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 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

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