Loftus has argued many things and in reply to some comments, I will say this. It seems that the outsider test has been thrown out quickly and we are instead judging the ancient times by our modern times. I will state again that I do not see anything that causes me to doubt the historicity of the accounts and it will take more than repeating the claims.
Now let’s move on to this one. This is a fun one to deal with. We’re going to check page 112 first where he does define superstition. Readers of my blog should know by now that I’m quite big on defining terms. This is the definition which we are told is from the Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia.
Superstition, a belief or practice generally regarded as irrational and as resulting from ignorance or from fear of the unknown. It implies a belief in unseen and unknown forces that can be influenced by objects and rituals. Magic or sorcery, witchcraft, and the occult in general are often referred to as superstitions (see Occultism). Examples of common superstitions include the belief that bad luck will strike the person in front of whom a black cat passes or that some tragedy will befall a person who walks under a ladder. Good luck charms, such as horseshoes, rabbits’ feet, coins, lockets, and religious medals, are commonly kept or worn to ward off evil or to bring good fortune.
In general, superstitious practices and beliefs are most common in situations involving a high degree of risk, chance, and uncertainty, and during times of personal or social stress or crisis, when events seem to be beyond human control. The question of what is or is not superstitious, however, is relative. One person’s beliefs can be another’s superstitions. All religious beliefs and practices may be considered superstition by unbelievers, while religious leaders often condemn unorthodox popular practices as a superstitious parody of true faith. (Last paragraphed emphasized by Loftus)
I think it’s quite important that the last part is emphasized. By the definition alone, any religious belief would be superstitious, but if that religious belief is true, we can’t really say it is superstitious. I disagree though when he says that while it’s hard to define what superstitious means, there are beliefs that modern educated people say are superstitious and that’s enough.
I believe this is simply begging the question in favor of the moderns. G.K. Chesterton warned us about throwing out what he called “The Democracy of the Dead.” I will contend that this is a strong move in atheism today to break free of all that is in our past so to loose our shackles from God as it were.
Also, we can say there are modern and educated people who do believe in God. I doubt Loftus would question someone like Francis Collins as being uneducated and unmodern, and yet there is a strong Christian theism there. One wonders if he would also say the same thing about his former mentor, William Lane Craig? Is Craig uneducated?
That having been said, let’s look at the world Loftus describes. Please note readers that this is a very long chapter in the book and I do not think I can do justice if I try to squeeze it all in to one post. I am a busy guy as well and I have other things in my life going on, but I do what I can to get this blog every night. I would rather break the chapter apart and deal with it that way than just gloss over most things, especially since I think this is one of the key points.
Now Loftus also makes the claim about comparing science to such practices as rain dances or blood-letting for exorcisms or people who base things on palm reading. I’d point out that the biblical worldview condemns that also. In fact, many of the things that can be seen as superstitious today were seen as superstitious by the writers of Scripture. The only one I’d except is prayer because I do believe God does respond. I don’t think this is the kind of thing you can test though as God is not obligated to respond as he seems to be with rain dances.
Loftus points out that Israel is condemned for engaging in the cultic practices of the nations around them. Since these beliefs were able to lead Israel astray, how do we know that the beliefs of the Israelites themselves weren’t superstitious?
Let it be noted that in Scripture, God places a clear stance on these practices. He not only condemns them, but he promises to condemn Israel if they do the same thing. We must look at the beliefs of Israel by themselves rather than just saying “They were an ancient people so they were wrong.” I don’t think Loftus is doing that, but that must be stated.
What were these beliefs involving? Things like child sacrifice, fertility cults with prostitution, bestiality, etc. In the case of an event like a fertility cult, I think many of us can see the drive that would get Israel to fall into that. Sadly, there is a parallel with our own culture today. We have a society that often sees sex as the highest good and anything for sexual pleasure. Abortion is running rampant, which is our child sacrifice. I consider our case worse though. The ancients sacrificed children for the favor of the gods at least. We sacrifice them today for the favor of ourselves in convenience and in an age where Christianity has shown us true morality.
Let’s start with some differences then between the beliefs of the Israelites and those of the pagans.
First off, priestesses and goddesses played a big part in pagan religion. In Israel, this is strangely absent. (For the record, when I say Israel, I mean Israel if properly following the law of Moses. I know about the worship of the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah and other such practices.)
Secondly, sexual rituals were also important in these religions, but such rituals were entirely condemned in Israel.
Thirdly, the gods and goddesses were seen as localized. In Israel, YHWH was seen as Lord of Heaven and Earth.
Fourthly, idols were essential to pagan worship. In Israel, idols were forbidden.
Now let’s move on to what Loftus says. He says we don’t believe in gods of various objects. Very good. Neither did Israel. They believed in one God of everything. He also says that we don’t see omens in events like eclipses, droughts, storms, floods, and earthquakes. Good. Neither does a biblical worldview.
One that must be disagreed with is sickness as demon possession. There are many healings even in the gospels that take place that have nothing to do with demons. Some did. Now the question is, does that mean they were nonsense? That must be established. I do realize that it’s not a common thing in Western civilization. Such doesn’t surprise me either.
As for eclipses also, it’s interesting to note that philosophy first began with an eclipse. It was when Thales predicted an eclipse of the sun that the Greeks began to really dig into philosophy. Of course, Thales did this based on records from other civilizations. The ancients were studying these things after all. The Greeks did not take them as a bad thing. They saw that they showed the nature of the world.
Let’s look at a few Old Testament examples that are given though.
The first is the Tower of Babel and having it reach to Heaven. Now could some have believed they were reaching the gods? Yes. Let’s consider another reason for building a tower though. The people had just overcome a flood and they were told to go out into the world. Instead, they were building a tower so they could outlast a flood and not have to go out into the world.
Loftus also points out that the original writers would never see a triune concept in the statement saying “Let us.” I’m somewhat surprised that someone with seminary degrees would postulate that as an argument. I don’t think anyone would claim that they did. This was the Jewish way of seeing Scripture by the rabbis though in finding great truths in the verses that might not have been intended by the original author but did not contradict him either.
As for the beasts in Job, I don’t have a clear opinion either way on which one of them they are. I can see Leviathan as the crocodile, but the nature of the behemoth is still up for debate. As for the mythical beasts slain by God, I do believe these are poetic accounts describing God as being Lord over all contenders and not treating them as realities just like Dante wrote about Greek characters in his inferno without believing they were real.
Next comes Moses and Aaron with the magicians. It is said that the magicians are not surprised by what they do, but let’s look at the beliefs. What about the snakes? It would seem possible that the Egyptians did handle snakes in such a way that they did carry them as if they were staves. It wasn’t a creation of life in this case as it was for Moses.
The turning of water to blood was not necessarily supernatural and we don’t know the means the magicians used. Such an occurrence of the water taking on that tint has happened before. The calling of frogs is not the creation of new life either but getting frogs to come from elsewhere. Again, the methods are not given.
I also find it amusing though that Loftus says that whether this happened or not is not the question. It’s entirely the question. If this happened, then we cannot at all say it is superstitious. Are we going to start saying that people who acknowledge reality as it happened are superstitious?
Let’s also note when the magicians recognized the finger of God which leads me to think what I think about the other events. That is when we have life coming from non-life. Sadly, even with supernatural activity, Pharaoh does not repent.
Now we are in the Exodus and the people have rebelled and made the golden calf. Loftus asks how they could after seeing what happened in Egypt.
It’s really quite simple. They would have come up with a way to explain it away. The human mind is exceptionally skilled at doing it, especially on the atheistic side. Loftus says “If I had been there, I know I wouldn’t.”
That remains to be seen….
It’s interesting that Loftus admits there was strange natural phenomena going on in the land at the time. (Yep. Having the firstborn all die unless the blood of a lamb was on the door is completely natural.) Also, the plagues did not happen in a “Blam! Blam! Blam!” fashion. They were separated by quite long periods of several months between the plagues.
Next we are told about Balaam being told to curse the Israelites. I find this amusing as the Bible never says that curses have such power. Now Balaam did bless them, but he was simply affirming what God had already said he would do. It would be nice to see the evidence that the biblical author really believed that because someone made a curse, it was ipso facto bound to happen.
When the Israelites blessed their children, it was because God was speaking through the patriarchs giving them divine revelation of what was to come. When the fig tree died because Jesus cursed it, it was because Jesus is the Lord of life and is capable of taking that life. There is nothing that says because X blesses Y or X curses Y, then Y will be blessed or cursed in Israelite culture.
The next is the so-called sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter. However, I have stated in writing about the God Delusion that this would have been for temple service. After all, no priest of Israel would have taken a child and burnt her on the altar.
With that, it is getting late here and I believe I shall continue this more tomorrow.