Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been going through Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” Tonight, we look at the title called “The Failures of Revelation.
Stenger’s point in this chapter is the failure of revelation in Scriptures to give information that can be empirically verified. He states that there are three areas. He first states that no information has ever come through a religious experience that could not have been known beforehand by the individual. Second, there are gross errors of scientific fact. Third, not a single risky prophecy can be objectively shown to have been fulfilled. Unfortunately, the term “risky” is not defined.
The first problem is that Stenger says he’s going to use scientific criteria to measure these. That might have some possibility with the first, but with the second, he’ll also need to make sure he has good skill in studies of literature to make sure he’s not reading like a fundamentalist. As we have seen however, he usually is. The third one is not scientific however but is rather historical and he will need historical information to determine the truthfulness or falsity of the claim that a Bible prophecy has been fulfilled.
Stenger even says “Personal testimonials and anecdotal stories have little or no value as evidence for the truth of extraordinary claims.” Why should this be the case? For instance, suppose I played the same lottery numbers every week and a friend knew those numbers and he came up to me one week and said “I was watching the news! Your numbers got picked!” That would be just his personal testimony on what has happened, but I would accept it and be ready to cash in my ticket.
Now to an extent, I don’t think testimonies alone can seal the deal. I think there is something definitely to the power of Christ to change a life, but several people can point to Buddhist teachings changing their lives or a self-help seminar. I believe in what C.S. Lewis recommended. Let your arguers go forward first in evangelism to break down the walls blocking belief, and then send forth people with testimonies to show the practical value of Christianity.
Stenger’s look at religious experience is lacking. Discussing such stories of foretelling the future he says “Despite many stories, however, no such report has stood up under scientific scrutiny.”
I wonder at this point if I was to write a chapter in a book defending inerrancy how it would be if I just said “Despite many objections, no supposed biblical contradiction has stood up under scrutiny.” Then, I just left it at that. No sources. Nothing. Would Stenger accept it? No. I wouldn’t blame him. Would you? I hope not! Stenger however does just that here. He gives no sources for these claims. Where were these studies done? Who was studied? Who did the studying?
There is nothing. Stenger doesn’t even cite a single source. If I wrote the above in a chapter and at least provided a footnote or endnote with books listed, you could grant me that I at least pointed to references. With Stenger’s work, I don’t even know where to go for more information.
In looking at creation stories, Stenger says there are several but just a few will be selected, to show the Bible is not the sole source of creation narratives.
I wasn’t aware any apologist was making that claim….
That Stenger doesn’t know something like that tells me that he is indeed not researching his opponent’s opposition.
It’s a fair objection seeing as when Stenger even goes on to list some folk narratives from other cultures, he does not give a single source.
So what about the biblical account? Stenger tells us that the Bible teaches the world was created around ten thousand years ago and all kinds of things were created that remain immutable and the universe sits as a firmament above a flat, immovable, Earth.
His source here is to point to various Scripture passages. Gone is any mention of a commentary. In fact, the first reference early in this chapter was a quote from Gleason Archer in the Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties. Naturally, Stenger did not consult said encyclopedia on these passages.
To begin with, the firmament does not refer to some metal canopy, but rather to an expanse, as Archer himself says. Stenger did not bother to check and likely is banking on the hopes that his readers are ignorant. Other passages do not speak of the Earth being unmovable in a physical sense, but rather that God’s intention will take place.
For example, 1 Chron. 16:30 (Stenger only has Chronicles. One wonders if he knows there’s a first and second of that book.) says that the Earth cannot be moved. However, before that, it is speaking about it being established. The Psalm is not speaking about geographical movement but about God’s sights as it were being set in a favored position on our planet and how God is focused on what’s going on in our world. It would not make much sense for David to say “Praise God! The Earth is not moving through the universe!” It would have been nonsensical to those around him. The same is going on in Psalm 93 and 96 and 104 is clearly full of symbolism, seeing as the Hebrews did not believe God literally rode in a chariot. I frankly do not see the issue with Isaiah 45:18. As for Isaiah 40:22 describing the Earth as a circle, the Hebrews simply had no word necessarily for a sphere at the time. The same word was used for any circle.
It seems more likely that Stenger just went to a website like Skeptics’ Annotated Bible and didn’t bother doing his own research on the topic.
Not like such hasn’t happened before.
As for these references to immutability in species, again, I would love to see the references for that.
Stenger later goes on to cite the objection of how the Bible says the value of pi is 3. Ironically, in the same paragraph we find the following:
Ancient peoples cannot be expected to have understood the language of modern science or have needed an exact value of pi (except for the builders of great monuments like the pyramids).
Here, Stenger is actually correct, but then he fails to apply this to all he said. It gives the impression that Stenger is more interested in having a certain interpretation that he can easily prove wrong, rather than seeing if there might be a truer interpretation that fits with the literary and historical context of the passages. The Bible must be taken in a wooden literal sense for that is the only way it can be debunked so easily. Let’s not risk actually studying it.
For more information on Pi, I refer the reader to this.
For prophecy, Stenger believes that there should be something esoteric in the Bible that is not understood until a future date when it becomes true. (Yet ironically, he says prophecies have never been fulfilled. By his demands, maybe he should just wait longer?) He gives this example. Suppose the Bible said:
Before two millennia shall pass since the birth of our Lord, a man will stand on another world within the firmament and he will smite a tiny orb with his staff such that it will fly from sight.”
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what Stenger was referring to until he went on to talk about how men in Jesus’s day could have anticipated men being on the moon nor known anything about golf.
So Stenger would have a saying remain in Scripture for 2,000 years that would be absolutely nonsensical and handed down. Personally, I prefer Jesus’s idea. Speak to the people in language that they understand so that when the events happen, they can be sure of their fulfillment.
Stenger cites Genesis 3:15 as its often used a fulfillment of the birth of the Messiah and says “I am not sure what the prediction is here; that Jesus was to be born of a woman?”
Any commentaries cited? Not a one. Stenger says “I’m not sure.” There’s nothing wrong with being unsure of what a passage means. The best way to remedy that is to go to those learned in the Bible and find out what they say about what the passage means. Stenger doesn’t do so. Had he done so, he could have found out that seed is often attributed to a man and Jesus is said to be of the seed of woman rather than the seed of a man, a hinting at his virgin birth.
In a statement even more humorous, Stenger says “I would not be too far off base to note that Jesus sitting on God’s right hand has not been verified scientifically.”
It’s hard to imagine how someone can even think that way.
Heck. Whether I’m sitting in my own chair is not verified scientifically. You don’t have to do repeated experiments to see if I’m sitting at my computer as I write this. I wonder since Stenger is married if he says the same thing. “Well, when I scientifically verified that I loved my girlfriend at the time, I proposed to her and today, she is my wife.” Does he say “I know my children are special because I’ve scientifically verified it.” ?
The statement of Jesus at the right hand of the Father is not a scientific statement. It is a theological statement and a specifically ontological one as it describes a relationship between the Son and the Father. Of course, a literalist like Stenger is probably wondering if anyone has counted the number of fingers on God’s right hand.
In looking at fulfilled prophecies, he brings up the account of Jesus being born in Bethlehem and says “We have no reason outside the New Testament to believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”
There’s this great double-standard in history that if any other source makes a claim, that claim can stand on its own, but if that claim is found in the Bible, it has to be backed by something else in order to be verified. The gospels were written in the time of the eyewitnesses. Had Luke and Matthew made it up, witnesses could have said “You’re changing the story! We know where he was born!” Stenger needs to have a reason for thinking the Bible is wrong other than “It’s the Bible!”
His source for his criticism is Randall Helms’s “Gospel Fictions.” Helms is not accepted as an authority among mainstream historians. For more information on Helms, I recommend a start with this particular book here.
Stenger also brings up the slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem and asks why it wasn’t mentioned elsewhere. The reason is that Herod was simply a bloodthirsty king who regularly murdered possible threats to his throne. This slaughter would have killed about a dozen boys. With all that was going on at the time with Roman occupation and the Jewish wars, this was something small not worth mentioning.
Stenger also treats seriously the pagan copycat thesis. His source for this? “The Jesus Mysteries.” This is a book I have as well and a critique of it has been written by the Bede that can be found here and also includes other links within it. It’s sources like these that tell me Stenger is just looking for sources that agree with him and going on from there. The above books mentioned are cited again by Stenger throughout the rest of this chapter. He will not cite mainstream historians, Christian or non-Christian.
In conclusion, Stenger does not make his case. There is nothing scientific in this chapter, odd for a book supposed to be about science.
We shall continue tomorrow.