponsible’ is too hard a word; I was not referring to you personally, only that it is too easy for people to say what they like without accountability, this is harmful, as is seen in many ways, even with tragic consequances.

    Blogs can however be a great opportunity to share the Gospel, but Naomi they are not a ministry, those that believe this to be the case continue to be averse to the true ministry the Lord has ordained within the Church. This is the organism God has ordained. This is the format where true ministry stems, the negation of which continue to leave the Church without its mandate and without strength. We need you at Church, so many could be blessed by you that need to grow in the Lord so the Gospel can be shared by all that will grow.

    Your gifts Naomi are needed for the edifying of the saints. Blogs are great for the Gospel and debate and exhortation and many things, but they can also be a misuse of our time if we sacrifice that which our Lord has ordained. The Church is where disciples are made so the Gospel can be effectively propagated, why is this the first place that needs to suffer? Why is it so easy for us to ‘forsake the assembling of the saints’? (I speak of myself also and how easy it is to avoid going to Church under a variety of circumstances)

    This was what I had hoped to warn you of; my family and my ministry was hindered by the many, many hours I spent replying to blogs. But when my focus turned back to the God ordained ministry within the Church, everything changed. I still use Facebook, I will still reply to Blogs occasionally, but I know where the ministry is and all else takes its proper place.

    I am so sorry I upset you, I had thought you knew me well enough to know I could never do so intentionally. I pray you might consider more deeply these things.

    Edi

    • Hi Edi,

      Thank you for writing your last comment to me in such an honest and caring way, and clarifying some issues for me, particularly regarding blogging versus the ministry of the church. I read an interesting article about this here:

      http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/april/is-online-church-really-church.html?paging=off

      After reflecting for a while, I agree with much of what you said and will think about it more. I do take your warning that blogs can become a huge time sink if we are not careful, impacting family life and faith negatively. That is a trap to be guarded against. Thank you for drawing my attention to this.

      Unfortunately, however, personal circumstances make it difficult for me to join more fully in church activities (aside from attending church). It’s not appropriate for me to discuss what these circumstances are online, but they exist so I’ve mentioned them.

      Then there are my gifts, which I believe to be writing and exhortation. These make online blogging an ideal way of helping the church for me. It is interesting that the only time my blogging has become a potential negative has been with this thread. Other articles I posted up over the last 20 months (sermons, etc) have been less contentious, and presumably of far less interest to non-believers. So perhaps the answer is for me to leave the contentious topics to others when blogging and go back to posting up sermons. 🙂

      I think at this point that it’s best if we take our discussion offline (or “leave it there”, as you suggested earlier), as it’s not directly related to this thread.

      One final thing I wanted to say, however, was in response to your comment, “I had thought you knew me well enough to know I could never do so intentionally.” I do see you at church and we have talked to each other on a few occasions in passing. However, I would not say, and I mean this in the kindest and truest way possible, that I know you. We know of each other as general believers, but we don’t really know each other on a deep level as people. That lead to me viewing your most recent comments to me on this thread in a negative light as I wasn’t sure where you were coming from. Now that I know better, thanks to your helpful and thoughtful comment, I can update my mental map accordingly.

      I’m very sorry for my part in the misunderstanding that grew up between us. In future I will try to contact a fellow believer personally, one-on-one, if an “offense” has occurred, to clarify the situation first before responding.

      Naomi

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