Oh, jeepers, here we go again!
Hi, everyone, this is Sheila again. Maybe last time you remember, Dad -- er, I mean, J. P. -- asked me to take down that guy Van Eck with all the cottonballs stuck in his cranium. Ya see, he's just got plumb bored with some of these uneducated Skeptics bringing up the same old same old one hundred gazillion times, so he's decided that he's gonna let us toons handle things from now on whenever he's asked to take down anyone who's especially nutty or else misinformed.
Now I have to say right off the bat that I don't think this Kyle Williams guy is nutty, at least not like Van Eck. I mean, he doesn't seem like he'd send you a lot of junk mail or anything (hey, makes me glad you can't send mail to Hearthstone, where I am!), and maybe he means well and all, but golly, it doesn't look like he's done a lick of real homework since the Truman administration. I mean, COME ON! Some of these arguments of his are just plain silly and wouldn't have been made had he cracked open some REAL books, ya know? It's kind of like back when J. P. defended that McDowell character all those years ago. You know, these guys pick on some popular book, throw back what they think is just "common sense" or whatever, then sit back on their haunches and crack open the bubbly like they've totally refuted all apologetics for all times. Good grief!
So anyways, Williams is after this book you guys have called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Geisler and Turek. He's got his Fruit of the Looms all in a wad over it because he thinks they're engaged in "deception". I mean, just look at this for example:
Geisler and Turek claim to prove that Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt (Atheist, page 25, 30-32, 134, 200, 203, 213, 231, 247, 273, 275, 293, 301, 354, 373, 383, 387, 388). Their foreword, written by David Limbaugh, claims that “powerful and convincing proof exists that Christianity is the one true religion...” (Atheist, page 7). These are bold claims. If these men had based their religious beliefs on faith alone, there would be no arguing with their dogma. However, they have crossed a line by claiming to have reason, logic and evidence on their side. By making this claim, they have placed the issue in the public arena, where it’s fair game. Their deceptions must be exposed.
OK, first of all, the man STILL hasn't gotten over the myth you guys have that "faith" means something that doesn't have to do with reason, logic, and evidence. Golly, all three of those lie at the heart of the word! This guy is upset about "deception" and he doesn't even know how the Greeks used the word pistis? Golly, I smell something bad the air, don't you? And then he goes on about having the "courage and integrity to examine the evidence objectively." DUDE! How about having the courage and integrity to get off your behind and do some real digging, huh? Jeepers. But look -- I ain't gonna do like Williams and repeat this 50 ways to next week, and I ain't gonna posture like he did when he called Geisler and Turek to "repentance". That sort of stuff is just showing off, and I don't think that's too ladylike, so I'll just take care of business with a minimum of fuss, 'K?
Anyways, Williams has this thing in a dialogue format. So I guess I'll go see him where he lives and record what happens for y'all, huh? From now on it's all from his POV as his own article was. See you next time.
I answered the door. There was a talking rabbit on my front porch. The rabbit said, “Hi! My name is Sheila Rangslinger and I understand you've written a critique of Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek's I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Anyways, J. P. Holding sent me around to teach you some manners and educate you."
“Uhhhhhh....” I said. “A talking rabbit?”
“Sure. You've seen talking books on your porch, so why not also talking rabbits? Well, not exactly a rabbit, but close. I'm really an Elapine and I'm from another world called Hearthstone. But you can think of me as a rabbit if it makes you comfortable.”
“Uhhhhhh....that talking book was just a literary device, though.”
“Fair enough,” said the rabbit. “I am too.”
“Yeah, I know. Kyle, do you mind if I ask you some questions about your critique?”
“On two conditions. I’ve already made up my mind, so I'm not interested in being preached at. I also want the right to say that anything you say is 'preaching' so you'll shut up. Also, I get to say you're deceptive but you can't question my honesty. So there.”
“Whatever,” said the rabbit. “Now Kyle, you say you’re an atheist?”
“Well, have you refuted the classic arguments for the existence of God?"
I paused and said, “Uhhhhhh....no, I guess not. I guess I'll say it’s possible there might be a god so I can cover all my bases.”
“I'm sure that will be helpful at some point.”
“My turn,” I said. “Are you a Christian? Do you believe in God?”
“Well, on Hearthstone we don't have Christians as such; our atonement event hasn't happened yet. But I'm a member of the Covenant of M'kai, which means I follow the same God as the Christians, as He has manifested Himself in our world.”
“Well, are you absolutely sure there is a God?” I asked.
The rabbit said without pause “Yes.”
“Guh....what??? Geisler and Turek didn't say that about themselves!"
“Yeah ... alright; so I'm not Geisler or Turek. I mean, they're not rabbits, are they?"
Suffering my own bewilderment, I decided it was time to change the subject. "Let's talk about something else." "Good idea," the rabbit said with a smile. Then it continued, "So how did you reach the conclusion that God does not exist?"
“The same way I reached the conclusion that fairies don’t exist. Nobody has shown me any convincing evidence.”
The rabbit rolled its eyes. "Yes, I am so sure you've beaten all those philosophical greats in this world. Shall we look at your responses to Geisler and Turek?”
So I invited the rabbit into my home. I poured a glass of ice water for myself and carrot juice for the rabbit. Oddly enough she didn't seem to recognize it.
Sheila: Kyle, I see here first of all that you answered the book by saying that "most people adopt the beliefs of their parents, friends, or their culture." But you also agree that this has nothing to do with whether what someone believes is true or not?
Kyle: Yeah, as I said, "That has nothing to do with truthfulness."
Sheila: Good. And we can also agree on a few further things here, like psychological reasons to believe, or reasons of authority.
Kyle: Yeah, I prefer logic, reason, science and evidence. I liked Geisler and Turek on one count -- they're not like other missionaries. Most of them encourage me to exercise faith.
Sheila: Well, the average missionary may not realize this, but "faith" is in fact .loyalty based on evidence.
Sheila: Well, let's not worry about that for now, since Geisler and Turek didn't either. Let's get right to the issues which they did discuss.
Sheila: Now I asked you if you had refuted the arguments for God, like the Kalam Cosmological Argument:
1. An infinite number of days has no end.Kyle: Yeah, I had a question about the first premise. Can an infinite number of days, hypothetically speaking, have a beginning? Can we start with today, and extend a timeline infinitely into the future?
2. Today is the end of history.
3. Therefore, there were not an infinite number of days before today.
Sheila: Nope, not in the same sense of the word that we mean. We mean an actual infinite, which has no end because it's beginningless. If the number of days has absolutely no beginning, then you can't add days to it. You're thinking of a potential infinite, which has a beginning but can extend into the future indefinitely, which is how we argue time is. What you said would only be true with a potential infinite.
Kyle: Then why can’t we turn the timeline around? Can’t we start with today, and extend our timeline infinitely into the past?
Sheila: Again, not with an actual infinite. Remember, today would never have arrived since an actual infinite has no beginning and no end. And "extending our timeline infinitely into the past" is just trying to get across the infinite in the opposite direction, which would be silly because, again, there is no beginning.
Kyle: The first timeline has a beginning, but no end. The second timeline has an end, but no beginning. Both timelines contain an infinite number of days, though. Am I right?
Sheila: Nope, you're not right. In our argument, we mean an actual infinite, not a potential infinite, which is what you keep bringing up. Since the first timeline has a beginning, the amount of days it contains can't be an infinite amount. You can't travel an infinite number of days regardless of how much time you're given, because you can always add one more day before reaching actual infinity. On the second timeline, the same rule applies: You can't go over an infinite number of days by subtraction either.
Kyle: Uh, when you say, “something that is infinite has no end,” you are mistaken. Right?
Sheila: Doesn't sound like it.
Kyle (shaking): The first premise is false, and this invalidates your conclusion.
Sheila: Nope, our premises require more than baseless assertion to be falsified; so do our conclusions if they're to be invalidated.
Kyle: The offer remains open.
Sheila: Thanks, but first you have to invalidate our premises, which you've failed pretty miserably to do. So here's another chance: You can’t add anything to something that is infinite, but tomorrow we will add another day to our timeline.
Kyle: Who says you can’t add anything to an infinite set? Of course you can. Ask any math teacher.
Sheila: No, no, you still don't understand the concept of an actual infinite. You can only add to a potential infinite, not an actual infinite. We've already established this. Let’s consider the argument from yet another angle: If there were an infinite number of days before today, then today would never have arrived.
Kyle: The opposite is true. In an infinite number of days, every day must arrive.
Sheila: The opposite isn't true. But it is true that if we are to have an actually infinite number of days, every day must arrive... except, and here's the catch, they must arrive all at once. They must all spring into existence "complete". However, you can't travel an infinite number of days by adding one after another, which is what we have done in the past and is what we will continue to do come tomorrow.
Kyle: Of course I can't traverse an infinite amount of days. A mortal man can’t even traverse a thousand years. Does that mean a thousand years can’t exist? Those who believe that an immortal God had no beginning should have no objection to his traversing an infinite number of days. After all, he has had infinite time in which to accomplish that feat.
Sheila: It's enough that time progresses as it does, which is one day after another. It wouldn't matter if you lived forever, because you could always add another day before reaching an infinite number of days. So, you can't traverse an infinite amount of days regardless of how much time you have. Also, your objection to God's being eternal is a misunderstanding. God exists without time. God created time. Before God created the universe there was timelessness, and in a state of timelessness there are no days for God to get across. He didn't have an infinite amont of time to accomplish anything.
Kyle: No. The Kalam Argument, which you call "rationally inescapable," is false. Because philosophically, there is no reason to limit the number of days before today.
Sheila: You're ignoring us. What do you think the Kalam Argument is? It's a philosophical argument. So, since it's sound, philosophically there is very good reason for time to have a beginning. You certainly have not shown it to be false. You haven't even put up any argument against it. All we have is your baseless assertion, and if baseless assertion is the best you can come up with, then we don't have enough faith to be atheists.
Well, Kyle, I need to take a break here because a lot of the next few chapters are stuff that I'm not an expert at. I'll pick it up with Chapter 8, OK?
Sheila: Great. Can I use your phone?
Kyle: Is it a local call?
Sheila: Well, no, it is transdimensional, actually.
Kyle: What's that gonna cost me? Or will you pay me back?
Sheila: Let's see...at the current rate of exchange...it would cost 7 million of our florins...which in your terms would be...73 cents.
Kyle: Uh....OK. Go ahead.
(Sheila picks up the phone and dials about 25 numbers)
Sheila: Hi, Beamer? This is Sheila. Yeah! Fine! Say, it's time for your part of talking to Kyle, can you -- ? Great! (Hands phone to Kyle)
Kyle: Yeah? Who is this?
Beamer: Name's Beamer. I'm Sheila's science guy and I'm gonna talk with you about the scientific parts about Geisler and Turek's book.
Kyle: Are you a talking rabbit too?
Beamer: No...I'm a Tilkrig. You might think I was a lizard at first glance but I'm actually mammalian too. Maybe you'd say you'd see something like me on Fraggle Rock.
Kyle: Uh huh.
Beamer: Well, I know this is costing you, so shall we get on with it?
Kyle: I guess. So let me ask you: Do you believe there was a Big Bang?
Beamer: I’m not sure myself. And many of your Christians would disagree with relying on the big bang as proof of God. See Secular scientists blast the big bang, What now for naïve apologetics? for example. But the Big Bang is unnecessary to the >Kalam Cosmological Argument anyway. But you say you’re agnostic when it comes to science?
Kyle: I suppose.
Beamer: Hmph. That's is an intellectually lazy response. Many atheists use "science" as a stick with which to beat Christianity, ignoring the Christian roots of science. But they run when confronted with science that undermines their atheistic faith. I hope you can do better as we progress. So let me be clear here: I don't see that we need a "Big Bang" to use the SURGE scheme, OK?
Kyle: Yeah, but as I said, I don’t have the training to refute it. Therefore, for the sake of our discussion, I accept it as correct. Space, time and matter had a beginning. It’s counter-intuitive; it’s difficult to grasp such a bizarre concept, but for the sake of our discussion, I accept it as correct.
Beamer: Hmph. Your difficulty of grasping a concept is irrelevant. Do you grasp an actual infinite, the only alternative?
Kyle: Huh? What?
Beamer: Sigh. Never mind. Look...you quote Geisler and Turek as talking about other dimensions. I doubt that they would have conceded this. This talk about other dimensions is not scientific, because it is not testable even in principle, and it violates Occam's Razor. But I do agree with them when they say, the uncaused something had to be personal, in order to choose to convert other dimensions into the time-space-material universe. An impersonal force has no ability to make choices.
Kyle: Yeah, well, that's begging the question. What makes you think the emergence of space, time and matter was a personal choice? Couldn’t it have been a natural phenomenon?
Beamer: No. Only a personal being could choose the particular moment at which the universe began. And that it was a universe that began, not a banana.
Kyle: Yeah, but as I said, Our particular laws of physics might not work in other dimensions, but the other dimensions surely have some kind of order to them – some parallel to our natural laws. Otherwise, the other dimensions would be total chaos, and not even your God could exist. So if a god can exist in other dimensions, then other phenomena can occur in them, and those phenomena would occur according to the nature of those dimensions.
Beamer: Crumbs to that. These other dimensions are the atheist's last refuge, even though they have been invoked to explain the incredible fine tuning of the universe. But they could explain absolutely anything. I.e. even if you saw the letters "Kyle, you have won a million dollars" printed on the sand at a beach, you could argue that you just happen to live in one of the infinite number of parallel universes were water and wind erosion produced those letters. Do you have proof that the Big Bang was caused by natural phenomena?
Kyle: Do you have proof that it was caused by personal choice?
Beamer: Come off it (if we are talking about a beginning of the universe, which I deny was the big bang). You have no explanation for the origin of the universe, other than "it happened". Kyle: Uhhhh...well, answer this: Why is there a God rather than no God?
Beamer: I agree with Geisler and Turek. That’s a good question. That’s a really good question.
Kyle: But it doesn’t have a good answer, does it?
Beamer: You think it needs one? Every philosophical system has axioms , or starting premises that cannot be proven. However, a premise that God has always existed is superior to one that takes as a brute fact that the universe came into existence. For one thing, a self-existent being needs no cause, but things that begin do need one. For another, the axiom that there is a God of Order who created the universe provides the presuppositions required for science. See also this reply to Agnostic asks whether biblical Christians commit circular reasoning: role of axioms, internal consistency and real world application.
But even if not, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that there are some things that cannot be proven. In 1931, Kurt Gödel (1906–1978) showed that in any philosophical system as complex as arithmetic or above, there would always be true statements that were not able to be proven within the system. Even Stephen Hawking has finally seen the light that Gödel’s ‘incompleteness proof’ is the death knell to his attempts to formulate a ‘theory of everything’.
Kyle: Uhhhhhh...so where are we? I agree that something caused space, time and matter to come into existence, assuming your scientific evidence is correct. But neither the Cosmological Argument nor the scientific evidence says anything about what existed before the Big Bang.
Beamer: Actually, there is no such thing as before the big bang, according to the theory, because this is when time itself began. This applies to a big-bang free Kalaam argument as well, because there is no time without matter.
Kyle: It might have been a god, or it might have been another set of dimensions as complex, precise, varied and marvelous as space and time. We simply don’t know. Neither science nor philosophy tells us what may have caused the Big Bang. Beamer: Your argument, despite the moribund side branch of the big bang, does show that the universe had a cause. And since the material universe has not existed forever, it follows that the cause is non-material.
Kyle: Let me get right to this I asked them: What would you say if I told you God was a simple being? If fact, God is so simple that the raw forces of nature – wind, rain, erosion, or some combination of natural forces – could easily form a new God.
Beasmer: That'd be pretty silly, mainly because "simplicity" in theology means that God is not composed of parts.
Beamer: Never mind. You had a point?
Kyle: Yeah! Not everything that is complex and precise requires planning and manufacture by an intelligent being. In other words, not every design requires a designer.
Beamer: You miss something there. The teleological argument is a subset of the causality argument — everything that begins has a cause — that deals with the beginning of things with specified complexity, which is an intelligent cause. So you're knocking down a straw man. Kyle: Guh? Uh, well -- what about when I said, Remember, it’s only space, time and matter that were formed by the Big Bang, assuming your science is correct. The other dimensions can exist eternally, can’t they?
Beamer: This presupposes that God needs spatio-temporal dimensions to exist, which is simply not true, and it's doubtful that Geisler and Turek would think otherwise. See the article by the leading exponent of the Kalaam argument, William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross’ extra-dimensional deity: a review article. Kyle: You seem to think that God is the only thing that existed in the other dimensions. I think the other dimensions were as varied, complex and precise as space, time and matter.
Beamer: I agree that You have no proof of that.
Kyle: We’re in the same boat, then. You have no proof of God.
Beamer: Hmph. Amazing that atheists can dismiss belief in God because it is ostensibly unprovable, but postulate a deus ex machina of other spatio-temporal dimensions. You need to grasp this: There is no such thing as "pre-"big bang because there is no time. Let me move on to your thing about the Rolex. Do you think that a watch arose by reproduction?
Beamer: Then what is the point of all that you said besides showing off in your first four points?
Kyle: Uhhh...well, a fifth alternative is that non-intelligent beings made some things. A spider’s web, a beaver’s dam, or a beehive are examples.
Beamer: I would argue that the programming of their instincts required intelligence.
Kyle: Uh....a sixth alternative is that the thing is eternal. You believe God is eternal. I believe the universe itself is eternal – or at least the non-temporal, nonspatial dimensions.
Beamer: You have a lot of faith -- in the colloquial, antibiblical sense -- in these unseen and unfelt dimensions! Kyle: Uhhhhh....look! You say that the earth’s characteristics either combined by random chance, or they were designed by God. I admit the earth is very precise and complex. It’s an amazing place. But I don’t see the necessity for divine design. I believe complexity and precision are eternal characteristics of the universe. If there was a Big Bang, the precision and complexity carried over from the other dimensions.
Beamer: But any postulated big bang would be so violent that it would destroy any remnants of this alleged other universe. And who ever heard of an explosion producing complexity?
Kyle: Well, I could play the same numbers game to show that anything is equally improbable. For example, the improbability that I was born with my precise ancestry is staggering. Probabilities are useful for predicting the future, but anything established in the past has a probability of one hundred percent. The past is no longer a probability, but a certainty. Your numbers game is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
Beamer: Sorry, caught you. You're "cheating with chance". For one thing, it is a certainty that you had a genetic ancestry of some kind. But what is the chance that your particular genetic makeup could be duplicated? Similarly, there is a certainty that someone will win the lotto. But if the same person kept winning, this in itself would be evidence that the wheel was fixed. To apply this to the origin of life, there is no certainty at all that useful proteins will form by chance combinations of amino acids. So it is even more fallacious to try the dodge that any combination is equally improbable. Sorry, Kyle -- I have to say that you've done badly; and the real Geisler and Turke; would never let you trot out the boring old "who created God" canard.
Beamer: Now Kyle, a few things on this chapter. First of all, your comparison of theism to panspermia is nonsensical. Panspermists posits a materialistic origin of life, but just puts the problem back a step. But materialists have deluded themselves that panspermia is scientific while God is not. Second, I think the real Geisler and Turek would probably ask, "I can only be bothered to defend such a crazy idea of immaterial aliens if he can present arguments that convince him. If they don't convince him, then why should we waste our time refuting them?" Third, your alien race could not "stretch back through an infinite number of generations" because of the finite time the universe has existed. I thought you got out of Mormonism? Kyle: Well...uh...I guess it still creeps in from time to time.
Beamer: Yeah. I think that's where you get some of your ideas. Let me ask, can you produce a single scientist or philosopher who believes in immaterial panspermia as a source of life on earth?
Kyle: No. But I still think a more credible theory is that all life forms come from an infinite line of ancestors. Life itself – with all its variety – is eternal.
Beamer: Once more, material life must have had a beginning, because the universe did. And since material life has not existed forever, it must have had an immaterial source. I would add that although nature can’t tell us who the Intelligent Designer is, the Intelligent Designer already has, in the Bible. You need to drop that Mormon stuff, Kyle. It's not good for you.
By the way, you said, We can reproduce life through our genitals, but we cannot engineer or manufacture life by intelligent design. That might be changing. In fact, if scientists generate life in a test tube, it will be further evidence that life required an intelligent cause in the beginning. See Will scientists create new life forms—and what would it prove?
Kyle: Hmph. We have not discovered any being with the super-intelligence required for manufacturing life. Therefore, panspermia should be considered the most reasonable alternative.
Beamer: If you wish to argue seriously for this, I hope you'll do so in a stand-alone article. Otherwise I think you're just playing games. Kyle: You know, I can’t let that statement go unchallenged. In my opinion, it’s offensive, arrogant and completely untrue. And while I’m at it, I also object to the harsh statements you make against atheists...I’m not saying this to be unkind. I just want you to know that I disagree.
Beamer: Tough. It happens to be true. If we evolved by survival of the fittest, what is wrong with ostensibly "harsh' statements anyway? And what is your "offense" but reactions of your brain neurons obeying fixed laws of chemistry, reactions that evolved because they conferred some survival value? If so, then he couldn't help being offended! So go ahead, be offended, I don't care. I evolved that way also.
Beamer: Now you have Geisler and Turek say, We know micro-evolution occurs: a particular species of animal may develop and change over time, without turning into another species. Not correct, unfortunately. Rapid speciation occurs and is also a prediction of the biblical Creation/Fall/Flood/Dispersion model. See Speedy species surprise. Informed creationists also advise against differentiating micro- and macro-evolution, because the issue is the type or direction of change—see Arguments creationists should NOT use. This error, like the big bang above, means I agree with neither you nor Geisler and Turek, but let me drop a few points in anyway. First, see the Alleged ape-men Q&A. Second, you say, We have discovered that the entire blueprint of a person’s body is embedded in the nucleus of every cell. Maybe the blueprint of the entire universe is embedded in each and every atom. That's nonsense. In fact, it is what we DO know about nuclear physics and chemistry that shows that these forces are move AWAY from life not towards it. E.g. long protein and DNA molecules break down in water, rather than being built up. See Origin of Life: The Polymerization Problem. Third, you say, Maybe the atmospheric and geological conditions of planet Earth were different during the Cambrian period than they are today, and the various life forms in other dimensions "solidified" into a material existence, purely by natural phenomena. Well, a change of phase (e.g. solid-liquid-gas) is completely different from the encyclopedic information content that must be generated for life to form. Fourth, you say, Intelligence itself is a natural phenomenon. Intelligence depends on nature – not the other way around. That is begging the question. In fact, the origin of consciousness is very hard to explain on a materialistic basis. Richard Gregory, evolutionist and professor of neuropsychology and director of the brain and perception laboratory at the University of Bristol in England, explained the dilemma in the book Consciousness (1977, pp. 276-7):
If the brain was developed by Natural Selection, we might well suppose that consciousness has survival value. But for this it must, surely, have causal effects. But what effects could awareness, or consciousness, have?
Why, then, do we need consciousness? What does consciousness have that the neural signals (and physical brain activity) do not have? Here there is something of a paradox, for if the awareness of consciousness does not have any effect—if consciousness is not a causal agent—then it seems useless, and so should not have developed by evolutionary pressure. If, on the other hand, it is useful, it must be a causal agent: but then physiological description in terms of neural activity cannot be complete. Worse, we are on this alternative stuck with mentalistic explanations, which seem outside science.
Next, you ask, As an atheist, I require evidence outside the Bible. And what is the "empirically detectable evidence" you mention? But another school of thought is that all science must be interpreted according to a framework based upon axioms. Most philosophers of science recognize that facts are interpreted in the light of theories.
You also say, This fact actually favors panspermia over creation. Life has never been observed to be created.Actually, the law of biogenesis says that life comes only from life. And since material life has not existed forever, then material life must have its source in non-material life.
So let me sum it up: You have mangled the Kalaam argument with farfetched talk about other dimensions you probably don't really believe in; you have miscontrued the teleological argument by not taking it as a subset of a causality argument; and ludicrously pushed panspermia using arguments that convince no scientists; and "cheated with chance"
Kyle: ARGGGH!! (slams phone down)
Sheila: Have a good time?
Kyle: I like talking to you better.
Sheila: That's fine. Now then. I need to pass on Chapter 7; it's not my bag. Let's go to 8. You have already allowed that if God exists, He can surely do miracles.
Kyle: Yeah, well, I'll ask you the same question I asked the book: how can you prove the occurrence of a miracle?
Sheila: It's the same as with any event recorded in history: The only way to know for sure if a miracle has occurred is to investigate the evidence for each miracle claim.
Kyle: On a case-by-case basis?
Sheila: Yes, of course -- that's how it's done for everything recorded in history, whether it be a battle or a conversation.
Kyle: Oh yeah? Do you admit that there are more false miracles than real ones?
Sheila: I don't admit anything like that. I haven't counted all of them.
Kyle: Yeah, but, images of the Virgin Mary on underpass stains and grilled cheese sandwiches, Benny Hinn’s pseudo-healings, Bible Codes, etc.
Sheila: Your point being what? All you've done is assemble a list of false claims without showing that the majority of ALL claims are false. If you want to play that game, then you shouldn't believe anyone ever tells you the truth because lies are so common.
Kyle: Uh, well, I'm hard to impress. If there is an omniscient God who wants to impress us with a miracle, he should understand that most miracle claims are false. He should understand that we know this. He should understand that we are justified in being skeptical about any miracle claim.
Sheila: Sorry, but it sounds to me like you're being spoiled and asking for special treatment and simply begging the question of "most" -- as well as arbitrarily placing all "false" miracles into one broad category to try and make them seem like they are of a larger number than they are. It's wrong to put "miracles" caused by honest misunderstanding into the same category as those "done" because someone lied.
Kyle (pouting): I don't care. God should provide evidence that’s convincing enough to overcome our natural skepticism.
Sheila: And what makes you think your level of skepticism is "natural" as opposed to being inflated by your tendency to be spoiled?
Kyle:Snort. Bring on the evidence, but be forewarned that I will subject it to rigorous testing.
Sheila (rolls eyes): Oh, I'm sure you'll think that.
Sheila: First, let’s establish that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person – not just a fictitious character. There are ten non-Christian writers who mentioned Jesus within 150 years of his death. My favorite is Flavius Josephus.
Kyle: When did he live?
Sheila: He was born in about A.D. 37, and he died about A.D. 100. In about A.D. 93, he finished his famous Antiquities of the Jews. In book 18, chapter 3, section 3 of that work, Josephus, who was not a Christian, wrote these words:
At this time [the time of Pilate] there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.
Kyle: How certain are we that Josephus actually wrote those words?
Sheila: That’s a good question. Most scholars believe that Christians changed the quotation.
Kyle: Changed? Isn’t it possible that Christians added that passage to Josephus?
Sheila: No, not the whole thing. Josephan scholars like Feldman and Mason have thoroughly debunked the idea that it is a total intperolation.
Kyle: Sheila, I’d like you to meet Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005 Deluxe. Let’s call him EB for short.
Sheila: Wait a minute. I'm calling on Josephan scholars, and you're using an encyclopedia? What is this, a third grade report?
Kyle: Uh, well, I like to refer to the Encyclopaedia Britannica because it has a good reputation, it’s cheap, and it’s readily available. I got these CD’s recently for less than forty dollars.
Sheila: Oh, THOSE are wonderful reasons for choosing an authority. Well, scholars like Feldman have better reputations, can be gotten at academic libraries, and sorry, you DO have to work a bit to read them, but if you care about truth, does that matter?
Sheila: I'm sorry, Kyle, but your EB article isn't up to date on the scholarship.
Kyle: Notice, though, that at least one of the passages referring to Jesus was either invented or tampered with, or so heavily revised that we cannot discern what Josephus really said.
Sheila: Josephan scholars don't agree with that assessment. Do some research, and you will find that EB is out of date. That's what happens when you rely on encyclopedias and not serious scholarly resources.
Kyle (struggling):OK, let’s assume, though, for the sake of the argument, that the scholars are right, and Josephus really did write those passages. What would the passages prove?
Sheila: All that Josephus says of Jesus.
Kyle: Not really. They would only affirm that the gospel story was in circulation in A.D. 93. They would not indicate that the story was true. Jesus died several years before Josephus was born. Therefore, Josephus was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. Whatever information he may have had about Jesus was acquired by hearsay.
Sheila: Kyle, that is one of the silliest and most contrived arguments ever conceived. Do you realize that you could say the same thing of every other event recorded by Josephus, or by any other historian, writing about events from before their time?
Sheila: Besides, Josephus was quite reliable as a historian -- not the best of his time, but --
Kyle: You got that right! Josephus may have been “the greatest Jewish historian of his time,” but by today’s standards, he would not be called a good historian at all. Josephus routinely included stories in his writings that were obviously fictitious. He made no distinction between historical fiction and historical fact. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that he exaggerated his facts and embellished the biblical narratives.
Sheila: You're using that Encyclopedia AGAIN? Do you ever do any real research? Look, Kyle: Even historians who note that Josephus did these things -- and by the way, I'd sure like to see you argue specifics, not just rely on your child's encyclopedia --
Kyle: Aw, come on, I don't WANT to work that hard...
Sheila: -- will STILL use him as a reliable source for MOST of what he says. Furthermore, you need to explain why the passage about Jesus in particular ought to be disregarded on this basis. Kyle, your criteria for determination are frankly junk. You need to do some real homework next time.
Kyle (shuffling in chair): Okay, so you have discredited my star argument. What about the other nine?
Sheila: You can see what J. P. says about them.
Kyle: How many of them ever saw Jesus?
Sheila: Kyle, you're being silly again. If you play that game then no historian could ever write anything about anything he hasn't seen. Do you play this game with modern historians?
Kyle: Uhhhh...no, but they're modern people and know what they're doing.
Sheila: That's very bigoted of you, Kyle. Several of the people Geisler and Turek cited were very intelligent and critical. Tacitus for example is regarded as a very reliable historian. Lucian was a Skeptic, like you! So was he stupid?
Kyle: Uhhhh....but they had no firsthand knowledge of Jesus.
Sheila: So, what? Most historians use sources and do not have firsthand knowledge of most of their subjects. What's your point? You really need to learn what hearsay is and why it isn't simply waved off because you don't like it.
Kyle: A quick search on the Internet brings me to a web page by Richard Carrier (www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/thallus.html), who says:
Of course, even if Thallus did mention the death of Jesus, we have already shown that he then probably wrote in the 2nd century, when we know this gospel story was already circulating nearly a century after the event. In such a case, Thallus is not an independent witness to the story, but is merely responding to Christian literature. This makes him of practically no use to apologists.Sheila: "A "quick search on the Internet," huh? That's the extent of your research, apparently. J. P.'s people do it better.
Kyle: Well, I say that the only thing that can be said with certainty is that Christians existed by the late first century, and those Christians propagated stories about a christ (or messiah) named Jesus.
Sheila: So, Kyle, by the same logic, with Tacitus, all that can be said with certainty is that Romans existed by the late second century and that those Romans propogated stories about an Emperor or two with names like Caligula and Nero. And don't try to tell me about coins, by the way -- those could have been forged by later Romans. See how easy it is?
Kyle: Uh....do you agree, EB? What do you say under “Jesus Christ: Sources for the life of Jesus”?
Sheila: Kyle, will you stop with the silly little encyclopedia? Get into some real sources. For example, that bit about how Tacitus "was dependent on familiarity with early Christianity" completely ignores the vast evidence of his reliability and independence as a researcher as documented by Tacitean scholars like Syme, Benario, etc. It also fails to account for the negative tone of Tacitus' reference.
But anyway, now to your bit about Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26:24-28....
Kyle: Yeah, Festus and Agrippa failed to convert. Nor did they leave any indication that they had met Paul or even heard of Jesus. Nor do we find any mention of Jesus in sources that probably would have mentioned Jesus, had they ever heard of him: Jewish sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo, Justus of Tiberias, Pliny the Elder, Martial, Juvenal, Epictetus, Seneca, Plutarch and Quintilian. From such sources we get only silence. They didn’t know Jesus or his apostles.
Sheila: Oh, come on, Kyle! I thought you had some knowledge on these things but I was obviously wrong. You're just swallowing Remsberg's list without caring what any of those people wrote abiut -- any by the way, neither Festus Nnor Agrippa left us anything aboout anything, so I don't know why you're making an issue. But come on, can you explain to me why someone like Quintilian, a writer on rhetorical technique, should have written about Jesus?
Kyle: Uhh, never mind. But I’d like to play for you an excerpt from a lecture by Bart D. Ehrman, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is from Lecture Three of “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity...”
Sheila: Ehrman, huh? I hear he's good for a few laughs. Why him and not your encyclopedia?
Kyle: Uh...here it is...
Ehrman: If we look at the sources on Jesus written by Romans – non-Christian Romans who were neither Jewish nor Christian – if we look at the sources written in the first century, we have hundreds of sources. We have writings of poets, philosophers, religion scholars, natural scientists, personal letters that people sent through the ancient equivalent of the mail system, inscriptions that were put up on buildings. If we examine all of these pieces of literature from the ancient world, from the first century, from the time Jesus died in the year 30 until the year 100 – if we examine all of this record from the Roman Empire, we will find that Jesus is never, ever mentioned at all. His name never occurs in any Roman source that’s neither Jewish nor Christian, from the first century of the common era. What were his enemies saying about him? We have no idea, because they left us no writings.Sheila: Well, those are some silly comments, Kyle. Is Ehrman really thinking that someone like Quintilian ought to have mentioned Jesus? Besides, Ehrman is hiding part of the truth -- the amount of material we have left from the years 30-100 is extremerely small; there are not "hundreds" of sources. Blaiklock, who was a classical scholar, cataloged the non-Christian writings of the Roman Empire (other than those of Philo) which have survived from the first century and do not mention Jesus. These items are: An amateurish history of Rome by Vellius Paterculus, a retired army officer of Tiberius. It was published in 30 A.D., just when Jesus was getting started in His ministry. An inscription that mentions Pilate. Fables written by Phaedrus, a Macedonian freedman, in the 40s A.D. From the 50s and 60s A.D., Blaiklock tells us: "Bookends set a foot apart on this desk where I write would enclose the works from these significant years." Included are philosophical works and letters by Seneca; a poem by his nephew Lucan; a book on agriculture by Columella, a retired soldier; fragments of the novel Satyricon by Gaius Petronius; a few lines from a Roman satirist, Persius; Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis; fragments of a commentary on Cicero by Asconius Pedianus, and finally, a history of Alexander the Great by Quinus Curtius. From the 70s and 80s A.D., we have some poems and epigrams by Martial, and works by Tacitus (a minor work on oratory) and Josephus (Against Apion, Wars of the Jews). None of these would have offered occasion to mention Jesus. From the 90s, we have a poetic work by Statius; twelve books by Quintillian on oratory; Tacitus' biography of his father-in-law Agricola, and his work on Germany.
Why didn’t they talk about Jesus? Well, that’s an interesting question. I would assume that they didn’t talk about Jesus because he didn’t make as big of an impact on his world as he has made on ours.
The first time Jesus is ever mentioned by any pagan source is not until the year 112 of the common Era. The source is a letter written by a Roman Governor whose name was Pliny.
Of course, it's a straw man Ehrman is dealing with anyway. No one argues that Jesus had a "big impact" in the way he did on our world.
Kyle: Uhhhhhh....let’s fast forward a little.
Ehrman: This was in the year 112, some 80 years after Jesus’s death, and he mentioned that there was a group of people called Christians who were gathering together illegally: “they’re called Christians because they worship somebody named Christ, whom they worship as a god.” That’s all he says about Jesus. It is the first reference to Jesus, though, in a Roman source, in the year 112. After that, Jesus’s name starts appearing in Roman sources, but if you want to look at Roman sources for what you can find out about what Jesus actually said and did, they simply don’t exist.Sheila: The point being, what? Like I said, there's nothing else before that that ought to have mentioned Jesus. Can you explain why Columella should have mentioned him?
Kyle: Uhhhhhhh.....let's keep going....
Ehrman: Within the first century A.D., [Josephus] is the only reference to Jesus outside of Christian sources. As a result, we are more or less left with accounts of Jesus written by his own followers if we want to know what Jesus said and did.Sheila: So again, what's your point? The same could be said of Socrates -- the story of his life is scarecely found anywhere except in the writings of his followers like Plato and Xenophon. The only other source is a play by Aristophanes, and that gives us as much about Socrates as Tacitus, Lucian, and others give us about Jesus. I'm not sure what point you're trying to prove, Kyle, but whatever it is makes no sense.
From within the first century A.D., these references by Jesus’s own followers come almost entirely to us from the pages of the New Testament. We have scarcely any Christian writings outside the New Testament that survive from the first century A.D., but even within the New Testament, stories of Jesus’s life are scarcely found anywhere except for in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Kyle (trembling): Uh, well, the point is that the four gospels stand alone as your only source of knowledge about Jesus of Nazareth. Even though hundreds of sources survive from the first century, nobody except the Christians ever mention the existence of Jesus.
Sheila: Kyle, there are NOT hundreds of sources; there are barely a dozen. I doubt if you could name even 100. And most of those sources are rhetoritcians, specialists in agriculture...writing about some subject where mention of Jesus would never be found anyway. This is indeed what happens when a beautiful theory like the Christ-myth meets a brutal gang of facts. It's also what happens when you use sources uncritically.
Kyle: Uhhhhhh.....how about the New Testament? Isn’t the New Testament story a legend? What makes you think it’s historically accurate?
Sheila: I agree with Geisler and Turek here. To see if the New Testament is a record of actual history, we need to answer two questions: First, do we have accurate copies of the original documents that were written down in the first century? You didaccept, for the sake of the argument, that the Greek New Testament we have today is the same as it was when it was written in the first century, so we go to question 2: Do those documents speak the truth? Now you allow that history can be known, right?
Kyle: Yeah, but what we need to find out is: What is the New Testament’s genre? Was it written as history or something else?
Sheila: The Gospels, which are the historical narrative, were written in the genre of ancient bioi. That genre required the telling of the truth.
Kyle: Huh? What's "bioi"?
Sheila: Biography. Now let me ask this, do you believe that the inclusion of miracles in the New Testament necessarily negates it as history?
Kyle: Not necessarily. But the miracles indicate that the genre is most likely something other than factual history. They raise a strong red flag, warning us that unless there is very good evidence to the contrary, the gospel stories are legendary.
Sheila: Well, that's just plain wrong, actually. The genre is bioi, and that is simply that. Inclusion of miracles doesn't change the format at all. It didn't turn Tacitus' Annals into something other than Narrative history when he recorded the miracle of Vespasian healing a blind man. But you're being inconsistent here. You just said that the inclusion of miracles does not necessarily negate it as history, but now you say it "most likely" makes it not factual. There's a missing premise here.
Kyle: Uh....miracles don't happen, I guess.
Sheila: And why do you say this?
Kyle: I dunno. I guess I haven't seen any.
Sheila: Oh, that's nice and Humean. Let me try this: Do you believe the New Testament writers were too biased to present objective facts?
Kyle: Not necessarily. A person who has a strong point of view can still be objective. The question is, were the New Testament writers even trying to present objective facts. It depends on the genre.
Sheila: Well, as I said, they were bioi, so they were clearly intending to present objective facts. That takes care of that. Now let's see -- you accepted, for the sake of the argument, that the New Testament books were written as early as Geisler and Turek claimed. I can send you somewhere if you ever want to dispute it. So you accept for the sake of argument that there is only a 15- to 40-year gap between the life of Christ and the writings about him. So let's move on.
Sheila: Now we'll see if we can determine that the NT documents contain eyewitness testimony. Peter, Paul and John all claim to be eyewitnesses. Luke and the writer of Hebrews claim to be informed by eyewitnesses.
Kyle: But are these claims true? After all, why should we trust that those writers told us the truth? It’s one thing to claim that you’re an eyewitness or have eyewitness testimony, and it’s another thing to prove it.
Sheila: So, what's your epistemic test to determine this for a writer?
Sheila: In other words, you don't have one. Usually confirmation of details is a sign used by historians, and you were told how accurate Acts was...
Kyle: I guess I don't have a test. So I guess for the sake of the argument, I accept that the book of Acts accurately describes the historical background of its narrative.
Sheila: Good. Now since Luke has proven accurate with so many details, why is is not anything but pure anti-supernatural bias to say he’s not telling the truth about the miracles he records?
Kyle: Well, you have failed to prove that God exists.
Sheila: No, you postulated some rather lame arguments against the arguments that God exists.
Kyle:Well, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
Sheila: Come on, Kyle. Hume tried that silly argument years ago and he was made a fool of with the "ice analogy". That kind of logic means that a tropical prince could never believe in ice. Besides, who are you decide what is "extraordinary" and in what way? If God exists, then a miracle is not "extraordinary" to do. If you mean "extraordinary" in terms of how often it is done, then you create a contrived means of judgment that doesn't jibe with real life. How often do you see a total eclipse? Or have you seen the Earth's core? Obviously mere experience doesn't mean dip.
Kyle: Uhhhhh....Sheila, I’d like you to meet The Pearl of Great Price.
Sheila: We've met, thanks.
Sheila: I know what kind of silliness you're trying to pull, Kyle. I know the Pearl has many accurate points of history. But I don't reject what it says about Joseph Smith having visions and such because of a supernatural bias. I reject it because, for example, New World archaeology doesn't help one bit to verify Smith's claims. Also because, Mormon claims about the meaning of the Old and New Testament don't jibe with sound exegesis or the evidence. So, sorry, Geisler and Turek didn't make a weak argument; you just didn't do your homework.
Kyle: Uhhhh....How about a non-religious example: Allow me to introduce Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris. In his novel, Hugo describes the buildings and streets of Paris in painstaking detail...
Sheila: Kyle, that's another silly argument. Have you forgotten what you said about genre? Did Hugo market his book as non-fiction?
Kyle: Uhhhhhhhhh....I guess not.
Sheila: Whereas, Luke "marketed" his work as a biography of Jesus. Therefore your comparison is false.
Kyle: Uhhhhh, ummm, well, look at the Author’s Preface to The Life & Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe...
Sheila: Which was marketed as what, now?
Sheila: Kyle, I don't care how many examples like this you bring up. For one thing, you're ignoring your own objection about genre and intent. For another, historians always have and always will use confirmation of details as a reason to trust a work. You're trying to pretend to know better than historians how these things work. It puts the burden on you to explain why a work should not be trusted. Now can you do that or not where the New Testament is concerned?
Kyle: Uhhhhhhhh....I need some more water.
Sheila: I'll have more of that odd, orange juice, too. Was there anything else?
Kyle: Yeah! Name one main character in the New Testament who is cited by non-Christian writers or confirmed through archaeology.
Sheila: Like who do you mean?
Kyle:Peter or John, maybe. Or Paul, or Mary Magdalene.
Sheila: What's your point here again, Kyle? You're demanding confirmation by archaeology for average, everyday people. Are you going to tell me that you need "archaeological confirmation" for someone before they could have existed?
Kyle: Uh, well....I dunno. My point is more that you can't argue that these people were real when you want to argue that people don't make up main characters.
Sheila: Do you apply this demand to all historical documents?
Kyle: Uh, let's skip to the next point. Geisler and Turke said that if the New Testament writers had used real people in fictitious stories, those real people would deny the story, destroy the credibility of the authors, and maybe even take punitive action against them. I said that by the time the New Testament books were written, most of the real people mentioned in them were dead. So what do you say to that?
Sheila: I'd say that's not likely the case for all of them, but you also don't seem to know that the families of those named would also be interested in such things. Very much so -- it would be a matter of family honor and reputation. For example, the family of Nicodemus would have had something to say if the story about him in John were made up.
Kyle: Aw, come on now! What would motivate them to correct a few insignificant cults? There were many, many cults in the Roman empire. Only a few of them were Christian.
Sheila: I can see you know little about what would motivate ancient people. There are a large number of factors that would motivate them to disprove Christian claims -- and they wouldn't apply to cults like Mithraism and Neoplatonism, which were socially acceptable whereas Christianity was not. Do you even understand what the difference is between our world and an honor and shame society?
Kyle:Uhhhhhh....ummm. Do you have any other objections to the theory that the New Testament is an historical novel?
Sheila: Well, you did agree that, "The historical novel theory would require an implausible grand conspiracy among these writers."
Kyle: Yeah, but I also said, "When Jesus died, his disciples did not simply give up their new religion. They continued to meet, and the teachings of Jesus developed into teachings about Jesus. The Christian doctrines developed according to the necessity of the times."
Sheila: That's very easy to say, but do you mind proving it for one of these doctrines? It doesn't make a lot of sense, you see. For example, crucifixion was a shameful death that would never have been "developed" for the "necessity of the times." If anything it would the the first thing dropped.
Sheila: You can read about it from the link just above. What else do you have to say?
Kyle: Uhhhh...that "their stories were embellished and exaggerated as they were passed around from mouth to mouth. The apostle Paul preached and wrote his epistles before the gospels were written. By the time the gospels were written, the stories had spread and developed in different directions. Among the early Christians were such divergent cults as Ebionites, Marcionites, Gnostics and others. The various scribes who set the oral traditions to writing did not just make everything up like a novel. Each set down the tradition as it had developed in his particular congregation. That’s why you have some similarity among the gospels and some differences.
Sheila: That’s an interesting theory, but you're just following Ehrman uncritically. He doesn't give any reason to say that the Gospels "did not appear to have been written by eyewitnesses," he just says so. He does not explain why we should think they were anonymous; that was an issue you refused to discuss, and he doesn't even compare their attestion to other ancient documents. I don't know why he thinks their being written in Greek was an issue; many ancient people were bilingual, and Greek was the lingua franca of the Empire. He also doesn't explain why he dates them late, and you even granted for the sake of argument that they were written early. So do you want to defend those points now?
Kyle (shaking): Uh UHHHHHHH!!!
Sheila: I didn't think so. Ehrman's tales of stories just being made up is so lacking in evidence that there's really not much to say. I could contrive the same sort of pretty story for anything -- even a history of Abraham Lincoln. For someone who claims to value reason and evidence, you sure didn't demand much from Ehrman.
Kyle: Yeah, but -- ! I said, "Surely they realized that reasonable people would be skeptical about healing, multiplying food, turning water into wine, walking on water and resurrecting from the dead."
Sheila: Why? You're just begging the question of what is "reasonable". They would find it unreasonable of you to act so spoiled and demand so much special service.
Kyle: Yeah, well -- "They could have taken measures to ensure that their stories were accurate. Instead we have conflicting versions of the same stories."
Sheila: Kyle, don't be so spoiled and provincial. The way they told their stories was normal for their period. Just look at the series of items in the link above.
Kyle (hollering, stamping feet): " They could have collected legal affidavits from witnesses. Instead, we have hearsay assertions that other people had seen these things happen."
Sheila: Well, there you go again, demanding extra evidence above what is needed, and for what? To suit yourself. Not because of any objective standards of epistemology. And you still need to learn what "hearsay" is and explain why it is a problem. As it is, sicne you accept junk like Remsberg's list without question, I'm not so sure you really care about reason and evidence.
Kyle : (gets up, walks down hall, slams door to bedroom)
Golly, this sure is a pip, isn't it. Well, Kyle came out of his room about 10 minutes later with a case of the sulks. I decided to try getting into Chapter 11.
Sheila: Ready to deal with ten reasons why the New Testament writers told the truth?
Kyle: (sticks tongue out)
Sheila: I expected as much. Now let me warn you, some of these ten I have to make my own additions or comments on where I don't think Geisler and Turek did enough. Here goes.
G&T (p 275-277): First, the New Testament writers included embarrassing details about themselves. People don’t normally do that when they make up a story.
Kyle: Yeah, well, baloney. That's a false dichotomy. They assert that the writers either concocted the story out of thin air, or told the truth. A reasonable alternative is that they accurately recorded the legends that had developed about Jesus.
Sheila: It isn't "reasonable" at all. It's just something you're contriving on the spot without explanation or evidence or saying why it is "reasonable" other than, "I want it to be that way". You could say that of any historical account, without an ounce of proof. You expect me to just sit here and say, "oh, yeah" and take it without you backing it up?
Kyle: Duh....uh, well, for another thing, in a religion that places high value on humility and self-abnegation, a person can show his dedication to the cult by abnegating himself. In doing so, he exalts himself in the minds of other believers.
Sheila: So in other words, you have a contrived explanation and a completely unfalsifiable theory.
Kyle: Duh, what?
Sheila: I don't think you understand why your theory crashes anyway. The NT world was an honor and shame society. Abnegating yourself as you suggest wouldn't exalt you in the mind of others at all. It would make you get the reputation of a shameful doormat. In other words, precisely the opposite of what you say. Your "ugly bridesmaid" theory, for this and the OT figures, would never hold water in an agonistic society.
Kyle: Duh....what? Agon-what?
Sheila: I can see you're lost.
Kyle: Uh, well, By the time the gospels were written, there were divisions and disagreements among the Christian sects. Not all of them revered the Twelve Apostles. It’s understandable that some Christian sects had no interest in flattering the apostles, but only wanted to glorify Jesus. It’s possible that the gospels arose out of such sects.
Sheila: In other words you have a conspiracy explanation ready for any eventuality. The funny thing is, you want to deny that the Gospels were authored by the persons with their names on them, even though all evidence points to them as authors, but without any evidence, you want to suggest that they were authored by anonymous "sects" you have no evidence for the existence of, especially in terms of division from the Apostles.
Sheila: Never mind. Let's move on to the next reason.
G&T (p 277-279): The New Testament writers included embarrassing details and difficult sayings of Jesus....Jesus is considered “out of his mind” by his own family (Mark 3:21,31); is not believed by his own brothers (John 7:5); is thought to be a deceiver (John 7:12); is deserted by many of his followers (John 6:66); makes “Jews who had believed in him” want to stone him (John 8:30-31, 59); is called a drunkard (Matt. 11:19); is called demon-possessed (Mark 3:22; John 7:20, 8:48); is called a madman (John 10:20); allows a prostitute to wipe his feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-39); and is crucified, which the Jews take to be a curse of God (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13)....Why would the gospel writers invent such incrimination if it weren’t true?
Kyle: Well, uh, The gospel writers did their best to portray Jesus as a man of sorrows. Being misunderstood and falsely accused is one of the most humiliating things a person can experience. Therefore, the writers may have had a strong motive to include these details, even if they weren’t historically accurate.
Sheila: Well, as I already told you, that explanation won't hold water in an agonistic society. If anything what would have had to happen here is that Jesus was, historically, just such a man, and that the Gospels sought validation for such a life of the Messiah in the OT after the fact.
Kyle: Duh, what?
Sheila: Never mind, it's above your head, I suppose. Now I will say that I don't go along with all that Geisler and Turke say about some of the things Jesus said and did being a problem. I think they miss a lot of stuff, like when they think "The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) is a problem, they don't view the saying in terms of hypostatic Wisdom...
Kyle: Huh? What? Duh.
Sheila: But, I do agree that the Gospels were extremely accurate in recording exactly what Jesus said and did.
Kyle: Whuh, whuh, but I disagree. That’s not the best explanation. We know the gospel writers made no attempt to be “extremely accurate in recording exactly what Jesus said and did.” The discrepancies among the gospels prove that point.
Sheila: Like what discrepancies?
Kyle: YOU KNOW!!!
Sheila: Pretend I don't.
Sheila: Look, Kyle, I know the standard list of those. The fact is that you can find the same sort of "discrepancies" in the works of professional historians today. And that's even without literary liberties that were permitted by ancient writers, such as dechronologization and presentation of material topically instead.
Sheila: Precisely. You have no idea. And please, don't give me that guff you picked up from Ehrman that Some [Christians] believed that Jesus was fully God, and there was nothing human about him. Others believed that he was fully human, and not divine at all. That's baloney, Kyle. It's done by creating artificial literary divisions in the Gospels, based on completely fictional, non-existent documents like "Q", and then claiming that some "community" for which there's not a shred of evidence otherwise believed what was found in Q and only in Q, and nothing else. Kyle:Duh...what?
Sheila: Good idea, for your sake. Let's move on.
G&T (p 279-280): The New Testament writers left in demanding sayings of Jesus. For example, Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery” (Matt. 5:28); “Give to the one who asks you” (Matt. 5:39-42); “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44-45); “Be perfect” (Matt. 5:48); and “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matt. 6:19-21). All of these commands are difficult or impossible for human beings to keep and seem to go against the natural best interests of the men who wrote them down.
Kyle: As I said, Thanks. You make an excellent point for the atheists. I agree that the Sermon on the Mount is not fit for human consumption.
Sheila: Well, I guess you feel the same way about moralist throughout the ages who have made the same teachings. But where did they say that this meant that the commands must have come from God? I'm not sure that was their point. I think it was more to say that the sayings were not invented.
Kyle: Oh....uh....did I smoke a red herring?
Sheila: Maybe. You can find a quote and get back to me.
Kyle: Yeah, but, I also said, The Sermon on the Mount, from which you take all your examples, is a small step from the Pharisaical traditions. The Pharisees are an ancient example of men imposing impossible laws on themselves.
Sheila: I don't think anyone doubts parallels to Pharasiac tradition, although I suspect all your parallels come from rabbinic documents well after the time of Jesus. Not that it matters; as Jews they would share certain values anyway. But do you think that the Pharisees didn't exist?
Kyle: Uh, well, Do you realize that Paul never once quotes the Sermon on the Mount?
Sheila: Your point being what? Where did he fail to quote it that he ought to have? And do you realize that James alludes to it all through his letter?
Kyle: Uhhhh? What?
Sheila: You can't just complain that Paul doesn't mention X, and then contrive some wacky theory like your one that the Sermon "developed in the legends of the Ebionites" -- which by the way, is pretty silly, since there is no proof the Ebionites existing before the middle of the second century. You need to say WHY Paul ought to have mentioned X. Do you expect him to mention "blessed are the meek" gratuitously in a letter where he is trying to explain to the churches about the resurrection body or speaking in tongues?
Sheila: I didn't think so. Let's move on.
G&T (p 280-281): Well, that brings us to number four. The New Testament writers carefully distinguished Jesus’ words from their own....It shows that the writers were very clear about which words they attributed to Jesus, and they resisted the temptation to attribute more words to him than they did.
Kyle: Duh, well, That sounds really goofy to me. No matter how many sayings they attributed to Jesus, you could say the same thing. Some of the sayings might have been spoken by Jesus. Others might not. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, is questionable. If Jesus spoke those words, why didn’t Paul ever hear about it? Don’t you have any better reasons?
Sheila: I'm waiting for you to respond to THIS one. You didn't even answer the point; all you did was repeat your silly argument about Paul not mentioning something you still haven't told me why he ought to have mentioned. Do you know what a "high context" society is?
Kyle: Duuuh. What?
Sheila: Sigh....moving on...
G&T (p 281-283): My fifth reason is that the New Testament writers included events related to the resurrection that they would not have invented – the burial of Jesus, the first witnesses, the conversion of priests, and the explanation of the Jews. If these were lies, they could easily have been exposed.
Kyle: Well, I say again, You’re still indulging in a false dichotomy. You assume that the gospel writers either invented stories that they wanted to pass off as real in order to deceive everyone, or they recorded actual history. What about this: The gospel writers recorded the legends that had evolved around a preacher named Jesus. Like other legends, they were neither airtight nor historically accurate. They were based on a real person, but the legend overtook the reality.
Sheila: What about it? You still haven't told me any reason to accept your theory. You're still just contriving a "just so" story without a lick of evidence which you could cook up for any historical figure on the fly. And you still haven't come to grips with how harshly these stories would have been confronted in an agonistic setting.
Kyle (sweating): Uh, well, let's leave that for the next chapter, huh?
Sheila: Why am I not surprised?
G&T (p 283-284): The New Testament writers include more than thirty historically confirmed people in their writings.
Kyle:Duh, We went through this in the last chapter. When a real person is in the background of a New Testament story, the historical setting might be accurate. That doesn’t prove the story.
Sheila: Yes, and I gave you an answer and you didn't have much to say. Just repeating your contrived "legend" theory without any explanation or evidence isn't much of an answer, Kyle. Nor is "so what". The fact is that you don't tie in your person to major names if you want to keep baloney detectors from going off. Since you don't have any answer, may as well move on.
G&T (p 284-286): The New Testament writers included divergent details. In light of the numerous divergent details in the New Testament, it’s clear that the New Testament writers didn’t get together to smooth out their testimonies. This confirms that the New Testament writers wrote independently from one another.
Sheila: Now Kyle, here I have to add a caveat because I don't wholly agree with Geisler and Turek here. I think that the divergent details in the Gospels are part of a normal process of literary narrative-making in the ancient world, and not carelessness as you say either. But I see you hop for the Q and Markan priority theory?
Kyle: Uh, yeah.
Sheila: Well, I don't. Do you want to refute this?
Sheila: Didn't think so. How about this on the resurrection appearances?
Kyle: (climbing up on chair and raising pant legs) AAAAAGHHHHH!!! GET IT AWAY!
Sheila: Yeesh. And to think you had no problem with a talking book or a talking rabbit. How about this for your carp about the time of the crucifixion?
Kyle: (shooting through roof): AAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!
Sheila: Hmmm. I wonder how long it'll be before he comes down. (looks at clock) Darn. They use a different system of timekeeping here. (drums foot. looks up through hole. sees Kyle coming back, moves back to seat)
Sheila: Oh, good. Let's move on.
G&T (p 286-287): The New Testament writers challenge their readers to check out verifiable facts, even facts about miracles. In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he had performed signs, wonders and miracles among them.
Kyle: Ha ha, this is easy. For a modern example of psychosomatic cures, look at Benny Hinn. He puts his audience into a hypnotic state, and they temporarily feel like they are healed of their infirmities. He has been exposed, however, as a fraud. Follow-up on his victims indicates that he has not performed one verifiable miracle. Yet he boasts about his “miracles,” and he continues to attract multitudes. Benny Hinn is only one of many false healers. Jesus and Paul did the same thing.
Sheila: I agree. In fact, Dad lives not far from where Hinn used to preach and knows this. But you have a problem here. First of all, there's nothing showing that Jesus performed the sort of theatrics Hinn does, so your claim that they: "did the same thing" has absolutely no force. Second, Hinn "heals" things like AIDS; he doesn't restore sight to people born blind. Third, what Hinn does would never make it in an honor-shame society, unless he did something like offer sex in the mix, which Jesus didn't do. So you have a lot of work before you can call this theory of yours a "viable alternative." And sorry, "guilt by association" with known false healers is fallacious. I don't buy that Principle of Uniformity, dude.
Kyle: Darn! Why did I ever bring up the Principle of Uniformity?
Sheila: You don't know any better. Let's move on.
G&T (p 287-290): The New Testament writers describe miracles like other historical events: with simple, unembellished accounts. The gospel writers don’t offer flamboyant descriptions or fire and brimstone commentary – just the facts.
Kyle: Uh, Moderation in describing miracles is no proof that the stories are true. It’s only a matter of writing style, isn’t it?
Sheila: Not at all. If you do any amount of literary comparison, you'll find that legendary accounts offer embellishment, whereas fact does not. Tell me, how many histories have you read in your life?
Sheila: So your reply to number nine’s a wash, huh?
Kyle: Yeah, I guess so. (shaking) We have one more, right?
G&T (p 290-293): Yes. The New Testament writers abandoned their long-held beliefs and practices, adopted new ones, and did not deny their testimony under persecution or threat of death. Just think: Virtually overnight, over ten thousand devout Jews abandoned many of their treasured beliefs and practices to become Christians.
Kyle: Did they really? Don’t you think those numbers are exaggerated?
Sheila: No reason to think so. Do you have one, other than, "I don't like the implications" or "I say so"?
Sheila: I guess you don’t. You have to provide evidence first.
Kyle: Also, do you really think Jerusalem was a monolith of devout Judaism at the beginning of the first century?
Sheila: What's your point? The various sects you named -- Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, Zealots and others (though the Zealots actually came later than that time) -- had their differences, sure, but they would all be united against Christian claims. Then you mention Romans and pagans, but there were few of those in Jerusalem and anyway Acts doesn't record thousands of those converting. Your comparison to Acts 5:36-37 is false -- those were not cults in any sense; they were political rebellions. Though they undoubtedly claimed God's blessing, you can't compare a military move to Christianity.
Kyle:Uh....duh...well, Why should it surprise us that a new cult would gather followers by relaxing those burdens? New sects have formed frequently throughout history. Why should first-century Jerusalem be any different?
Sheila: In other words, you think retreating into vagueness will help you. It won't, not with rabbits like me who know the scholarship. You miss for one that Christianity didn't "relax" any "burdens" -- it demanded other burdens. It still had the same moral demands. It still required giving, just to others rather than the Temple cult. And socially, it was a hundred times the burden Judaism was, because it was a highly deviant sect. And by the way, I don't need the argument they used about martyrs. The social pressure on Christians is of far greater consequence than even something like Nero doing what he did.
Kyle: Well, It seems to me that early Christianity was much more than a mere fabrication. The followers of Jesus had developed a bond of fellowship. They encouraged, strengthened, comforted and rejoiced with one another by developing doctrines, rituals and stories about Jesus. They were not very interested in the historical accuracy of their legends. Instead, they immersed themselves in what they perceived to be loftier truths. They were sincerely willing to give their lives out of loyalty and love for the family and friends who shared their religious point of view.
Sheila: Please. That's little more than a contrived psychological fantasy, Kyle, without a shred of evidence. It's clearly what you'd want to be true, but you really just made it up. It also doesn't match very well with agonistic personalities, but that's another matter. The point is that your comparisons are worthless. The one to Joseph Smith is especially poor, because Mormonism developed in an entirely different social setting and had other helps Christianity did not, such as being able to flee to another place, and giving up offensive doctrines. So it boils down to that you've done nothing to argue against that enduring persecution is an indication that a person’s beliefs are true?
You need to consider the contexts more deeply.
Sheila: So all of the ten reasons are very strong, and you've done nothing worthwhile to counter them.
Kyle: Ha! Uh, You realize, don’t you, that because you are making the claims, the burden of proof is on you.
Sheila: I won't fall for that old trick, Kyle. Every person is making a claim of some sort, which means everyone has a "burden". Even if you don't have the nerve to say what your claim is, or to develop it, you have a burden.
Kyle: Well, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
Sheila: Sigh, that's another rhetorical trick. For one thing, it plays fast and loose with what "extraordinary" means. Ice is "extraordinary" to a tropical prince, as Hume found out to his shame. You start with an assupmtion of materialism, and then declare anything non-material "extraordinary" based on where you start. In addition, you create an artificial dichotomy between "natural" and "supernatural". That's a created distinction with no basis in fact. Tell me, when you pick up a box, is that a miracle?
Sheila: But if God picks up the same box, is it a miracle?
Sheila: That would be very silly, Kyle. And it's no argument to say that false claims of miracles are very common. It's a fallacious argument of guilt by association; plus it can be turned into absurdity. Theft is very common, too; does that mean you won't ever trust anyone?
Kyle: Uh....So how can we distinguish a true miracle from a false claim?
Sheila: I agree with Geisler and Turek: The only way to know for sure is to investigate the evidence for each miracle claim.
Kyle:And if there’s any reasonable doubt, it should be resolved in favor of a non-miracle.
Sheila: I'm sorry, THAT I do not agree with. It's nothing but starting with an assumption and it also arbitrarily decides what is "reasonable".
Kyle: I have my doubts. And considering the quality of your arguments, do you think my doubts are unreasonable?
Sheila: They're pathetic, frankly, and mostly contrived.
Kyle (grapsing): Well, I did mention a couple of contradictions, but what if I could prove to you that the author of Matthew’s gospel was not even interested in historical accuracy? In fact, he deliberately falsified history in order to make a theological point.
Sheila: Oh, THIS should be a real barrel of laughs.
Kyle (stammering): Please read Matthew 1:17.
Sheila: Snoooooore....look, Kyle, if you're going to use canards like that one, you need to do some basic research on the function and purpose of ancient geneaologies. Matthew is not making a "theological point that something important happens in every fourteen generations." What he's doing is dividing the geneaology into 3 easy to remember sections. It's a pedagogical device, Kyle, not some mystery surprise. And as for your other objections, it was perfectly normal to omit names from genealogies so that they would not get too long to remember. Haven't you ever read any scholarly works on this subject?
Sheila: I didn't think so. Obviously, you are the one not interested in historical accuracy.
Kyle: Uhhhhhhhh....Okay, read Matthew 23:35.
Sheila: Snoooooore again. More old news, Kyle. Scholars have more than one possible answer for this one, and in that they do no worse than secular historians who have a mystery on their hands. Now you see what happens when an ignorant Skeptic meets a brutal gang of scholars. Want to try again?
Kyle: (meekly) No.
Sheila: Okay, let's get to this. How do you explain the resurrection if it didn’t really happen? Was there, for example, a mass hallucination? Or did the witnesses go to the wrong tomb? Or did Jesus swoon rather than die? Or did the somebody steal the body? Or did a substitute take Jesus’ place on the cross?
Kyle:No, I wouldn’t subscribe to any of those theories.
Sheila: Good, you have some sense at least. So I'll ask too: Then how do you explain the fact that the disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus?
Kyle: I don’t believe they did.
Sheila: Then you disagree with virtually all scholars who have written in the last thirty years about the resurrection.
Kyle: You’re referring to the study by Gary Habermas, aren’t you?
Kyle: I suspect his study had a pro-Christian bias. Even if my suspicion is wrong, are majorities always right?
Sheila: Your "suspicions" are worth ten cents, Kyle, and mean nothing. I could erase all your arguments with the same charge and be just as good at it. So can you answer the argument or not? Can you explain why you think they didn't see Jesus, with some real reasons that fit available data and not just something you throw in the air?
Sheila: But you don’t believe there were eyewitnesses to the resurrection?
Kyle: Right, I don’t. I think the story developed – became exaggerated and embellished – as it passed from mouth to mouth in the decades between the death of Jesus and the writing of the first gospel.
Sheila: So what was the original story that was embellished? Did they just see Jesus' nose risen from the dead?
Kyle: Uh....I dunno...
Sheila: Figures. And I'm not even going to ask you to defend your premise that the Gospels were anonymous, since I know you can't from before. Ehrman's little lecture won't help you here -- he doesn't compare the data to secular documents either. He just says so, and gives no reasons to think so. By the way, Acts 4:13 doesn't mean Peter and John were illiterate -- it means they didn't have formal schooling. But Ehrman's point is irrelevant anyway because illiterate people simply hired scribes to write things down as needed. Also, he's making a big issue over "third person" but it doesn't mean a darned thing. Josephus wrote accounts of what happened to him in the third person, too. They don't need to speak in first person to report a story firsthand. That's just plain stupid.
Kyle: Duh. Uh.
Sheila: So the only tough nut to crack here is getting you properly educated and to stop relying on encyclopedias and a malcontent like Ehrman -- who by the way, if you want to play your game about "bias," isn't very trustworthy, because he apostasized. But let's go to Ch. 13.
Sheila: Now here, Kyle, I have a point of difference with Geisler and Turek. Prophecy fulfillment wasn't quite done the way they say. For one thing, even if you are right about Is. 53 being about Israel -- and by the way, that's another contrivance -- typological fulfillment allows for more than one fulfillment. In other words, it could apply to both Israel and Jesus legitimately. Second, your whinging about "misinterpreting" the passages doesn't hold water -- check that first article; Christians were well within the rights of use that their own contemporaries permitted. So, you can keep that shout about "context" to yourself.
Oh, and I don't buy your "multiple Isaiah" theory either, but that's a side issue. Not that you could debate it anyway. Kyle: Duh...wow...I think I need to think about this.
Sheila: Don't strain yourself. And keep in mind, it only begs the question to say that the Gospels created history out of the OT. The fact is that it was more likely that they saw real history happen and then sought out OT texts that matched it. In fact, you only shoot yourself in the foot when you claim they took stuff "out of context" because that implies a non-match -- which wouldn't make sense had they just created history from the OT, because otherwise, it would match perfectly.
Kyle: Duh....uh, well....
Sheila: For fun, though, let’s look at your summary, plugging in the people of Israel as the servant -- I won't agree with all that Geisler and Turek use, by the way:
1. Israel is elected by the Lord, anointed by the Spirit, and promised success in its endeavor (42:1,4). Well, that doesn't match because Israel as a nation is extinct now. People living in the modern state aren't even the same persons, ethnically, as first century Judeans.The thing is, Kyle, when you try to strain to say things like Israel went silently into captivity, like a lamb to the slaughter you're doing exactly what you accuse the NT writers of doing -- adding to the text while ignoring context. Pointing to a few people who surrended in 2 Kings 25:11 won't help you -- that's not what the majority did, which you need for "Israel" to be the fulfillment. But like I say, I don't care if it fist Israel or not. If it fits Jesus, that's all that matters.
2. Justice is a prime concern of Israel’s ministry (42:1,4). That one is a little broad, but I'll allow it can apply to both.
3. Israel’s ministry has an international scope (42:1,6). This never happened.
4. God predestined Israel to his calling (49:1). This is broad enough to allow for both.
5. Israel is a gifted teacher (49:2). This is not true by any stretch.
6. Israel experiences discouragement in its ministry (49:4). Broad, so I'll let is pass.
7. Israel’s ministry extends to the Gentiles (49:6). This did not happen. Israel never did any serious outreach to Gentiles.
8. Israel encounters strong opposition and resistance to its teaching, even of a physically violent nature (50:4-6). False. Israel was opposed because of its political views, not what it taught.
9. Israel is determined to finish what God called it to do (50:7). I can't see that at all.
10. Israel has humble origins with little outward prospects for success (53:1-2). True.
11. Israel experiences suffering and affliction (53:3). True.
12. Israel accepts vicarious and substitutionary suffering on behalf of other people (53:4-6,12). Never happened, Kyle.
13. Israel is put to death after being condemned (53:7-9). True, at least as a metaphor/
14. Incredibly, Israel comes back to life and is exalted above all rulers (53:10-12; 52:13-15). False. The modern nation shares no identity with ancient Judeans.
15. Israel is also sinless (53:9). I'll agree Geisler and Turek go too far with this one.
Kyle: Uhhhhhhh....I guess you just demolished my whole argument.
Sheila: It wasn't that hard. And the same can be said of Gen. 3:15 and all the other prophecies. I don't need to answer you in detail on those -- typological exegesis allows for the readings Geisler and Turek offered. But I will correct a few of your errors anyway.
Kyle: Gosh, thanks. G&T (p 334): The word for ‘offspring’ is literally ‘seed’ (Hebrew zeh-rag). The word ‘seed’ is singular. The plural would be ‘seeds.’ The singular ‘seed’ refers to only one person – a messiah – who will ultimately bless all peoples on the earth and rule over the land.
Kyle: You can’t be serious.
G&T: Even Paul said that the word ‘seed’ was singular (Gal 3:16).
Kyle: Whether it’s from you or Paul, the argument is a bad one. In English the word ‘seed’ is both singular and plural:
Sheila: Actually, Kyle, this is another place where you didn't do your homework well. Witherington (commentary on Galatians, 244-5) notes that the charge of legerdemain is overblown and still anachronistic; what Paul is doing is well within the confines of Jewish exegesis of his time. Furthermore, your argument "fails to note that the promise as given to Abraham referred initially to a particular individual, Isaac, and then to Abraham's more remote descendants," so that "'a rhetorical play on the ambiguity is invited.'" It misses that Paul clearly knows that "seed" is a collective noun, as he uses it as such in 3:29 to refer to believers. This shows that he knows the word was "a collective noun which was also in the first instance used of an individual." And you also don't know that the Book of Jubilees 16:17 offers some evidence that Jewish interpreters "had already referred 'seed' in the promise of Abraham to a particular person":
And (that) all the seed of his sons should be Gentiles, and be reckoned with the Gentiles; but from the sons of Isaac one should become a holy seed, and should not be reckoned among the Gentiles.
Finally, it should be remembered that Paul, as a collectivist, considers the exalted Christ to be an "inclusive personality" within which is the collective body of Christ. Thus it is possible for Paul to play upon the rhetorical ambiguity in the word "seed". Kyle: Huh? What did you just say?
Sheila: Nothing you'd understand, I guess...I think you need to read this so that you understand better why it doesn't help you to say that Jesus didn't fulfill verses before and after the ones cited. Jewish exegesis permitted verses and phrases to be taken in isolation, you see, as one scholar put it:
"Midrashic exegesis ostensibly takes its point of departure from the biblical text itself (though psychologically it may have been motivated by other factors) and seeks to explicate the hidden meanings contained therein by means of agreed-upon hermeneutical rules (e.g., Rabbi Hillel's seven Middoth; Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha's later set of thirteen; Rabbi Eliezer ben Jose ha-Galili's thirty-two). The purpose of midrash exegesis is to contemporize the revelation of God given earlier for the people of God living later in a different situation. What results may be characterized by the maxim: "That has relevance for This"--that is, what is written in Scripture has relevance for our present situation. In so doing, early Judaism developed what George Foote Moore once aptly defined as "an atomistic exegesis, which interprets sentences, clauses, phrases, and even single words, independently of the context or the historical occasion, as divine oracles; combines them with other similar detached utterances; and makes large use of analogy of expression often by purely verbal association" (Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 1.248).
So you see, what you call taking a passage "out of context" was normal and acceptable. You just don't know anything about Jewish exegesis of the first century.
Kyle: Huh? What's "exa Jesus"?
Sheila: Never mind. Now a couple more problems. First of all, you make the same mistake regarding Ps. 82 and John 10 that the Mormons do....
Kyle: Hey, I used to BE a Mormon!
Sheila: Hmmph. Well, you sure didn't abandon their faulty exegeses, did you?
Kyle: Duh, what?
Sheila: Never mind. You'll have to read J. P.'s book on the Mormons to find out. For now I'll just say that it really is no big deal if some men are called "elohim" even if your view of Ps. 82 is right, which it isn't. Now all that you said on Micah 5:2 -- that needs fixing too. Try this.
Kyle: (scrambling up to the top of the sofa) YIKES!
Sheila: Sorry, I wasn't trying to scare you, just educate you. But I guess I can't do one without the other. Now let me ask you about this:
Kyle: Wait a minute. According to the Bible, Daniel lived in the time of Cyrus. From Daniel’s point of view, wouldn’t the decree of Cyrus in 539 B.C. be a more appropriate “commandment to restore and build Jerusalem”? Listen to this excerpt from Isaiah 44:24-28: am the LORD ... who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be built,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’ ... who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’
Sheila: Now Kyle, where do you see a formal decree in that?
Kyle: Whaddya mean?
Sheila: I mean, what you need is a formal pronouncement of the kind we see in Ezra and Nehemiah.
Sheila: Well, it really doesn't matter. I think Geisler and Turek overdo it with the numbers, really. If it was within even a few years of Jesus, that would have been fine for ancient people because they weren't oriented towards precision. But you're also way wrong when you say, Is there any reasonable doubt that the abomination in Daniel 9:27 is the same as the abomination in 11:31? Try this.
Sheila: I thought that might scare you too, especially since I don't buy the view of Geisler and Turek that the last "week" is in our future.
Kyle: Holy socks! What's that "preterism" stuff??? It sounds complicated!
Sheila: I'll explain it to you some other time. Now let me ask you about this you said:
Kyle: That’s only because the legend about the crucifixion was embellished with Psalm 22 in mind. Jesus may have been historically crucified, but the details were written into the legend to make it look like a fulfillment of Psalm 22.
Sheila: Now Kyle, that's just silly. A crucifixion was always done a certain way. If you're going to argue that, you may as well say that the process of crucifixion was "embellished" by the Romans to fit Ps. 22. Even gambling for the clothes of the accused was something soldiers normally did. Do you want to argue that the Romans modelled their crucifixions on Ps. 22?
Sheila: I didn't think so. You have no evidence. All you have is "faith". And I've done too much homework to be anything but a Christian, if I lived in your world.
Kyle: Huh? What are you in your world?
Sheila: I'm a member of the Covenant of M'kai. M'kai is what we call Yahweh in our world. Only our atonement event hasn't happened yet. But let's not worry about that, because we're looking at what needs to be believed in your world.
Sheila: Now Kyle, you didn't explain about comparing events of the OT with history, so I'll just tell you to check J. P.'s site for those citations you gave.
Kyle (despairing): Are you one of my buddies that book said he'd send?
Sheila: That's me. Who knew Geisler was friends with a talking rabbit from another dimension?
Kyle: I don't look forward to it now.
Sheila: So do you want to discuss any more specific claims of error in the Bible, other than the ones you gave me earlier?
Sheila: You have no proof for any, do you?
Sheila: Then it’s mere dogma. You can’t provide any good evidence that your premises are true. All you have is blind faith that the Bible is errant, plus a few poor examples you probably picked up from some list of contradictions on the Internet put out in spare time by some angry teenage atheist who thinks God wants hium to suffer because his parents won't let him have a cell phone.
Kyle: Hmmmm. Duh. Well, uh, let me ask you, What would it take to falsify Christianity?
Sheila: Geisler and Turek are right that If someone could find the body of Jesus, Christianity would be proven false and I’d give it up. But the bar need not be that high to raise reasonable doubts. For example, if Jewish polemic of the rabbinic period had stories about how the body was found in the tomb and that the news was made public and how many people left Christianity because of it, we'd have something serious that would raise perfectly reasonable doubts.
Sheila: So, so much for your charges about "philsophical bias". It remains you have no such evidence to offer.
Kyle: Maybe the Christians destroyed it all.
Sheila: Maybe Julian the Apostate destroyed all the evidence against his view, too.
Sheila: Well, we sure can't accuse you of carefully considering all the evidence presented. All you did was waft your way through an encyclopedia, and a lecture by a scholar whose bias is considerable by your own rigid standards, and you didn't even know about things like honor and shame and Jewish exegesis. In light of that you're absolutely unqualified to speak of the evidence being "good" or "bad". I'll admit that Geisler and Turek could have offered more depth, but they ARE writing for a popular audience. It's your fault for thinking that their case is the be-all and end-all of Christian apologetics.
Sheila: Now Kyle, I'll give you one break on Chapter 15.
Kyle: Thank God!
Kyle: Never mind.
Sheila (shrugging): The break is on the point of the Bible giving us a sense of identity. Ancient people wer dyadic, you see, so that wouldn't have been a concern for them as Geisler and Turek put it.
Kyle: Huh? Whuz "dyatic" mean? Did they need a lot of Pepto-Bismol?
Sheila: No, not really. On the other hand, you sure missed the boat about the Bible being "authoritarian".
Kyle: How so? Isn't it?
Sheila: It is, but so are you. The only difference is that you submit to a tyranny of self as opposed to what you would call a tyranny of God.
Kyle: Oh. I hadn’t thought about it that way.
Sheila: And that's what makes you no earthly good. You're so self-minded that you don't care about anyone else -- to raise the same sort of accusation you put against Geisler and Turek.
Kyle: Yeah, but your view takes the focus off of this life and puts it on eternity.
Sheila: It doesn't "take it off" at all, not permanantly. The Bible's model is one in which we are stewards of God's creation. It's what the "image" language is all about. Your Christian friend who littered will receive an appropriate loss of honor for his action. I will admit that the "disease" happens in Christians as you describe, but that's like me blaming you for Stalin's purges.
Kyle: Duh?? But the New Testament preaches that people should be more concerned about the afterlife than life on earth.
Sheila: It doesn't say "more concerned" anywhere. I think "equitably concerned" is fair to say, because it views the afterlife as a continuation, not a break. And you didn't really answer Geisler's point about the teaching of morality. If the Bible were "more concerned" about the afterlife it would teach people to litter, for example.
Kyle:Yeah, well, There’s the slave mentality again. “Fear the master. Do whatever he commands.” Is that morality, or is it the self-preservation of trembling slave?
Sheila: Are you a slave to your local police department?
Sheila: Then you're just blowing smoke, Kyle. And I expect having a bad reaction to your prior beliefs as a Mormon.
Kyle: Whew! There’s someone at the door. Do you mind if I answer it?
Sheila: Be careful, it may be Mormons.
Kyle: Ha ha.
(Kyle opens door.)
Matthew: Hello! This is your lucky day! My name is Matthew Golden McClenney. I’ve come here all the way from Bahrain to give you 5000 acres of Tennessee timberland.
Sheila: Hold on Kyle, this is the same guy you had before. Let me handle him and I'll show you where you went wrong. (Moves Kyle aside.) Sounds very generous.
Matthew: All I ask is that you accept it with sincerity and gratitude.
Sheila: I sincerely thank you. Now give me the land.
Matthew: Not so fast, my friend. In order to keep people from abusing my giveaway program, I must put their sincerity and gratitude to the test.
Sheila: And how do you do that?
Matthew: For the rest of your life, you must pay me ten percent of your income (gross, not net). I will accept other offerings if you want to prove yourself especially sincere and grateful. You must also do everything I tell you to do. I will control your sex life; what you eat, drink and smoke; what you wear; what you read; what you think; and ... well ... everything else.
Sheila: Well, I think you need to work on where you get that ten percent idea from. But what have you done to show that you deserve such authority?
Sheila: Did you rise from the dead?
Matthew: Uh...no...but I have hundreds of testimonials – people filled with hope and comfort, knowing that their heirs will be set for life.
Sheila: Your parallel stinks there, too. The NT apostles never used personal testomonies. They appealed to evidence. So where's the tomb you were buried in?
Sheila: Hey, go peddle your papers, eh?
(Sheila slams the door.)Sheila: You see, Kyle, that's why you can't compare to Christianity here. You didn't even come close to what would have happened to a real evangelist in the first century, and I barely skimmed the surface.
Sheila: And I don't need your speeches about "superstition and intolerance," Kyle. You said you didn't want to be preached to, but that was a sermon if I ever heard one. You have a lot more work to do before you can say you have a right to preach your Gospel. Go do your homework. Now.
Stupid rabbit. I hated her. I didn't want to admit she was right. I mean, who wants to be outwitted by a cute little bunny? I thought and thought and thought for the right response, but the best I could honestly say was, "I have given lip service to reason."
"But you've betrayed it, right?" said the white rabbit.
Rrrrrrrrr. How could I admit to making mistakes? I thought hard for an excuse. I looked at the carrot juice at the coffee table. Too bad it wasn't poison. I finally said, "I can't start over from scratch. It's too much hard work." I meant to mumble this but it came out like a whine.
The white rabbit looked at me like Mom does when I don't clean my room. "You're right," she sighed. "It is work. The Lord Jesus didn't say, 'Blessed are the couch potatoes.'"
Rrrrrrrr. Stupid rabbit. She was making too much sense. I had to do something to make her leave. I couldn't take the humiliation any more! I looked at her, and an idea hit my frazzled mind. It was the perfect answer!
I leaned over to her, and said, "You're a cartoon character. Bring me ... a giant mallet."
Right on cue, she produced a giant mallet, just like Bugs Bunny does countless times. I grabbed the mallet, held it solemnly -- I mean, being wrong and admitting it is a solemn occasion -- gently touched my head with it, closed my eyes -- then reared back and WHAM!
Ooo! What pretty birds chirping! I go plop on floor!
And I heard the six rabbits say as they walked out of sight, "G'bye, Kyle. You can beat yourself but you can't beat Christianity."
I hate rabbits.