Book Plunge: A New Dawn For Christianity

What do I think of Barry Blood and Rev. Michael MacMillan’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend of mine gifted me this book thinking I’d enjoy it. I did last night finish the main story part which I take it to be the contribution by Barry Blood. I have started the application by Macmillan, but I wanted to at least start with the main part now. There are many arguments in there, but most of them are sadly quite outdated.

The story involves two college students named Greg and Lea. Greg is a Christian, though I would say a nominal one, and Lea is a foreigner who is not familiar with Christianity. He takes her home for the holidays to meet his parents and that includes going to church. She asks him questions about Christianity to which he says he’s not a preacher and she says “Sure, but you ought to know to explain it enough to someone.”

Give credit where credit is due. Lea is right here. If someone wants to tell someone about Jesus, they ought to know enough to explain it.

Unfortunately, Greg doesn’t know enough so it’s recommended they go to Professor Tracy at the college. Tracy is glad to teach them about Christianity provided they get other students involved, which they do. Note that Tracy wants to also teach them “factual” information about Christianity.

Tracy teaches the group the difference between popular and academic Christianity. Popular is what is usually heard in churches. Academic is what is taught in colleges and seminaries. However, as we see what Tracy thinks is academic, it will be a wonder how he ever got his job at all with all the misinformation he has.

Tracy has a statement that some people think the age of the Earth can be proved with the Bible, but scientific knowledge has disproven that just as it has disproven that the Earth is flat. I don’t wish to enter into the age of the Earth debate, but I would like to challenge Tracy fo find the educated person in the Middle Ages who believed the Earth was flat. They knew it was a sphere since Aristotle. Anyone who taught otherwise would be the exception and not the rule.

Tracy also talks about the origins of religion. Of course, there will be no mention of the work of people like Andrew Lang or Wilhelm Schmidt. At one point even, Freud’s Future of an Illusion is relied on.

He also says there are stories of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of ancestors to acquire their special skills and knowledge. No source is given for this kind of claim and I suspect it’s from Freud. This is also supposed to be tied into the Eucharist, despite the Eucharist being rooted in a specific Jewish rite known as Passover and Jews condemning cannibalism, but hey, details. Who needs them?

From here, Tracy tells the students that the God of Christianity is just as much a human construct of the imagination as other gods are. Naturally, Tracy does spend time looking at the philosophical arguments for the existence of God and….oh wait. Of course, he doesn’t. Readers wanting to hear about the five ways of Aquinas, the argument from morality, from beauty, the ontological argument, the argument from conscience, Near-Death experiences, the resurrection of Jesus, properly basic theology, intelligent design, etc. will be disappointed. I am not saying I endorse all of these arguments. I don’t. I am saying they should be taken seriously as scholarly arguments.

Tracy also says Christian scholars have known these are constructs for years. Of course, he ignores many leading philosopher scholars who specialize in arguments for the existence of God, such as Feser, Kreeft, Moreland, and others. No no no. Christian scholarship is best represented by Bishop John Shelby Spong, who I don’t have any reason to think is a scholar anyway. The character of Professor Tracy is just redefining Christianity to mean what he thinks it means and then it sounds like there are Christians agreeing with him.

The students go off to investigate in books, but apparently never learned the lesson of reading both sides of an argument and they insist the books are by Christian scholars and not just atheists. Unfortunately, Greg exemplifies many Christians when he says that he was always taught to not question the existence of God or the Bible and that such is a sin. This is indeed an attitude we need to eliminate from modern Christianity.

Sadly, if Greg is unquestioning of one paradigm, Tracy and the others are unquestioning of the other. Apparently, you are not to question Karen Armstrong, Grant Allen, and others.

Greg goes back to talk to his pastor about what he has learned to see what is true. His pastor says it is all true, as will a second pastor he talks to in the book. Apparently, Blood and Macmillan live in a world where pastors really know the truth but aren’t telling it to their flocks. What we have is just a conspiracy theory for atheists.

As we go on we find interaction with Marcus Borg, Jack Good, and Paul Tillich. Naturally in New Testament, you will find zero interaction with N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, Ben Witherington III, Craig Evans, Mike Licona, Darrell Bock, Daniel Wallace, or a number of others. Sadly, these students are as unskilled at research as is Professor Tracy.

Tracy also talks about the savior motif, which is the idea that Jesus is a copycat of other religions. Let’s start with Hesus of the druids. Oh wait. That doesn’t work well. What about Mithras? Well, Mithras was born from a rock wearing a cap and carrying a knife and slew a great bull and threw it to the Earth and there’s no record of a resurrection of Mithras let alone him dying. You won’t see any interaction with someone like David Ulansey here. Others like Thulis of Egypt and Indra of Tibet are mentioned. Good luck finding any real scholars who agree with these claims.

The writers Tracy recommends here are Thomas William Doane and Kersey Graves. This would be enough to make Tracy a laughingstock in modern scholarship. Even Richard Carrier, who is certainly no friend to Christianity, says that one should not use Kersey Graves. Tracy also thinks the best comparisons are with Krishna. Perhaps Tracy should do what Mike Licona did and interview a scholar like Edwin Bryant on it.

Naturally, Tracy will talk about Bible contradictions, but why waste time? He tells his students to just go and Google, which of course is the best way to gain historical information. He also says this is hardly what one would expect if the Bible were the literal Word of God! Of course, there’s no explanation of what literal means here and no defense of the idea that the Bible is supposed to be the only book in existence that apparently is meant to be always read in a wooden literal sense.

He also tells us that inerrancy is a new doctrine from Charles Hodge. Not at all. This has always been the position of the church that the Bible is without error. All Tracy would need to do is read a book on the history of inerrancy. I’m not saying inerrancy is true. It’s not a hill I’m willing to die on. I am saying Tracy just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

He also says he would have to defer to Spong who in debating a preacher about the inerrancy of the Bible asked the preacher, “Have you read it?” Well, if Mr. Spong wants to ask me, yes. Yes, I have. I have read it several times.

When Tracy talks about answered prayer, he says that in every case the answer is ambiguous. It could have occurred in more than one way and every time somehow, God fixed it. Seriously though? Every single case? Tracy is simply an amazing man. Apparently, he has gone all over the world and all of time and seen every single claim of an answered prayer. What a marvel this man is!

He also tells us that answered prayers are always coincidences. Keep in mind that this is his claim. It would be fascinating to see him back it. Tracy would have to have knowledge of every prayer said and what happened as a result. Now I have no problem saying coincidence happens sometimes and people do treat prayer in a way such as parking lot prayers. (I prayed for a close spot and it was there the 7th time I drove around the lot!)

He also tells us that there has never been in the history of the world a miracle healing of a case of cancer. Never? Really? This is quite a strong claim. How does Tracy know this? One would hope that there would be interaction with Craig Keener on miracles, but alas, there isn’t. It would be horrible to have both sides interacted with.

Tracy goes back to the New Testament saying Paul made a massive leap in referring to Jesus as the Passover lamb and this has been called the centerpiece of the Christian faith? The centerpiece? Seriously? By who? The centerpiece has been the resurrection of Jesus.

As for a massive leap, well let’s see. It’s generally agreed that Jesus was crucified and He was crucified around the time of Passover. Could it be that this was known historically? Could it be Paul saw the connection there and that it was part of the Jesus tradition that is passed on in 1 Cor. 11?

Tracy also tells us that in all thirteen books attributed to Paul, there is nothing about the teachings of Jesus, unless you ignore passages like 1 Cor. 7 and 11 or 1 Tim. 5. As for other teachings, there wasn’t any need to really. This would be part of the background knowledge in a high context society. Paul is writing incidental letters to answer questions people have about the teaching of Christianity at the time.

Tracy also says the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible and the idea didn’t even show up until the 4th century. Well then, congratulations to Tertullian for mastering time travel and speaking about the Trinity in the third century! What a marvel that was to have accomplished that!

Tracy talks about his own realization of this and how he found out that the word Trinity isn’t in the Bible. Wow. What a shock. One reference he gives is the Catholic Encyclopedia. He’s free to read the account from the Catholic Encyclopedia online all he wants to.

He could have also bothered to interact with the Early High Christology Club which includes scholars like Michael Bird, Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, Chris Tilling, and others. Edmund Fortman is quoted with his book Our Triune God, but no page number is given and it is doubtful the authors of this book have ever truly read Fortman.

When someone asks about who decided this stuff, Tracy reminds her that this was the worldview of a people who believed the Earth was flat. First off, they didn’t believe that. Second, let’s suppose that they did. If the only way that they could have known this was through modern scientific knowledge, so what? That means they didn’t know anything about anything because they didn’t know something only a modern person could hypothetically know?

Tracy says there was no substantiation of the doctrine whatsoever. It’s amusing to hear him talk about DNA tests. One wonders what DNA tests one would do to verify the Trinity. Tune in tomorrow when Professor Tracy uses DNA tests to discover the mass of Pluto!

One of the students upon hearing all of this says “Poof, poof, there goes another doctrine out the window!” Yes! Let’s not dare go out and question the professor and research the other side. Mr. Bright here has enough information after one lecture to decide that an entire worldview is wrong and people embracing it have no reason whatsoever.

Fortunately, as one of the students says, the teachings of Jesus remain in place. Why yes. A Jesus who goes out and teaches love and compassion and giving to the poor is certainly prime to be crucified. Those people were such scandals that Rome was greatly threatened by them. If this was the Jesus that existed, He would never be crucified. We would never know anything about Him.

This also assumes that this was all of the teaching of Jesus. Jesus was a revolutionary teaching the Kingdom of God and most of it centered around His own identity. You won’t find talk about the Kingdom from Tracy.

You will find talk about the Second Coming. Here, Tracy appears to think that only modern dispensationalism truly embraces the second coming of Jesus. Apparently, it has not been taught in reputable seminaries for decades. This is a nice escape hatch for Tracy. What is a reputable seminary? One that agrees with him and lo and behold, all seminaries and universities that teach what he teaches are reputable! Those that disagree are not.

He also talks about the afterlife and says that Freud put it best in saying that the afterlife can be dismissed because it’s wish fulfillment. For some, it could be. Atheism could also be wish fulfillment because some people want to avoid the judgment of God. Wish fulfillment could be used to avoid anything. A husband should perhaps despair on Valentine’s Day or his anniversary because he had this idea that he would be getting lucky with his wife, but hey, that’s a wish so such thinking is absurd.

Tracy also says there is no evidence of an afterlife. There is no interaction with arguments from Near-Death experiences and nowhere in the book do you see a look at arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. It’s easy to say there’s no evidence. It’s quite another to demonstrate it.

Tracy also says that there is no purpose to life at all. We each determine our own purpose. Tracy would not want to follow this out. Suppose one of the students was angry about this and decided his purpose in life from then on was to murder professors who taught such claims. This is his purpose. Tracy cannot say it is right or wrong.

Tracy also says we can live a life that will benefit others or in self-indulgence. Well, why shouldn’t I choose the latter? Maybe I want to stay home and play video games all day and not educate myself at all. Why not? The universe neither knows nor cares. I should give to others? Why? It is for their good? So what?

Tracy also says historically religions have been used as a means of control and most of it centered around fear. This would be a way of ignoring the spread of early Christianity. No one would be scared of the message of judgment unless they had reason to believe the threat had meaning. If you come up to me with what is clearly a water pistol and threaten to shoot me if I don’t give you all of my money, don’t expect to get a cent. The threat has no meaning.

Tracy looks at the Gospel of Mark also saying scholars have no idea who wrote it. This is false. I personally did research on this at Emory University getting all the commentaries from the last fifty years on Mark. The majority position is the work can be traced back to Mark. The date generally is around 70 A.D., though I would place it earlier.

In talking about any Gospel, Tracy gives no reason for the dating and says nothing about early attestation both external and internal to the authorship of the text. There are many other works from the ancient world that are anonymous, such as the works of Plutarch, that we are sure who wrote them. Without a methodology, Tracy is just giving us statements of faith.

Tracy also says none of the Gospel is history. Really? Jesus wasn’t even crucified for instance? That’s normally a no-brainer in historical talk about Jesus. Scholars like Ehrman, Crossan, and Ludemann have zero problem with it. There is no interaction with archaeological findings supporting the New Testament at all.

Tracy says that all three Synoptic Gospels were written by people who didn’t know Jesus and never heard Him speak and were written 40-60 years later. If he doesn’t know the authors, how does he know they never met Jesus or heard Him speak? There is no bothering to interact with scholarship like that of Burridge showing they’re Greco-Roman biographies intending to be a historical life of Jesus.

Tracy also says the fasting growing community today is the nones. These are people with no religious affiliation. However, no religious affiliation does not mean no religion. As Bradley Wright shows in his book, the Nones are not necessarily atheists. Many of them attend church regularly, pray, and have a high view of Scripture. They just don’t identify with one particular Christian movement.

Tracy also says orthopraxy comes before orthodoxy. Many people will say in the church you can be a good person and not believe the right things and still go to Hell. That’s because the worst thing you can do is to tell God you don’t need Him. If God has provided a way and you ignore it, that is a dishonor To God. Where did Tracy get this theology anyway that being a good person is enough? How good? What would be the standard?

I am beginning the second part of this book now by the Reverend *cough cough* which focuses on application. I am not expecting it to be any more historically accurate than this part was. With the bad resources Professor Tracy uses, he would not be teaching at any academic institution. It is not because he is an atheist or anything like that. It is because of his poor research methods.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/15/2018: Erick Erickson

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Snoopy said years ago there were three things to not discuss in public. Politics, religion, and the Great Pumpkin. We tend to be pretty good about the third one, but the first two not so much. Chesterton was also told when he got his job with the newspaper writing that he could write about anything except politics and religion. He said those were the only things worth writing about.

Today, we have a multiplicity of views on politics and religion. Some Christians are extremely gung-ho about politics. Some could be so much that they marry their Christianity to their politics. Others take an exact opposite approach. Politics is about the kingdom of man. We need to talk about the kingdom of God. They say this and conclude there’s no reason for Christians to be involved in politics.

So which is it? We have quotes from the Bible like “My Kingdom is not of this world” and “Render unto Caesar”, but at the same time, Jesus is a political figure often. He is a challenge to Caesar and to Herod both. Biblical scholars have shown that the title Son of God given to Jesus is also a title that was given to Caesar.

To discuss this, I needed to have someone on the show with a foot in both worlds. I needed a Christian who knows politics very well. I didn’t have to look very far.  I found this one just on my radio dial. Here in the Atlanta area, there is someone who has his own show on the local talk station, WSB, who is also a devout Christian in seminary. His name is Erick Erickson.

Who is he?

According to his bio:

Erick Erickson is the host of Atlanta’s Evening News on WSB and Editor of The Resurgent. Erickson has been a contributor for both CNN and Fox News and The Atlantic named him one of the most influential conservative voices in America. He studied political science and history at Mercer University and earned a law degree at Walter F. George School of Law. He is currently working towards his Ph.D. in theology.  Erickson lives with his family in Macon, Georgia. To learn more, visit http://theresurgent.com/.

We’ll be talking about the intersection of politics and religion. How does a Christian navigate the worlds of politics and religion? There are so many issues that it seems we need to be aware of in politics and in the world of Facebook, everyone thinks that they’re an expert on everything. How can Christians be able to have an influence on politics and still devote themselves to the Kingdom of God?

How also should we settle political differences? Was Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? Was He a Communist or a Socialist?

I hope you’ll be listening this Saturday as we discuss a plethora of such issues. Please also be in prayer for me. I recently did have to have two teeth extracted. I am in recovery, but I am doing the show anyway. (This isn’t me being stubborn either. The dentist said I could.) Please also go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 9/8/2018: Greg Cootsona

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Do any apologetics for awhile and you will find adults who talk about science as disproving Christianity. Because they invested in science, they came to see that religion is bogus. However, if you want to get an adult that thinks that way, don’t be surprised if you first have a teenager that thinks that way.

Sadly, the church can often be the culprit.

The church can often go to young people and tell them they can either believe science or the Bible. So, they look at these teenagers who often drive to church in cars and enter buildings with modern light and air conditioning and when these kids look up from their iPhones, they’re told that either science or Christianity is true. Geez. Which one are they going to go with?

Now I am not a scientist, and I don’t even play one on TV, and I have often decided that I won’t say yea or nay on science issues. I do not debate evolution, for example. If evolution falls, let it fall because it’s hypothetically bad science, but it’s not my call to say if it is bad science. Still, I find the history of science and the interplay between science and religion quite fascinating.

So does Greg Cootsona. He also has a great concern for our young people, especially the millennials, who are falling away from Christianity and often times, it’s because of science issues. How can we best reach these people? What steps should we take to interact with them? Is it really true that science and Christianity aren’t the polar opposites they’re seen to be?

But before that, let’s ask a more basic question.

Who is Greg Cootsona?

According to his bio:

Greg Cootsona directs Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries (or STEAM), a $2 million grant funded by the John Templeton Foundation and housed at Fuller Seminary to catalyze the engagement of faith and science in Christian ministries with 18-30 year olds. He also is also Lecturer in Religious Studies and Humanities at Cal State Chico. He has written Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging AdultsCreation and Last Things: At the Intersection of Theology and Science, and C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian. Greg served for 18 years as Associate Pastor for Adult Discipleship at Bidwell Presbyterian Church in Chico and Fifth Avenue Presbyterian in New York City. Greg has written for several periodicals such as the Wall Street Journal and Christianity Today online;has been interviewed by CNN, the Wall Street Journal, BBC,and The New York Times; has spoken at university campuses throughout the United States such as Columbia and Rice Universities; andhas appeared on the Today Show three times. He and his wife, Laura, live in Chico and have two emerging adult daughters. Besides hanging out with his family, he loves to bike, read (and write), and drink good coffee.

I’m looking forward to this discussion and I hope you are too. Please also consider going on iTunes and leaving a positive review for the Deeper Waters Podcast. It means so much to me to see them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Most People Believe in God. Can They All Be Wrong?

What do I think of Jim Hall’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

There was a day and age when atheist books had substance to them. You could read Antony Flew or J.L. Mackie or others and get arguments. Then the new atheists came out and the bar got lowered. Right now, it seems like each atheist is trying to see if they can lower the bar more and more.

Enter Jim Hall’s book. Hall’s work is meant to be a counter-apologetics, but one wonders what apologetics it’s countering. A course in high school apologetics could equip one to thoroughly demolish anything in here. It’s a shame too because at the start, Hall does give some good advice, but there’s no indication in the work that he followed his own advice.

In the foreword, Jon Pierson speaks out against indoctrination, but it is a mystery if he knows what it is. Hint. Parents sharing their beliefs with their children is not indoctrination. By this kind of standard, having kids be taught multiplication tables is indoctrination. To be fair, I do grant fully what he says on p. 6, and that’s that children should be taught how to think and not what to think.

Yet sometimes, you have to teach them what to think before they know how to think properly. You tell a child to look both ways before crossing the street or not to touch a hot stove or to be careful of strangers even if he doesn’t know why. Of course, a child should eventually learn why, but it depends on the child’s age and intellectual capabilities.

When we get to Hall, like I said, he does give some good advice. One such case is on p. 14 where he urges you regardless of your worldview to not accept anything in his book without doing research. Excellent. I say the same thing about my blog. Little difference. I think if you research a lot on this blog, you will find I have done my homework. Even if you don’t agree with my views, I do support them. I cannot say the same for Hall who has numerous problems in his work.

Hall says if you are a Christian and want to see what the other side says, put down the book and go read the Bible first. Hall thinks you have only heard the verses your pastor has cherry-picked for you. Now I do agree that every Christian should read the Bible. Hall is convinced reading the Bible will make you an atheist.

First off, I have read it through numerous times. Nowhere near an atheist. Second, if that makes you an atheist, then you are not a very good thinker to begin with. All it could do is bias you against one brand of theism if that. It doesn’t mean all theism is ipso facto false. The best arguments for theism do not depend on Scripture at all.

On p. 15, Hall says Christians can’t stand a “calm, soft-spoken, confident, articulate, and well-informed atheist.” Not sure which Christians he’s talking about. I’d like to meet one like that sometime, and from my interactions with Hall on Facebook, he’s not one of those atheists. His book definitely shows that he is not well-informed.

On the next page, he says to ask a Christian that if irrefutable proof became available that the God of the Bible did not exist, would you renounce your faith? Hall says he hasn’t met one who can answer honestly and convincingly.

Okay! Here goes!

Yes!

I only want to believe what is true. If I am shown Christianity is not true, I will not believe it. Of course, any such claim I would want to check and verify very well before just believing willy-nilly, but to quote Ravi Zacharias, what I believe in my heart must make sense in my head.

Hall also rightly encourages atheists to not only read atheist books, but read books by apologists. That’s good, but sadly nothing was said about books by scholars. Well half a loaf I suppose. Still, I question how much Hall really read. Looking at this book, I think it’s like he just went through and skimmed some things.

Hall also encourages doing your homework. Be open to new information and allow an opponent to enter into your waters. Be aware of the Biblical history and be willing to look up the original languages. Again, this is good advice. Again, I have no reason to think Hall actually followed it.

Hall also says something about the idea that it’s possible to be a good person without being a Christian. Duh! As an apologist, I think I have to keep refuting this argument that no one on my side I know of is presenting, and I know plenty of people on my side who are in this field, including many scholars.

Hall also says to bring out all the variations in Biblical translations and editing over time. It’s amazing that Hall really thinks this is the case. It’s the idea that the Bible we have is a translation of a translation of a translation, etc. Not at all. The overwhelming majority of translations go back to the oldest and best manuscripts we have.

What? You don’t believe me that we have the Bible handed down accurately? That’s fine. But would you be willing to believe Bart Ehrman?

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

Hall says that if your opponents wants to talk science, remind them that by definition, faith is independent of fact. No evidence is given that this is the definition. Now remember, Hall did say to go back to the original languages. It would be nice to see a Greek source that says that pistis, the word translated as faith, means what Hall says it does. If you do your homework, like Hall encourages, you will find that he’s quite wrong.

For starters, I have an article here on what does faith mean? He could also listen to my interview with Matthew Bates on Salvation By Allegiance Alone. I simply challenge Hall to find one Lexicon of Greek that will say that the way he understands faith is how the word pistis was used in the ancient world. How Christians define faith today (And sadly very ignorantly) has no bearing on how it is used in the text.

He goes on to quote Stephen Hawking who says religion is based on authority and science is based on observation and reason. Science works as well. Well, there’s a few problems here. For one thing, much of science is also authority. Heck. Hall expects us to treat Hawking as an authority, and there’s no problem with that. Most scientists will never be able to repeat the CERN experiments going on. They have to go by the authority of what has been said and trust their work.

As for working, what does it mean? Do science and religion have the same goal? We could ask how literature works. Literature works by seeking to convey information through the written word. Good literature does that well and even better literature conveys true information. Science is meant to tell us how the material world works all things being equal. Science is the best tool for that. Religion is meant to tell us about the ways of God and how He has revealed Himself and how one can please Him. One can say they don’t think there is a god, and that’s fine, but religion does to be fair have the burden of backing their beliefs, one I happily accept. If that is done, the study of religion is the best way to go.

Oh. Not only that, religion is notoriously difficult to define anyway. Does classical Buddhism which is atheistic count as a religion? What exactly constitutes a religion? It’s a difficult question.

I also agree with Hall on agree on definitions. I would never accept his definition of faith for instance. Hall also asks that a person define God. Sure. Every Christian should. Our highest thought should be on God and who He is.

Well, I would say the triune being who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, omnisapient, simple, eternal, immutable, impassible, infinite, and many other such omni attributes. A good example would be found in the prima pars of the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. I’m sure this is a shock to Hall who says an intelligible definition cannot be found. Hall has simply not looked hard enough and any good Systematic Theology could have helped him.

Later on, Hall repeats what faith is in defining terms. When he repeats about God, he defines God as a psychological construct invented by man when he became aware of his mortality to give comfort in the face of death. Any evidence of this given? Not a lick. Not a single scholar of the history of religions is mentioned. There’s no interacting with the work of Wilhelm Schmidt which I have reviewed here, and no interacting with a modern scholar like Winfred Corduan, who I interviewed here on his book In The Beginning God.

He also says that none of the authors of the books of the Bible ever met Jesus. Evidence of this claim? Not a bit. There is no interaction with Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, who I interviewed here, at all. Hall also asks if one should give a literal interpretation or an allegorical. How about a true idea of literal? According to the intent of the author.

Brace yourselves also. While Hall says he is not a mythicist, he says there is no historical evidence at all that supports the historical Jesus. Not even the overwhelming majority of atheist and Jewish New Testament scholars would accept this nonsense. Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey are both non-Christian scholars (Casey has since died) and both have taken this to task. Also, for Hall’s idea that Nazareth didn’t even exist when Jesus lived. Mr. Hall. Bart Ehrman would like to have a word with you.

Hall also says religious thinking is Dark Ages nonsense. Once again, Hall parades around a myth about Dark Ages, one aptly dealt with by atheist historian Tim O’Neill. As for the commands of Jesus about not planning for the future and such, Hall once again does not go back and look at history. Most of Jesus’s audience would be day-wage earners who had no option of saving up money. Jesus is telling them simply to not panic. God is looking out for them and cares for them. If one has money, there is no problem with saving it, although Jesus would encourage giving to the poor and helping out your fellow neighbor still. One hopes Hall would not argue against that.

When talking about why there is something rather than nothing, Hall says it gets to the problem of the infinite regress. Well, what created God? Hall does not understand that there are two kinds of infinite regresses because he does not understand the cosmological argument. Of course, he could go to a professional philosopher like Edward Feser, but that would be too hard I’m sure. This is followed by the claim that the existence of the universe cannot possibly be used to support the existence of God.

This is easily refuted. Here’s how. The cosmological argument uses the existence of the universe to argue for God. Now you could say that it’s wrong and God is not the proper conclusion, but all Hall says is the existence of the universe cannot possibly be used to support the existence of God, but as long as the argument is being used, then it is possible to use the existence of the universe this way.

Hall also asks why God waited 13.7 billion years to create humans, but this is not a scientific objection, but a theological one. What is Hall’s basis for this? How does He know that if God exists, He would operate on Hall’s timescale? Unless Hall can give that reason and how he came to that knowledge, this is not a refutation. It’s just saying “I don’t understand why God would do this.” Okay. That doesn’t disprove that He did.

The next point I wish to interact with is Hall’s pointing to Pascal’s wager. Hall rightly says that we can assume Pascal was arguing about Roman Catholicism as his option that the person was unsure of. Of course, never let the truth of the matter stand in the way. Hall proceeds to argue about many other gods and such, not paying attention to the fact that Pascal is not speaking to someone like that. He is speaking to someone who is considering Christianity, but is just unsure. Pascal says to just try it. Fake it until you make it if you really want to believe it.

Hall later has a definition of Christianity as the idea that a Jewish lich will grant you immortality if you eat his flesh and drink his blood and telepathically communicate with Him. This will wipe away the sickness of your soul because your great great grandmother was tricked to eat from a magical tree by a talking snake. The lich loves you, but Hell is waiting if you don’t love Him back.

Of course, none of this is any serious representation of Christianity. We will get into different parts of this throughout the review, but I want to share it here. It’s important that we see the low caliber of atheist that we’re dealing with here.

Hall now gets into history and starts with the story of Jesus’s resurrection. He presents a case where some followers of Jesus, but not His disciples, stole the body and removed it to another location. Is this likely? No, but it’s more likely than a resurrection because a miracle is the least likely explanation. Unfortunately, this definition of a miracle falls prey to a problem which is based on a question I asked Bart Ehrman when he did a live debate.

He also says there is no evidence that Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus or that the Romans would have allowed it. No evidence, except, you know, all four of the Gospels repeat that. You can say they’re wrong, but it is evidence. That is the earliest burial tradition. It’s up to Hall to say why this tradition is wrong. Also, in peacetime, Jews were allowed to follow their laws. See my interviews with Craig Evans and Greg Monette on this topic. Btw, Hall is wrong that this would be an honorable burial. Jesus’s burial was shameful.

He also says the empty tomb is not in the earliest account of Paul, which I think is nonsense sense saying that a person is buried and then raised again has a heavy implication of an empty tomb. The word for raised is egeiro which MacGregor argued would mean the body came up again. Don’t expect also to see any interaction here with a work like Gundry’s on the body being physical.

Hall also trots out the idea that the Gospels are all anonymous. Yes. As are many works from the ancient world, such as the biographies of Plutarch, that we don’t dispute authorship on. Are we to say that Hall will say all thirteen epistles claimed to be Pauline are by Paul since they have a name on them? Doubtful. Hall does not interact with any internal or external evidence for authorship of the Gospels. Again, see Bauckham above.

As for dating, he dates John to 115 A.D. No evidence given of this. Most scholars date it to around 95 A.D. I date it earlier though since I think the language in John 5 points to the architecture in that passage being a present reality, which would not be the case after 70 A.D. I realize I am in a minority, but I don’t know of many serious scholars saying second century. As for Mark, even some skeptical scholars like James Crossley date it very early. He dates it to the 40’s. No mention is made also about other works and biographies being written centuries after the person they talked about died and yet we accept them as reliable.

Hall also tells us that Paul admits he never met Jesus. You will look in vain for a reference to this. Hall never explains this. I suspect he means a passage like 2 Corinthians 5, but if so, that is just a bad interpretation of it.

But brace yourselves guys! Hall has his trump card to play! According to the Bible, Jesus is not the only person who was resurrected!

GASP! We had no idea!

Hall goes through a list of people who were raised from the dead. One pictures him gleefully pasting these references into this book with delight, thinking he is stomping Christianity into the ground and showing Jesus is not unique. Yet then someone asks,

“Um. When were any of these people brought back to life in a new eschatological body that was immune to death never to die again?”

Yeah. Hadn’t thought of that. It wasn’t just that Jesus came back from the dead, but He came back in a new and glorified body. Every other resurrected person died again.

Next, Hall says that in Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph wants to divorce Mary at first. Hall asks why would he want to do that if he believed her story? Well, geez. Let me take a shot at it. How about this? He didn’t believe her story. That’s why he did it. He thought Mary had been unfaithful to him. It took a dream message from God to convince him otherwise. Joseph was a logical thinker. He knew what it took to make a baby and he knew he hadn’t done that.

Hall also asks if it would give you pause to know that miraculous or virgin births were not unusual in religion? Well, no. Why would it? If we have an account of a deity coming down and living among humanity, I would think his entrace into the world would be unique. Why is this a problem?

Hall also says that Flavius Josephus is the earliest extra-Biblical source to write about Jesus and the large paragraph about him is commonly believed to be a forgery. I presented Hall on Facebook with this in response. He was not able to refute it. He did ask why would Josephus say Jesus is the Christ and not be a Christian. I simply pointed out that that part was an interpolation, as the article listed above shows.

Hall then goes on to list a number of deities with miraculous conceptions. He also includes Hercules, Horus, and Dionysus all being born on December 25th. No evidence is given of any of these. For all of these births, not a single primary source is given. I asked for them on Facebook and I was never given any.

Hall concludes this part with a homework assignment. Compare the slaughter of the innocents in Matthew 2 to the events around the life of Moses. How are the obvious similarities accounted for? Then he makes a claim about a lack of extrabiblical information on both.

Again, I account for the similarities, by saying Jesus is the new Israel. The slaughter of the infants makes Jesus like Moses in avoiding the evil king and like Israel in escaping through the plague on the firstborn in the Passover. Israel then passes through the waters (Baptism), is tempted in the wilderness, and then Jesus goes up on the mountain and delivers the Law. Matthew is framing His material this way to present Jesus as the new Moses.

As for the census, one could consider the arguments of Ben Witherington as well as Ted Wright of Epic Archaeology. For the Exodus accounts, good luck expecting to see Hall interact with the work of someone like Hoffmeier here and here. Keep in mind, Hall tells you to research and do your homework. If only he had followed his own advice.

On p. 61, we are told a bit about Adam and Eve. One point I’d like to focus on is the idea that the fruit supposedly gave the couple the ability to know good from evil. Well, how were they supposed to know eating the fruit was evil in the first place? Naturally, you won’t find any interaction with John Walton, who I have interviewed on Adam and Eve, or his The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

One point to get is that good and evil are a merism. It is saying two opposite things (Heaven and Earth, North and South, East and West) in order to illustrate everything between them. Good and evil is a statement that refers to moral knowledge, but to wisdom. The gaining of wisdom is not wrong, but it was wanting to be wise on God’s terms and have wisdom apart from Him, a form of treason.

We move on from there to a number of statements about Intelligent Design and evolution. About these, I do not care. I am not a supporter of ID. As for evolution, I really don’t care. I can happily grant evolution as a non-scientist. My interpretation of Scripture is not affected and my theistic and Christian arguments aren’t touched by it. I also encourage Christians that if you are not a scientist, do not debate these issues. If evolution ever does fall as science, let it fall because it is somehow revealed to be bad science. I am not saying it is, but I am giving a hypothetical.

We also have the whole just one God further. It’s easy to picture a defense lawyer in a courtroom. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We all have multiple people in this room we believe didn’t commit the murder. I just ask that you look at my client and go one person further.” Hall says as soon as I understand why I reject all other religions, I’ll understand why he rejects mine. Really? He rejects all others because he has a strong case that there is one God and that Jesus rose from the dead and so that all that contradict that must be false? Fascinating!

Why doesn’t God heal amputees comes up as well. Naturally, don’t expect Hall to go looking for any work that argues for miraculous healings, including some amputee healings. Looking up Craig Keener, who I have interviewed, and his work Miracles would obviously be too difficult.

He also goes with Hume saying that a miracle is a supernatural act that violates the laws of nature. Well, it sure is nice to define everything in your favor automatically. I question the whole idea of the term supernatural anyway. I also think he should pay attention to Earman’s Hume’s Abject Failure who argues that Hume’s argument against miracles would also stop science. Oh. Earman is also an agnostic.

He also wants an answer to a passage like Mark 11:24. Why don’t we get everything we ask for in prayer? Ask and you shall receive in this case!

There’s a brief statement on marriage and why Christians get divorced at the same rate as everyone else. Sadly, to no one’s surprise, Hall has bought into a marriage myth. A few years ago Shaunti Feldhahn exploded this myth. Well, we can’t blame internet atheists for sharing it. They are the greatest people of faith after all.

I will grant though that I agree with Hall on the next part about God speaking to me personally. If it happens to some people, as I think it does, it is extremely rare. Too many people treat it like a common everyday practice and expect God to be in constant communication with them.

There’s also a section on the Laws applying to the Old Testament and not to us. Hall says that they are said to be everlasting, but doesn’t seem to have bothered to interact with any opposing viewpoints and interpretations. For my part, I can say the Law was never given to Gentiles. It was given to the Jews so we have technically never been subject to it. Why think we suddenly are?

Hall asks then why the Old Testament is part of the Bible? Because this is still the revelation of God and how He used His people Israel to establish the true Israel and reveals God to us. He brings up the crazy idea that without the Old Testament, there is no reason for Jesus’s sacrifice. Um. Geez. How about sin as a good enough reason? I don’t need the Old Testament to know I’ve lived less than a perfect life.

We move on from there to inerrancy. Inerrancy is not a hill I’m willing to die on, but many of the objections of Hall are absurd. We have ideas like the Earth is not 6,000 years old and there was no worldwide flood. On the former, I have interviewed John Walton on his work on The Lost World of Genesis One.

On the latter question, I have interviewed Tremper Longman on the book he co-wrote with Walton, The Lost World of the Flood. Hall is definitely going after a minority position in scholarship. Again, we have to ask if he’s really read anyone like he recommends.

Hall then goes on a piece about how the Trinity wasn’t established until 200 years later. Unfortunately for Hall, this isn’t much of an establishment. We have the deity of Christ from the very beginning. Hall does not avail himself of anyone in the Early High Christology Club like Hurtado, Tilling, Bird, Bauckham, and others. He brings up the point we’ve already discussed about how much copying and editing was done before Nicea. There is no doubt that Hall is thoroughly ignorant of church history. He really should read a book on it.

Hall also says that the Bible was supposed to be written by men moved by God. Muhammad and Joseph Smith and others made the same claim. Well, let’s do something then. Let’s compare the information granted by non-Christian scholars in the Bible to be true and compare it to the same for non-Mormon scholars in the Mormon Scriptures and non-Muslim scholars in the Koran and see how they hold up.

Hall then goes to an objection that you need to have an open mind. He says that atheists have education and intellect and accept facts and reality and while they deny the existence of gods (Really? I thought it was just a lack of belief. This is something different) they can still discuss the subject matter. Some can. Most I see cannot. As for education, I just encourage people to go through a post like this and see how educated Hall is and how much reading he’s done on this topic.

He also asks why Christians are unable to contemplate the non-existence of God. I am willing, but the difficulty is that if you have a theology where God is the ground and basis of existence, non-existence is difficult to think about. It’s kind of impossible. Hall is free to give another ground for being. Good luck with that one as most atheists I meet don’t have a doctrine of existence or understand the concept.

We move on to New Testament history. Hall considers it a defeater that no original documents exist. If so, then Hall has to reject all of ancient history as no originals exist. If there is one out there, it is definitely in the minority. He says all of the manuscripts we have differ. Indeed, as do all other ancient documents, but the differences, for the most part, are minor. Again, refer to my above quotations of Bart Ehrman. Naturally, he repeats the claim about the Gospels being anonymous which I have already addressed. Don’t expect him to be familiar with what E.P. Sanders said as well.

The authors probably wanted to eliminate interest in who wrote the story and to focus the reader on the subject. More important, the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work. In the ancient world an anonymous book, rather like an encyclopedia article today, implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability. It would have reduced the impact of the Gospel of Matthew had the author written ‘this is my version’ instead of ‘this is what Jesus said and did.’  – The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders page 66.

He also says Mark was written 50 years after Yeshua’s death. I eagerly await seeing the scholars who think it was written around 80. In my personal research I did on this topic, I found that most date the work to between 65-70 A.D. He also says the oldest copy we have is from 200 A.D. Imagine how oral tradition changed it. If Hall wants to say that the manuscripts we have of Mark have a vast difference from what the original would have said, that’s his burden to prove.

He also says that the Gospels weren’t by eyewitnesses, which we have addressed above. He also adds in that the Gospel writers were illiterate. Well, not necessarily. When in Acts it says they were uneducated, that does not equal illiterate. It just means that they had no formal education. Even if they were, most writing even by the literate was done by secretaries so the authors would just have to orally share their stories.

Hall also asks what’s so special about Jesus’s teachings anyway? They weren’t unique. If we mean on morality, quite so. Jesus is not the savior though because He was a great moral teacher, but because He rose from the dead.

In the next section, Hall tells a story about his work to impress a girl. As it turns out, he says they’re coming up on their 17th wedding anniversary. I always see this as something worth celebrating and I did tell that to him in our dialogue. I was told to not give false platitudes. Apparently, atheists engage in mind reading. It’s a wonder why Hall gets a compliment like this and assumes a Christian must be insincere in saying it.

He then gets to an objection saying that if you have no moral compass, what stops you from preventing crimes. Hall considers it a big objection that morality predates the Bible. Well of course it does! This is like saying you can show the Declaration of Independence to be silly since human equality predates that.

I have no wish to get into long debates on moral issues. These have been addressed plentiful elsewhere by others like Copan. I will put this up on slavery and I don’t expect Hall to interact with it.

Hall shoots himself in the foot when he says that morality is subjective. If so, then there can be no complaining about the Old Testament Laws. After all, this was the morality for that time and place. There can be no complaining about evil either. Why should our morality be superior if it’s just subjective?

From there we move on to fine-tuning and science and such. Again, I have no interest in refuting evolution or anything like that. Hall does say that critics of evolution won’t crack open books or read web sites against their position. I have given Hall several books in this post. I wonder if he’ll read them.

Hall later on gives a testimony of going to Vacation Bible School and asking questions. He was asked that he not return next time. This is indeed a great failing on the part of the church. No child should ever be scolded for asking questions. EVER!

That’s all I really want to comment on. To correct every error would require a book in itself. I have no real interest in doing that, but I was recommended I read this one for some humor. We will see what interaction comes from a response like this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheist Manifesto Part 2

What more do I have to think of Onfray’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Reading Onfray is a task for anyone who tries. It’s hard to read without thinking that you’re really the temper tantrum of a child who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. He will be talking about one thing and then suddenly seemingly jump to something else.

In part 2 of his book he talks about monotheisms. One of the first sections is about down with intelligence! Monotheism hates intelligence!

Remember? The monotheisms that are people of the book? The Christians who are responsible for copying and transmitting the ancient pagan works that we have, the founding of the university, and the rise of science? Yes. Those people. They were obviously haters of intelligence!

For Onfray, if you are a man of reason you will be on guard against magical thinking. I was unaware that just saying something is magical thinking is a refutation of it. Who knew? Some people might have questioned the idea I have of presuppositional atheism that if you’re an atheist, your thinking is automatically rational and if you’re a theist, it’s stupid. Onfray comes incredibly close by saying such statements about magical thinking and reason to saying exactly what I have been saying.

Of course, this comes to us well in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Onfray doesn’t bother to say it’s good and evil. It’s not the tree of the knowledge of science or history or literature. It’s good and evil. In Hebrew thinking, this is a merism. It contrasts two opposite things to say everything between them. What is really at stake here is not knowledge so much as wisdom. It is mankind wanting himself to be the fount of wisdom instead of God.

We also have this part about the three monotheisms. It is the picture I shared last time. We are haters of reason, intelligence, books, and freedom. I say this, by the way, as I sit in my library in my apartment surrounded by my books and if you go outside of this room, you will find books scattered throughout our apartment.

We also hate women, sexuality, pleasure, the feminine, and desires and drives.

I am a married man.

I enjoy being a married man.

I enjoy the benefits of being a married man. I have yet to meet a married man who hates sex and the feminine and the body and such. Of course, such a person could be out there, but I doubt it. I find this especially bizarre to say about Islam since Muhammad had about a dozen wives and his followers could have up to four. Yes. They obviously hated sex and women.

Onfray also tells us that there were numerous apocryphal writings, more than those that are in the New Testament. Indeed. So what happened to them? Eusebius through Constantine is what happened! At this point, it is clear why Onfray doesn’t have notes in his book. Good luck finding this one.

He also tells us that Paul demanded the burning of forbidden books in Acts 19:19, but no such demand exists. From the account, the people themselves decided to do it. Besides, one would think Onfray would support this since these were books about magical spells, likely to ward off demons. Is Onfray upset that these books were lost to us?

Naturally, there is the idea of the hatred of science. The Catholic church impeded scientific research. Again, good luck with this one. There were plenty of scientists doing science in the time and the ones that were persecuted (All two of them!) were not in the Middle Ages.

Onfray also tells us the religions of the book detest women. You know, like how in Genesis man and woman are both equally 100% in the image of God. That kind of thing. Jesus having disciples who were women and openly communicating with them and Paul sending a woman to deliver, which would also entail and answering questions about, his most important letter, the letter to the Romans. For Onfray, we who are monotheists only see women as good for sex and only then when we want to reproduce. As he says “For a monotheist, there can be no more hideous oxymoron than a barren, sterile, woman.”

I wonder what monotheists he is talking to. I have not met any who think this way.

Now while Jews have some statements about women being impure during menstruation and after birth and the Koran has some negative statements, Christianity has not escaped! After all, in 585 there was discussion over a book called Paradoxical Dissertation in Which We Attempt To Prove That Women Are Not Human Creatures. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that I granted that this is all historical and this is a book that a Christian wrote.

This is still ridiculous. One Christian wrote a book one year and it was discussed. Therefore, this represents the opinion of all Christians throughout all time.

Fortunately, at least in dealing with monotheisms, we have a section dealing with arguments for theism and…..oh of course we don’t! Onfray never bothers to deal with what his opponents actually say. That would interrupt the rant.

And next time we look at his work, we will look at obviously the most problematic religion, Christianity. (Funny how that so often works out that way isn’t it?)

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheism On Trial

What do I think of Louis Markos’s book published by Harvest House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Markos’s book is an interesting read. He writes as a philosopher with a pastor’s heart. He clearly has a great love for many of the literary classics that have been shaping our culture. This work is a look at how many of those from the past dealt with the atheism that we see today. It’s nothing new. It has already been answered every time. There may be some different arguments, but many of them have the same kind of presuppositions.

The pastoral side of the work is that Markos wants to take us beyond just the God of the Philosophers. I do think that the arguments of classical theism that get you to the God of the Philosophers are just fine. I try to establish classical theism before I establish Christian theism. Still, there is something unique about Christian theism.

Markos rightly points out the importance of miracles for a Christian worldview and finds arguments against them wanting. He also has a section on the good, the true, and the beautiful. I find this to be an important distinction to make because too many of us don’t know the point of those ideas. Many people today might not have even heard of that saying.

There are also responses to such things as the problem of pain. This really came about in the Enlightenment time and one of the chief events talked about in Voltaire’s Candide is the earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal that murdered a large number of people. Evil is probably the most understandable argument against theism, but logically, it no longer works. It can still be used as an emotional or existential argument.

If there were some things I would change, one is that Markos decided to not have notes in order to make things friendly for the layman, but instead included a brief summation of each chapter in the back of the book that did include where to find the information. I would have preferred the notes. Notes have not been a problem in books for laymen. Consider the Case books by Lee Strobel for example. They have been filled with notes and yet they are incredibly reader-friendly.

I also notice that Markos really likes his Plato and so he has a lot to say about empiricism. I do not think empiricism was properly defined since I consider myself a classical empiricist in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. I do realize that there are many who are atheists who consider themselves empiricists, but empiricism does not rule out the immaterial realm at all. (Note that I do not say supernatural realm as I don’t use that term.)

Markos also has arguments against evolution. As a Thomist again, I have no problem with evolution and as a non-scientist, I tend to stay out of it. I would not be bothered at all if I found irrefutable proof that evolution is true nor would I if I found the same that it is false. It does not affect my arguments for theism or my understanding of Genesis one iota.

I still do think that this will be an enjoyable read for many people. Atheism has been with us longer than we realize and in every age, it has been refuted. There is nothing new under the sun.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Enlightenment Now Part 1

What do I think of Steven Pinker’s book published by Viking? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone recommended I get this book saying it could be the next version of The God Delusion. It’s over 400 pages worth. I picked it up at the library yesterday and went to work immediately. It didn’t take long to realize how bad this book will be.

Well, if he’s wanting to extol the Enlightenment and show how bad the so-called Dark Ages were, I’m curious what he has to say about some of the great thinkers of the time. Let’s start with my favorite, Thomas Aquinas. I’ll just check the index.

Hmmmm. Must be an oversight. He’s not mentioned.

How about Augustine?

Anselm?

Maimonides?

Avicenna?

Averroes?

Boethius?

That’s odd. None of the great thinkers are mentioned. Of course, Donald Trump and Al Gore and others get mentioned, but you would think if you were going to say something about the “Dark Ages” you might interact with people from the “Dark Ages.”

Heck. We could go back further. Paul isn’t mentioned. Not even Jesus is mentioned. Okay. In fairness, Muhammad isn’t mentioned either, but still….

So yeah. This is another book where apparently Pinker wasn’t interested in doing any primary research to see what people before him actually thought about things. It’s best to just read what people today think about what people back then thought. One wonders if Pinker will begin swallowing pre-chewed food before too long.

I’m only going to be looking at part 1 for now because first off, I have not finished with the book. Second, there is so much wrong in part 1 that I want to make sure I have room. If this is the new God Delusion, we can expect atheists to be setting themselves back intellectually even more.

The very first page talks about the Enlightenment and how mankind saw it as his coming to maturity. Let us remember also that the age where when people first come to maturity is when they’re teenagers. At that point, they think they know everything and don’t need to listen to anyone else because they are the best. We can be sure Pinker and his ilk are the teenagers. They just have not come to full maturity yet.

According to Pinker, the battle cry was “Dare to understand!” After all, no one before had really ever bothered to try to understand anything. Nope. Everything was just believed blindly and there were no arguments and debates of any kind.

Pinker goes on to talk about the recent bloodshed from wars about religion. Absent of course is any mention of the French Revolution or anything of that sort. He speaks of the scientific revolution, ignorant that that really started in the “Dark Ages” when science began. We can safely conclude that Pinker has never really done any study of this period of the science done in it.

Pinker talks about the importance of reason and how applying reason showed that miracle reports were dubious and that writers of holy books were all too human and that people believed in incompatible deities. I do find this utterly amazing. I find it amazing that Pinker didn’t know that people in the past were just as skeptical. There have always been people like Lucian wanting to disprove miracles. Of course, the writers of holy books were human. Does Pinker think we think they were Reptilians? And finally, people believed in incompatible deities? Was this supposed to be news? As for miracles, Pinker never tells us how reason disproves them. Is it some assumption that if you’re a thinking person, you obviously don’t believe? Does Pinker mean to say that only people who are stupid and don’t use reason believe in miracles?

Pinker goes on to talk about how science delivered us from fears of the natural world. He quotes some writers talking about what the people believed back then, but as expected, he never quotes from that time period itself. He never gives any instances where these things are believed. If this is what people believed, surely Pinker could easily have gone and found some references? Not a one is found.

Pinker goes on to humanism which he says is based on a universal human nature, but how can this be? A universal human nature is not scientific. It is not material and you cannot take universal human nature and put it in a jar and study it. This is actually looking at essences and natures which is a metaphysical idea that started back in Greece and really got going in the, wait for it, DARK AGES!

Pinker tells us about how this understanding led to us answering the moral call with sympathy. Thus an end was brought to such forces as slavery. Apparently no one knew about this sympathy thing until the Enlightenment came along. No mention is made of William Wilberforce and no, he’s not in the index either. No mention is made of Christians who in the first few centuries A.D. bought slaves just to set them free. No mention is made of how Clovis II and Bathilda both worked together and ended slavery in their time. Nope. Forget what people in the past did.

The final idea is progress and while most of us support progress, we all define it in different ways. I would consider America returning to Christian values and a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ to be progress. Pinker would consider it just the opposite. Muslims could consider going to Sharia Law to be progress. Who is to determine who is right on this?

The next chapter deals with much of science. Speaking of science as science, I have no wish to touch it. I have no desire to challenge evolution. I have a desire to challenge a false implication of it, but not the science itself. That is for the scientists.

On p. 24, Pinker speaks of the idea that if bad things happen, some agent wanted them to happen. That is the only reason they would. This is a common idea, but one repudiated in even the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job. This book dealt with the idea that was believed that if you’re good, good things will happen, and if you’re bad, bad things will happen. Job’s purpose is not to deal with the problem of evil. It’s to answer the question, “Will a man remain faithful to God even when there seem to be no benefits to it?”

On p. 26 he speaks about how pre-scientific people thought words and thoughts could impact the world in thoughts and prayers. Not exactly. If anything, we are the unscientific ones today when we tell someone we are sending them “good thoughts.” Sending a thought alone cannot affect reality. What the people in the past did was pray to God who they believed could affect reality. Sure, they could be wrong in that, but there is nothing illogical or unreasonable in thinking that if God as existed in either Islam, Christianity, or Judaism was asked something that He had the power to do something.

On p. 27, Pinker said communities came up with rules of debate. You can point out flaws of beliefs of others and you’re not allowed to force others to shut up if they disagree with you. You can even show if your beliefs are true or false and we call that science.

Again, Pinker has never read any from the past. They regularly interacted with one another and showed they thought the other was wrong and did so peaceably. As for saying that this is what science is, this is what any branch of knowledge does. It’s not exclusive to science. It’s as if Pinker wants to claim that any thinking done is science.

On the next page, he talks about free speech, nonviolence, cooperartion, cosmopolitanism, human rights, and acknowledging human fallibility, as well as science, education, media, democratic government, international organizations, and markets. All of these were brainchilds of the Enlightenment.

Well, no. They weren’t. It was the Christians who were building the first universities and establishing criteria of education. (Oh yeah, they also made that darn printing press which is a mystery since obviously Christians didn’t like to read or learn anything). Democracy goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Capitalism and the market really gained a rise in the Middle Ages and we speak today of the Protestant Ethic. Our Constitution finds much in the Magna Carta which was, wait for it, in the Middle Ages.

On p. 30, Pinker writes about the problem of faith as an opponent of Christianity. Of course, there’s no attempt to really interact with NT scholarship to see what faith is. Pinker says to take something on faith is to take it without good reason. It would be nice if some of these guys would provide good reason to think that’s what it really means. Apparently, all they do is look at what they think is modern popular usage and decide that it must have been that way for all time.

Pinker tells us that this clashes with humanism when we put some good above the good of humans such as accepting a divine savior or proselytizing. Absent is any notion that if these things are true, then these are indeed the best goods for humanity. If Christianity is true, the best thing a human can do is submit his life to Jesus Christ.

Pinker tells us that incompatibilities with science are the stuff of legend like Galileo, the Scopes Trial, stem cell research, and climate change. Yes. Many legends also have no basis in reality. Galileo was a firm believer in Christianity and the dispute was more about science than it was about religion. Galileo did not have enough scientific backing to establish his theories. Pinker would do well to read many of the works of Ronald Numbers on myths about science. (Big shock. Numbers isn’t referenced either.)

On p. 31, he tells us many of his colleagues were eager to see his book done for talking points against the right. If so, then we on the right are greatly blessed because Pinker’s “reasonable” friends will simply believe what Pinker says without evidence and further embarrass themselves. Apparently, Pinker’s colleagues just can’t be bothered with going and reading the primary sources, which sadly, Pinker couldn’t be bothered to do either.

He talks about scientism on p. 34 saying it is the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities. Well, no. Not really. Scientism is instead the idea that science is the only way that any truth can be known.

Pinker says he wants to bring us out of the Dark Ages, but if anything he is leading us to a Dark Age. This would be an age where mankind is ignorant of the past which means not only their successes but also their failures. This is an age where man is trapped in his own culture and generation and doesn’t know how we got here which will impede us from knowing where we are going.

I will have more to say in future installments and even still I have not come anywhere close to covering everything. Pinker is writing about things that he does not know about. The sad thing is many of his followers will join him in his ignorance.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True: Chapter 1

What do I think of David Pye’s self-published book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Justin Brierley asked around recently to see if anyone would be interested in engaging with a skeptic who wrote a book called Why Christianity Is Not True. If you know me from my work on here, you know I jump at the chance to read something like this. I got in touch with David Pye who was glad to share his work with me. It is free for all to read and can be found here.

Pye is in the U.K. so people here are probably not as familiar with Nicky Gumbel. In the U.K., he runs a course called Alpha. This is a sort of introductory course for new Christians to Christianity and for those willing to explore it. I do not know much beyond that.

One problem I have with this first chapter is so much is said as if Pye wants to do everything he can to avoid offending someone. That could be noble at times, but here, it just got tiresome. I kept wanting us to skip ahead to the meat of the discussion.

So let’s go through and look at some highlights.

“At the mention of the word ‘evidence’ the reader might want to say “But surely religious belief isn’t based on evidence – it’s all about faith isn’t it?” ” I can sincerely hope that this book will not go down that route of the same modern misconception of what faith is. I want to hope it, but I have seen it happen so many times I am quite certain I will be wrong. We will see when we get to that chapter.

Pye also does say that even religious experience counts as evidence. I agree, though it is not a piece that I normally use. He does also have some brief statements about the Inquisition and the pedophile priest scandal. On the Inquisition, I look forward to seeing if there are any references as sources that talk about hundreds of thousands of people dying in history during the time are simply false.

From here, we also get a bit on the question of if we should be asking if Christianity works. I agree with Pye that this is not the key question. I am not even sure by what we would mean by saying Chrisitanity works. Is Christianity supposed to always make you happy or something like that?

Pye also says he is using Christian as a noun. He lists the following beliefs a Christian will have.

There is one God – eternal, all-loving, all-powerful and all-knowing.
 God’s nature is triune. This is sometimes expressed as The doctrine of the Trinity or
“three persons in one God”. These are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
 There exists a spirit world – angels and demons – that was created by God. This
includes the devil (also known as Satan or Lucifer).
 The universe was created by God.
 Mankind is sinful and sin deserves punishment.
 The man Jesus, in his life on earth some 2000 years ago, was God manifest in the
flesh – fully God and fully man.
 Jesus was born of a virgin, Mary, and was the Messiah.
 Jesus was crucified to death but was resurrected “on the third day”.
 As a result of Jesus’ resurrection, sin and death have been defeated.
 Although there is some controversy amongst Christians about the nature of salvation,
most Christians would say that salvation is a gift offered by God that an individual
can receive – or reject.
 When a person becomes a Christian he/she has therefore been saved by Jesus.
 As a Christian a person is a new creation, filled with the Holy Spirit and expressing
God’s love in and to the world.
 Jesus shall return to earth – this is known as The Second Coming.
 There shall be a final judgement of all people.
 People who are saved are destined for eternity in heaven.
 Those who are not saved are not destined for heaven – and, according to many
Christians, are destined for hell.
 The Bible is the authoritative word of God.
 On occasions God intervenes in the natural world through miracles – including
miracles of healing – often in response to prayers by Christians.

Some minor points here, I would disagree with. I think we can make an emphasis that Christianity is all about heaven instead of the resurrection, and I would prefer to speak of the return of Christ instead of the second coming. I prefer to call the Bible, Scripture, instead of saying the Word of God since I tend to reserve that for Jesus. Still, this is a good list.

I also agree with Pye about possible problems with the idea of Christianity being described as a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is language I do not use. I also agree with him that Christianity is not just about what happens after one dies, but how one lives their life here and now and what God is doing here and now.

Pye also says that he is writing to just show Christianity is false. He is not writing to show any other position is true. This is fair enough and I have no problem with it.

However, we have a huge problem when we get to a point where he says, “I have no expertise in either history or mythology and therefore make no attempt to evaluate whether the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical event.” If the resurrection is the defining event in history that shows Christianity is true, then one cannot really show it is not true without dealing with this topic. I do not know how Pye thinks he will be able to demonstrate that Christianity is not true without giving a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one that rests in the resurrection of Jesus being true.

I also agree with Pye that truth must be our goal. I do not hold to any relativism in truth such as if you feel it, it must be true, or to any idea of true for you but not for me. As a Christian, I am making a claim about the way reality is. I fully accept that.

I also think Pye has made a wise stance saying we are not concerned with proof but with evidence. Very few claims can be proven 100% true with absolute certainty. What we have to ask is where does the preponderance of evidence lead us.

Pye also has a listing of what the chapters will cover. The seventh is on the existence of God. Pye says we can wonder why that topic comes so late. He doe say theism does not prove Christianity. I agree. Theism is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Finally, he gives a little bit about himself. Pye says he came to be a Christian at 23 and abandoned it three and a half years later. Reasons are not given yet for his abandonment or even his coming to Christianity. There is also some disappointment in that he says that he will cite Wikipedia articles. At least he tells when they were referenced, but readers know my stance on Wikipedia and it being a horrible source for any claim remotely controversial.

When we return to this book, we will be looking at the chapter on miraculous healing.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 18

Does evolution lead to evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We return to the work of Glenton Jelbert with Evidence Considered. This chapter looks at an essay by Richard Weikart on eugenics and evolution leading to that. I do agree that this does not establish that evolution is false. However, I do think there is a danger that one can take evolution in science and apply it everywhere else. When applied to morality, I do think it leads to great suffering.

Jelbert acknowledges this. There is a shameful history associated with eugenics. It did lead to forcibly sterilizing many people. Let’s also keep in mind Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood was a leaning proponent of this and the abortion crisis today is continuing this legacy. Now we don’t sterilize the people. We just kill the offspring.

Jelbert does say eugenics is not science and the scientific establishment was far from unanimous in supporting it. Yet if it is not science, then why was the scientific establishment involved? We could say perhaps it is not true science, but it is still a scientific topic.

Jelbert points to Peter Kropotkin speaking in 1912 at the first international eugenics congress in London.

Who were unfit? workers or monied idlers? Those who produced degenerates in slums or those who produced degenerates in palaces? Culture casts a huge influence over the way we live our lives, hopelessly complicating our measures of strength, fitness, and success.

Now I don’t know much about Kropotkin, but I look at this and think that this is just one opinion. Why should I take him as the main one? It would be like saying the existence of Jesus is far from settled in scholarship because Richard Carrier once spoke at the Society of Biblical Literature arguing for mythicism.

Jelbert also says that the Bible has been used to lead to great evil. He points to the Salem Witch Trials. This is true. However, I would contend that the witch trials misused the Scripture about a witch not being allowed to live since that applied to the Theocracy of Israel and not America. Also, it’s worth noting those lasted a short time and restitution was made.

In January 1697, the Massachusetts General Court declared a day of fasting for the tragedy of the Salem witch trials; the court later deemed the trials unlawful, and the leading justice Samuel Sewall publicly apologized for his role in the process. The damage to the community lingered, however, even after Massachusetts Colony passed legislation restoring the good names of the condemned and providing financial restitution to their heirs in 1711. Indeed, the vivid and painful legacy of the Salem witch trials endured well into the 20th century, when Arthur Miller dramatized the events of 1692 in his play “The Crucible” (1953), using them as an allegory for the anti-Communist “witch hunts” led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

Of course, anyone who died wrongfully is still one person too many. Also, as Bruce Sheiman says in An Atheist Defends Religion

“Militant atheists seek to discredit religion based on a highly selective reading of history. There was a time not long ago—just a couple of centuries—when the Western world was saturated by religion. Militant atheists are quick to attribute many of the most unfortunate aspects of history to religion, yet rarely concede the immense debt that civilization owes to various monotheist religions, which created some of the world’s greatest literature, art, and architecture; led the movement to abolish slavery; and fostered the development of science and technology. One should not invalidate these achievements merely because they were developed for religious purposes. If much of science was originally a religious endeavor, does that mean science is not valuable? Is religiously motivated charity not genuine? Is art any less beautiful because it was created to express devotion to God? To regret religion is to regret our civilization and its achievements.” —An Atheist Defends Religion

And

“The militant atheists lament that religion is the foremost source of the world’s violence is contradicted by three realities: Most religious organizations do not foster violence; many nonreligious groups do engage in violence; and many religious moral precepts encourage nonvio lence. Indeed, we can confidently assert that if religion was the sole or primary force behind wars, then secular ideologies should be relatively benign by comparison, which history teaches us has not been the case. Revealingly, in his Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips chronicled a total of 1,763 conflicts throughout history, of which just 123 were categorized as religious. And it is important to note further that over the last century the most brutality has been perpetrated by nonreligious cult figures (Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-Il, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe—you get the picture). Thus to attribute the impetus behind violence mainly to religious sentiments is a highly simplistic interpretation of history.”

And one more

“Religion’s misdeeds may make for provocative history, but the everyday good works of billions of people is the real history of religion, one that parallels the growth and prosperity of humankind. There are countless examples of individuals lifting themselves out of personal misery through faith. In the lives of these individuals, God is not a delusion, God is not a spell that must be broken—God is indeed great.”

Jelbert also says the Bible purports to be a moral guide. I would like to know where this is. I do agree the Bible has some morality, but I don’t think the purpose of the Bible is to just make us good people. It is to make us Christian people who serve King Jesus and when we do that, we will be good people.

Jelbert goes on to say that Weikart paints scientists with a broad brush, but Weikart does not do this. He says many today often sound similar to the eugenics movement when talking about genetic technologies. This is true. Many do. Not all.

Jelbert also says he does not think there is a Christian ethic. If he means there are issues that Christians can disagree on in ethics, that’s understandable, but not all are. I don’t know many Christians willing to defend pornography or murder or rape. Most all of us condemn abortion as well. Christian ethics are founded on Christian principles such as mankind being in the image of God and the resurrection of Jesus.

I will say at the end I understand the concern of Weikart and we should take it seriously. Scientists can too often seek to play gods. At the same time, this doesn’t show evolution is false. It does show that that which works in science might not work in morality and perhaps if evolution is true, we still should not seek to take it into our own hands.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Do We Take Christianity Seriously?

If Christianity is true, does it matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Our church has a stations of the cross going on now. Yesterday, my wife and I joined our small group there to go through it together. At one point, someone in our group asked a question along the lines of why we don’t seem to have excitement about this. We have a God who loves us so much that He did all of this. Does it really matter?

Let’s use a different example. The Star Wars films are awfully popular, although I never got interested in them really. Let’s suppose something about them. Let’s suppose that we found proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that these events that happened a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away really happened. What difference would it make?

There would be several people wanting to go on space explorations to try to find the locations in the movie. Scientists would be researching in new ways once they realized that feats shown in the movie were popular. Many people would be doing whatever they could to tap into the force. Some would use it for good and some for evil.

Now let’s compare this to the claims of Christianity. God is the most awesome and powerful and intelligent and wise and good being of all. There is no one that compares to Him. He loves humanity greatly and sent His Son to die for us. By His death and resurrection, all who trust in Him will rise again in glorified bodies never to suffer or die again. Those who do not will face an eternity of judgment.

Before it’s even debated if these claims are true or not, let’s say something. They are serious claims. I hope we can all agree also that if they are true, they do make a difference. If God exists and has spoken, we should all want to listen to what He has to say.

But does it make a difference? Often, it doesn’t. One of the reasons I think this is the case for us is often many of us are too familiar with it. We have heard the stories all our lives and they no longer shock and amaze us. Too many Christians just know it’s true because it’s in the Bible, without bothering to see how we got the Bible and how we can know it’s treu.

It also is because there’s not much at stake for us. Today, we can often think the worst persecution is being made fun of on the internet or perhaps economic pressure from society. While these are something, they don’t compare to what goes on in other countries where being a Christian is a crime and you can be put to death. If you know that what you believe can get you put to death, you’re going to want to make sure of it’s truthfulness and if you’re sure it’s true, you should take it seriously.

Many times, it can also be we don’t realize the implications of what we believe. A lot of people just think, “Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, Christianity is true.” The goal of Christianity is to make sure you get to Heaven. Very little of it seems to apply to this life.

If that is the idea you’ve got, then it’s a highly lacking one. Christianity says that Jesus is our companion in all things and the Holy Spirit lives in us. That means we have the third person of the Trinity (Maybe some Christians need to see what a difference that makes too!) living in us. We have a God we can come to in our hour of need. Jesus doesn’t just help us overcome death. He helps us in all of our battles here.

That also means all our suffering is redeemed. No suffering a Christian undergoes will be wasted by God. All of it will be used for His glory. That should really revolutionize the way we view suffering.

The resurrection also tells us that this world is good. It’s not an accident. Our bodies are good things and we should take care of them. It also means that there is something great and good worth focusing on. Sadly, many Christians say they love God, but they seldom bother to seek to understand anything about Him.

Think about this if you’re married and if you’re not, imagine you are. What kind of spouse are you if you only look to your spouse and think about the good feelings they give you and what they do for you? You’re not much of them. You need to seek to understand who your spouse is, do things for them, do what they want and like and need. There aren’t exact parallels, but the marriage relationship is the picture most often used of that of Christ and the church.

Now I haven’t said anything about if Christianity is true, but that’s a benefit of apologetics. By studying it, one sees that it is true and it does really change the way you live. If you haven’t studied any apologetics, I really encourage you to do so. If you found out that Star Wars really happened, it would change things. Won’t it change them if you find out Jesus is who He said He is and did what He said He would do and still does that?

If you and I are still unexcited about this, then maybe we need to examine ourselves.

In Christ,
Nick Peters