I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be a Christian
a reply to I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Geisler/Turek
I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be a Christian by Kyle Williams
(c) 2005 by Kyle Williams
In their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004) Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek claim to prove that Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt (pages 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...” (page 7). These are bold claims. Are they true? Let's find out.
NOTE: Frank Turek (co-author of the book critiqued) debated atheist author Christopher Hitchens in 2008, see my audio page.
CHAPTER 1: GEISLER AND TUREK ARE AGNOSTICS, TOO
I answered the door. There was a talking book on my front porch. The book said, “Hi! I was written by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek. My title is I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. I was published in 2004 by Crossway Books of Wheaton, Illinois.”
“That’s a mouthful,” I said. “May I call you Atheist for short?”
“Um. Why don’t you call me G&T?”
“That’s short for Geisler and Turek?”
“Right,” said the book. “I’m from the church down the street.”
“Kyle, do you mind if I ask you a spiritual question?”
“Kyle, if you were to die tonight and stand before God, and God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”
“I would ask him, ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What makes you think I want to get into your heaven?’ To tell you the truth: I don’t believe in God. I’m an atheist.”
“You’re an atheist?”
“Well, are you absolutely sure there is no God?” the book asked.
I paused and said, “Well, no, I’m not absolutely sure. I guess it’s possible there might be a god.”
“So you’re not really an atheist, then – you’re an agnostic,” the book said, “because an atheist says, ‘I know there is no God,’ and an agnostic says ‘I don’t know whether there is a God.’”
“My turn,” I said. “Are you a Christian? Do you believe in God?”
“Well, are you absolutely sure there is a God?” I asked.
The book paused and said, “Well, I’m not absolutely sure. I guess it’s possible there might not be a God. My authors wrote on page 25, ‘Whatever we’ve concluded about the existence of God, it’s always possible that the opposite conclusion is true.’”
“So you’re not really a Christian, then – you’re an agnostic,” I informed the book, “because a Christian says, ‘I know there is a God,’ and an agnostic says ‘I don’t know whether there is a God.’”
“Yeah ... alright; so I guess I’m an agnostic then,” the book admitted.
Noticing the book’s bewilderment, I decided it was time to let it off the hook. I said, “By your definition, an agnostic is one who has the integrity and intellectual honesty to admit that he is not absolutely sure about the existence of God. Being agnostic, then, is a good thing. Anyone can be agnostic, no matter what conclusions he has drawn. You have drawn the conclusion that God exists, and because you also believe in Jesus, you correctly call yourself a Christian. I have drawn the opposite conclusion, and I correctly call myself an atheist. Yet we are both agnostic, too; we both admit the possibility, no matter how remote we think it is, that our conclusions are wrong. So you are an agnostic Christian and I am an agnostic atheist.”
“I would rather call myself Christian than agnostic,” murmured the book between its lines.
“And I would rather be called an atheist. So why don’t we drop the ‘agnostic’ moniker?”
"Good idea," the book sighed with relief. 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 book launched its million-dollar question: “Would you be willing to look at my evidence?”
“For God or fairies?” I winked.
“God,” laughed the book.
I liked the book’s sense of humor, so I invited the book into my home. I poured a glass of ice water for myself. Because books don’t like water, I put some ink and whiteout on the coffee table. I was curious to see how G&T would use the liquids by the end of our discussion.
G&T (51): Have you ever asked yourself why people believe what they believe?
Kyle: That question perplexes me all the time. I think most people adopt the beliefs of their parents, friends, or their culture. They don’t even think about it. That would explain why you have entire countries that are predominantly Islamic, Buddhist or Catholic, for example.
G&T (51-52): I would categorize these as sociological reasons for belief. Do you think sociological reasons alone can lead you to the truth?
Kyle: No. It was only by chance that I was born into a Mormon family. I had no choice. If I had been loyal to the sociological default, I would still be Mormon. And the child who is born by chance into an Islamic society would still be Islamic. That has nothing to do with truthfulness.
G&T (51): Good. Why else do people believe what they believe?
Kyle: Some people accept certain beliefs that make them feel secure. They seek comfort, peace of mind, meaning, purpose, hope, or a sense of identity.
G&T (51-52): I categorize these as psychological reasons for belief. Are these good enough reasons to believe something?
Kyle: No, not if you’re looking for the truth. Reality is sometimes frightening and troubling. You can escape into a comforting fantasy from time to time, but if you don’t come out of it, you can become delusional. And that's a dangerous way to live.
G&T (51): I agree. Why else do people believe what they believe?
Kyle: Some people believe in holy scriptures, or churches, or pastors, priests, gurus, rabbis, or imams.
G&T (51-53): Let’s call these religious reasons for belief. Should you believe something just because some religious source or holy book says so?
Kyle: No. All these religions, with their books and leaders, contradict one another.
G&T (53): Right. So we have to judge which religion, if any, is true. But we can’t use sociological, psychological or religious reasons for judging religions. There must be something else.
Kyle: I prefer logic, reason, science and evidence.
G&T (51, 53): Let’s call these philosophical reasons for belief. Is something worth believing if it’s rational, if it’s supported by evidence, and if it best explains all the data?
Kyle: Yes, of course.
G&T (53): I agree. By exposing inadequate justifications for beliefs, the way is cleared for the seeker of truth to find adequate justifications. I will attempt to show you good reason and evidence to support belief in God and Christianity.
Kyle: I’m skeptical that you will succeed, but I applaud the attempt.
G&T (54): Thank you. You know, there are many false beliefs in the world – beliefs that are based on subjective preference rather than logic and evidence.
Kyle: Of course.
G&T (53-54): Well, I’m here to tell you that any teaching, religious or otherwise, is worth trusting only if it points to the truth. Are you ready to give up subjective preferences in favor of objective facts – facts discovered through logic, evidence and science?
Kyle: Yes. I will follow the truth wherever it leads. Will you?
G&T (66-69): I should hope so! Truth is vitally important. Apathy about truth is dangerous.
Kyle: I couldn’t agree more.
G&T (56): So, are you familiar with the basics of logic? Do you know, for example, what the Law of Noncontradiction is?
Kyle: Yes. It means a claim can’t be both true and false at the same time, in the same sense.
G&T (62): Good. How about the Law of the Excluded Middle?
Kyle: That means something either is or is not. For example, either God exists, or he does not. There is no third alternative. Now, it is possible that God exists in the imagination, but not literally, but these are two different claims. Either God exists in the imagination, or he does not exist in the imagination. Either God exists literally, or he does not exist literally.
G&T (63-64): You’ve got it. You know how a syllogism works? Deduction? Induction?
Kyle: Yes, I think so. They just make common sense. If I have any question about them, I’ll ask when we come to them.
G&T: Good enough.
Kyle: You're not like other missionaries. Most of them want me to believe them without evidence.
G&T (53-54,159-160,213): Not I. I want you to discover the truth by reason, logic and evidence. I will prove that God exists without using the Bible.
Kyle: I like that. Let’s get started with some evidence.
G&T (74-75): One of the oldest and strongest arguments for the existence of God is the Cosmological Argument:
Kyle: I can accept your first premise: “Everything that had a beginning had a cause.” The Law of Causality makes sense. I’m not so sure about your second premise. Did the universe really have a beginning? Doesn’t the word ‘universe’ mean everything that exists? If God existed, for example, wouldn’t God be part of the universe?
G&T (94): Well, if you define ‘universe’ to include God, then no, the universe did not have a beginning, because God never had a beginning. If God had a beginning, we would have the impossible situation of something emerging from nothing. Nothing comes from nothing.
Kyle: So, how do you define the word ‘universe’?
G&T (79-80, 92-93): By ‘universe,’ I mean space, time and matter. I sometimes call this the ‘space-time universe.’ Everything that exists outside of space, time and matter is not part of the universe.
Kyle: Okay. So the “universe” consists of four dimensions – length, breadth, height and time. I've heard about String Theory, which suggests there are eleven dimensions. Assuming String Theory is correct, the remaining seven dimensions are outside of the space-time universe.
G&T: Do you have evidence to support String Theory?
Kyle: No. All I'm saying is that you've placed God outside of our four dimensions. Therefore, if God exists at all, he must exist in other dimensions. Whether String Theory is correct or not, you must believe in other dimensions.
G&T: That sounds like a reasonable conclusion.
Kyle: So it would be more accurate to restate your Cosmological Argument this way:
G&T: If you insist.
Kyle: I do. I think the word ‘universe’ is misleading if it doesn’t include everything that exists.
G&T: So, do you believe that space, time and matter had a beginning?
Kyle: I can understand matter coming from immaterial stuff. But a universe without space? That’s inconceivable. A universe without time is also counterintuitive. How could anything exist outside of time? It sounds too bizarre for belief.
G&T (90): If you think it through, a beginning of time is rationally inescapable.
G&T (91): Yes. Our timeline is undeniably finite.
Kyle: I’m from Missouri. Show me.
G&T (90): Kalam is Arabic for ‘eternal.’
Kyle: According to William Lane Craig, kalam means ‘speech.’ I have a critique of Craig’s book, The Kalam Cosmological Argument. But go on.
G&T (90-91): The Kalam Argument goes like this:
Kyle: For time to be finite, it must have both a beginning and an end.
Kyle: There are two classes of infinite time: Time that has a beginning, but no end is a potential infinite. The future is a potential infinite. Time that has an end but no beginning is an actual infinite. The past is an actual infinite.
G&T: Unless there was a beginning.
Kyle: Right. If there were a beginning, the past would be finite. But your argument fails to prove that there was a beginning.
Kyle: Your first premise – “An infinite number of days has no end” – describes a potential infinite. It looks toward the future. It says nothing about the past as an actual infinite.
Kyle: Neither of your premises mention the real issue – whether there was a beginning.
G&T: By golly, you’re right.
Kyle: Therefore, your conclusion is a non-sequitur. Your argument proves nothing. Would you care for some whiteout?
G&T (94): Not yet. I have too much invested in my position.
Kyle: The offer remains open.
G&T (91): Thanks. But what about this: 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. What you probably mean is that the total number of days doesn't change. Add one day to an infinite set of days, and you still have an infinite number of days. But the new set of days has one unique day in it that it didn't have before. A day has been added to an infinite timeline.
G&T (91): Okay.... Let’s consider this argument from a different 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.
G&T (91): But you can't traverse an infinite number of days.
Kyle: If you begin on a particular day and progress one day at a time, you're right. You will never traverse an infinite number of days. A beginningless timeline, though, doesn't begin on a particular day. By definition it has no beginning at all. It has been progressing day by day forever. Every day arrives precisely on schedule, and it's added to the infinite timeline.
G&T: I hadn't thought about it that way.
Kyle: Of course, there was never a day when a finite number of days became an infinite number of days. The number of days has always been infinite.
Kyle: The Kalam Argument, which you called “rationally inescapable,” is false. Philosophically, there is no reason to limit the number of days before today.
G&T (chapter 3): Well, there is still a lot of scientific evidence. Do you believe there was a Big Bang?
Kyle: I’m not sure. Scientists seem to disagree among themselves. I could do exhaustive research and come to an informed conclusion, but that would take more time and effort than I’m willing to put into it.
G&T (42-43): So you’re agnostic when it comes to the Big Bang, right?
Kyle: I suppose.
G&T (76-84): To back up the Big Bang theory, we have what I call SURGE science:
G&T (62): According to the Law of the Excluded Middle, the science, as I present it, is either right, or it is wrong.
Kyle: If it’s wrong, your Cosmological Argument is weak. If it’s right, your second premise is proved: Space and time had a beginning.
G&T: So do you accept the science I presented as correct?
Kyle: 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.
G&T: Isn't it even more difficult to understand the past as being an actual infinite?
Kyle: No. The way I see it, a beginningless past makes much more sense than time beginning out of non-time.
G&T: Anyway, for the sake of the argument you accept both premises?
Kyle: Yes, assuming the science to be correct.
G&T: Does the conclusion follow logically from the premises?
G&T: Then you admit that space, time and matter had a cause.
Kyle: Yes, assuming your science to be correct, there was a Big Bang when space, time and matter came into existence.
G&T: Good. Then who is it that caused space and time to come into existence?
Kyle: Who!? Don’t you mean ‘what’?
G&T (93): Well, let’s look at the nature of whatever it is that exists outside of space and time: First, he ...
Kyle: ... or it ...
G&T (93): ... or it ... must be self-existent, timeless, nonspatial and immaterial.
Kyle: I understand that it must be nonspatial, timeless and immaterial because it exists outside of space, time and matter. But self-existent? What do you mean by that?
G&T (93): There are only two possibilities for anything that exists: either 1) it has always existed and is therefore uncaused, or 2) it had a beginning and was caused by something else. If space, time and matter had a beginning, then something outside of space, time and matter has always existed, uncaused. It is self-existent.
Kyle: I can accept that. Something had to exist forever. But so far, you have not given any good reason that the uncaused something is a personal god.
G&T (93): I’m getting to that. The uncaused something must be unimaginably powerful, to create the entire universe out of nothing.
Kyle: Wait a minute. Instead of ‘universe,’ I think you mean space, time and matter. Right?
Kyle: Now, what do you mean by ‘nothing’? Nothing comes from nothing.
G&T (79): ‘Nothing’ means no space, no time and no matter.
Kyle: So it would be more accurate to say it this way: Whatever made the Big Bang had to be sufficiently powerful to cause space, time and matter to emerge suddenly from other dimensions.
G&T (93): Okay. Also, the uncaused something had to be supremely intelligent, to design the universe with such incredible precision. But we’ll talk more about this in the next chapter.
Kyle: So this is a wash at the moment.
G&T (93): Yes. Just be patient. Finally, 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: Now you’re 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?
G&T (85): But there could be no natural phenomenon. Nature cannot exist outside of space, time and matter.
Kyle: 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.
G&T: Do you have proof that the Big Bang was caused by natural phenomena?
Kyle: No, but the burden of proof is yours. Do you have proof that the Big Bang was caused by personal choice?
Kyle: Indeed. So we can throw out your final point. If I understand you correctly, the only evidence you offer that a Person – a “who” rather than a “what” – was responsible for the Big Bang is that it would take intelligence to design space, time and matter.
G&T (93-94): Looks like it. And we’ll discuss that in the next chapter. For right now, I have a question for you: If there is no God, why is there something rather than nothing at all?
Kyle: That sounds like a rhetorical question. I’ll tell you the answer if you can answer this: Why is there a God rather than no God?
G&T (94): That’s a good question. That’s a really good question.
Kyle: But it doesn’t have a good answer, does it?
G&T: No, I guess not.
Kyle: Is there any significant difference between your question and mine?
G&T: No, mine doesn’t have a good answer either.
Kyle: 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. 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. If you don’t mind my pointing out the obvious, you have failed, so far, to prove the existence of God.
G&T: I have other chapters. Let’s go on to the Teleological Argument.
G&T (95, 105): Perhaps the most powerful argument for the existence of God is the Teleological Argument:
Kyle: I’m a bit confused by your syllogism. The words ‘design’ and ‘designer’ are so closely related that the first premise is a tautology, the second premise begs the question, and the conclusion, therefore, is meaningless. Maybe we can fix it, though. Let’s define our terms. What do you mean by ‘designer’?
G&T (95-96, 106-107): A designer is an intelligent being who intentionally plans and manufactures something.
Kyle: What do you mean by ‘design’?
G&T (95-96, 102, 104-105, 107): Design is precision ...
Kyle: ... and complexity?
G&T (95, 106, 111): Yes, and complexity.
Kyle: What else?
G&T (96, 104-107): Anything that has interdependent parts that appear to be fine-tuned or delicately balanced must be designed by an intelligent being.
Kyle: Because it’s complex and precise.
Kyle: So we can plug your definitions into your syllogism, and clarify the Teleological Argument:
G&T: That sounds right.
Kyle: The second premise is undeniably true. The universe is precise and complex. It has interdependent parts that appear to be fine-tuned and delicately balanced.
G&T: Good. Do you accept the first premise?
Kyle: No. Neither do you.
G&T: Don’t tell me what I accept and don’t accept.
Kyle: Sorry. Let me see if I can bring you around to admitting it yourself.
G&T: Good luck!
Kyle: What would you say if I told you God was a simple being? In 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.
G&T: Perish the thought.
Kyle: Would you say God is too complex and precise to be formed by the raw forces of nature?
G&T: Of course!
Kyle: Who designed God?
G&T (92): Nobody. God exists eternally.
Kyle: So here you have an example of something that is complex and precise, but was not designed, right?
Kyle: So your first premise is false. Not everything that is complex and precise requires planning and manufacture by an intelligent being. In other words, not every design requires a designer.
G&T: Well, we’re not talking about God; we’re talking about the heavens and the earth.
Kyle: If you can have a complex and precise god who exists eternally without being designed, why can’t I have an entire universe that exists eternally without being designed?
G&T (92-93): But you’ve forgotten about the Big Bang. The universe can’t be eternal.
Kyle: No, we’ve already discussed this. 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?
G&T: Of course. Otherwise, God could not exist.
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.
G&T: You have no proof of that.
Kyle: We’re in the same boat, then. You have no proof of God.
G&T: Can you tell me how your universe was transformed from other dimensions to time and space?
Kyle: Can you explain the mechanics of how God created the heavens and earth out of nothing?
G&T: No, that’s a mystery.
Kyle: Then we’re in the same boat. My scenario makes as much sense as yours. Maybe more. According to the Principle of Uniformity, the pre-Big Bang universe should look something like our space-time universe.
G&T (117): Hey, you've read ahead. I don’t mention the Principle of Uniformity until the next chapter.
Kyle: Maybe you should use it more uniformly.
G&T (95-96): Okay, so maybe my Teleological Argument is not as persuasive as I thought it was. What about the diamond-studded Rolex watch? Isn’t that a convincing analogy?
Kyle: The story of the Rolex watch is a trick. You offer two alternatives for explaining the existence of the watch: either it was formed by non-living forces of nature, or it was planned and manufactured by an intelligent watchmaker. The answer is obvious. Watches are made by intelligent beings. If the story had ended there, it would have been fine. What follows, however, is a false analogy. You put the universe in the place of the Rolex watch. Then you offer the same two alternatives: Was it formed by non-living forces of nature, or was it planned and manufactured by the biblical Watchmaker?
G&T: What’s wrong with that?
Kyle: It’s a false dichotomy. There are other alternatives.
G&T: What other alternatives are there?
Kyle: I can think of six alternatives for explaining the existence of anything. First, it was formed by the raw forces of nature. Mountains and ravines are examples.
G&T (95-96): I offer that alternative in the Rolex story.
Kyle: Right. A second alternative is that some things are man-made. Intelligent beings, who are not gods, make watches, cars, buildings and computers, for example.
G&T (95-96): I also offer that alternative in the Rolex story.
Kyle: True. A third alternative is that God made the thing. You believe that God created Adam’s body by special creation. You believe that God created the heavens and the earth.
G&T: Of course.
Kyle: A fourth alternative is natural reproduction. After Adam and Eve, all people are produced by natural reproduction. They are not created individually by God.
Kyle: A fifth alternative is that non-intelligent beings made some things. A spider’s web, a beaver’s dam, or a beehive are examples.
Kyle: 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.
G&T (95-96): So my Rolex story is not convincing?
Kyle: Right. Comparing a Rolex to the universe is a false analogy, and offering only two alternatives for the existence of the universe is a false dichotomy.
G&T (106): What about the mathematics? I show that the probability of all the anthropic principles combining in one planet by random chance is practically zero.
Kyle: Again, we’re dealing with a false dichotomy. 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.
G&T: So is there anything in my fourth chapter that persuades you?
Kyle: No. The Teleological Argument is wrong because the first premise is false. Not everything that's precise and complex requires an intelligent person to plan and manufacture it. Not even a Christian can believe the Teleological argument unless he accepts that someone designed God. You use false dichotomies and false analogies. You have no evidence that God designed the universe, and I don't have enough faith to accept it without evidence. Shall we see if your next chapter has anything better to offer?
G&T: Good idea.
G&T (chapter 5): Let’s talk about life on our planet. We know life exists here on Earth. How did it get here? What are its origins? My fifth chapter boils down to this syllogism:
Do you believe this syllogism is properly constructed?
Kyle: Yes, the ‘either-or’ logic is valid. However, the truth of the conclusion depends on the truth of both premises.
G&T: Do you believe the premises are true?
Kyle: I’m inclined to believe the second premise. Unless evidence to the contrary surfaces, I don’t believe life can generate itself spontaneously.
G&T: Well, you’re ahead of the Darwinists.
G&T: How about the first premise? Is it true?
Kyle: I’m having some trouble accepting the first premise. You offer two alternatives: spontaneous generation and intelligent manufacture. Are those the only alternatives?
G&T (121): Well, there’s the theory of panspermia, but that’s so crazy that I don’t give it serious consideration.
Kyle: What is panspermia?
G&T (121): The suggestion that aliens deposited the first life here.
Kyle: Isn’t that what you believe?
G&T: Come again?
Kyle: Did God deposit the first life here on Earth?
G&T: Well, yes.
Kyle: Is God a native of planet Earth?
Kyle: Then isn’t God an alien?
G&T: Um. Well, no. He created the earth, so how could he be an alien to it?
Kyle: I see. So other than the minor point of how you define the word ‘alien,’ the panspermia theory is pretty close to your own.
G&T: But in panspermia, the aliens are not gods.
Kyle: You know what the Principle of Uniformity is, don’t you?
G&T (117): Of course. It’s the central principle in forensic science. By the Principle of Uniformity, we assume that the world worked in the past just like it works today, especially when it comes to causes.
Kyle: So, wouldn’t the Principle of Uniformity favor non-gods over gods?
G&T: Can you explain how non-gods would travel to Earth?
Kyle: Can you explain how a god would travel to Earth?
G&T: With God, all things are possible. He’s not hindered by a physical body. He’s immaterial – not made of matter.
Kyle: Well, maybe the non-gods are immaterial. Maybe they’re more intelligent and powerful than we are.
G&T: How could non-gods breach the gap between the immaterial and the material?
Kyle: How could God do it?
G&T: I see. Every objection I raise about your theory applies equally to mine.
Kyle: Right. We're both in the same boat. Origins are a mystery for everyone.
G&T (121): Okay, so maybe panspermia is not as far-out as I thought it was. The problem is, though, that panspermia doesn’t solve the problem of the origin of life.
Kyle: I thought this chapter was about the origin of life on Earth. Now you’re talking about life in the universe.
G&T: Well, my fifth chapter is a little vague on that distinction.
Kyle: I noticed.
G&T (121): But the point is, panspermia doesn’t explain how life began in the universe. It simply puts it off another step: who made the intelligent aliens?
Kyle: I can say the same thing about theistic creation. It doesn’t explain the origin of life. It only puts it off another step: who made God?
G&T (92): Nobody. God is eternal.
Kyle: Maybe the aliens are eternal.
G&T: You mean immortal?
Kyle: Not necessarily. They could be mortals, but their race could stretch back through an infinite number of generations.
G&T: What evidence do you have for that theory?
Kyle: What evidence do you have for God? Your Cosmological Argument doesn’t work. Neither does your Teleological Argument. You have set out to prove the existence of God without reference to the Bible. Where is your evidence?
G&T: I still think theistic creation makes more sense than panspermia.
Kyle: I suspect that’s your bias speaking. You’re accustomed to the theory of theistic creation, so it doesn’t seem strange to you. But an objective person who didn’t grow up in Sunday School would probably think panspermia makes at least as much sense as theistic creation. Besides those aren’t the only alternatives.
G&T: We’ve mentioned three alternatives so far: spontaneous generation, theistic creation and panspermia. What else is there?
Kyle: It depends on whether you’re talking about life in the universe or life on earth. As far as life in the universe is concerned, you believe that God is the first life, and he existed forever, without beginning.
G&T (92): Right.
Kyle: I 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.
G&T: Then how did this great variety of life arrive on earth?
Kyle: One possibility is that the Earth is eternal, and life has always been here.
G&T (chapter 3): But scientific evidence tends to discredit that option.
Kyle: Right. Or life generated spontaneously on Earth.
G&T (chapter 5): Highly unlikely.
Kyle: I agree. Or maybe Earth life is the naturally reproduced offspring of life elsewhere in the universe.
G&T (121): Panspermia.
Kyle: Or God created life on Earth.
G&T: That’s my favorite.
Kyle: Or non-gods created life on Earth.
G&T: Don’t you think we can eliminate spontaneous generation and an eternal Earth?
Kyle: Sure. That leaves us with panspermia, creation by God and creation by non-gods. In all three alternatives, life existed in some form before coming to Earth.
G&T: I believe pre-Earth life was in the form of one person alone – God.
Kyle: And I keep my mind open to the possibility that pre-Earth life was as varied and complex as Earth life. None of the three theories contradicts the Big Bang and related sciences. Neither of us can explain how the pre-Earth life traveled to planet Earth from elsewhere.
G&T: It’s a mystery, isn’t it?
Kyle: Yes. In two of the three theories, Earth life is engineered and manufactured by super-intelligent creators. In panspermia, Earth life is the natural reproduction of pre-Earth life. Of course, we see natural reproduction every day. We have never witnessed a robot or a mannequin come to life. We can reproduce life through our genitals, but we cannot engineer or manufacture life by intelligent design. We have not discovered any being with the super-intelligence required for manufacturing life. Therefore, panspermia should be considered the most reasonable alternative.
G&T: Unless you consider the witness of the Bible.
Kyle: And that’s covered in other chapters. To this point, you have failed to prove by extra-biblical evidence that there is a god.
G&T (117): So you don’t buy the choice between the first life (1) being created by some kind of intelligence or (2) arising by natural laws from nonliving materials?
Kyle: No, your fifth chapter is a false dichotomy. You fail to consider seriously other alternatives.
G&T: Shall we move on?
Kyle: Sure, after one comment. What did you say near the bottom of page 132?
G&T (132): “Intellect, free will, objective morality and human rights as well as reason, logic, design and truth can exist only if God exists.”
Kyle: So far, I’ve been pretty good about addressing only the main points of your chapters. I have ignored irrelevant material. But 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 on page 68 and elsewhere. I’m not saying this to be unkind. I just want you to know that I disagree.
G&T: I understand. We’ll address those issues in chapter seven. Shall we go on to chapter six now?
G&T (chapter 6): We know micro-evolution occurs: a particular species of animal may develop and change over time, without turning into another species. But what do you think about macro-evolution? Do you believe one kind of animal can develop into another? Do you believe man evolved from apes?
Kyle: Not necessarily. I would have to see some scientific evidence before I believe that.
G&T (chapter 6): Well, the Darwinists don’t have any good evidence. In fact, there is evidence that macroevolution does not occur on Earth.
Kyle: I’ll take your word for it. For the sake of the argument, I deny that one species can evolve into another. I’ll keep my mind open, though, to further scientific evidence, should any come to my attention.
G&T (155): So, if there’s no natural explanation for the origin of new life forms, then there must be an intelligent explanation. It’s the only other option. There’s no halfway house between intelligence and non-intelligence.
Kyle: That sounds like the principle you mentioned earlier. What was it?
G&T (62): The Law of the Excluded Middle.
Kyle: Of course. I agree that new life forms were either created by an intelligent being, or they were not created by an intelligent being. Is that what you’re saying?
Kyle: But you speak as if macroevolution is the only alternative to creation by an intelligent being.
G&T: Isn’t it?
Kyle: No, of course not. Isn’t it possible that there are no new life forms? Maybe every life form has an infinite line of ancestors. If God can be eternal, why can’t every life form be eternal?
G&T: Can you explain how all these thousands of life forms arrived on planet Earth from the other dimensions?
Kyle: Can you explain how God arrived on planet Earth from the other dimensions?
G&T: Well, no.
Kyle: Neither can I. We’re in the same boat.
G&T: Which is more believable? On one hand you have a single person performing a marvelous feat by exercising incredible intelligence and unlimited power. On the other hand, you have thousands of unintelligent life forms that mysteriously pop into material existence. Which would you choose?
Kyle: You seem to regard intelligence as the most powerful force in the universe, and you seem to underestimate the forces of nature. I find this very curious. Humanity keeps discovering the awesome power of nature. We peek into natural phenomena, and we are overwhelmed with its intricate complexity. Science has barely scratched the surface of how the universe works. There are powerful forces within every atom that attract some particles and repel other particles. 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.
G&T: But who created that blueprint? Surely a blueprint points to an intelligent source.
Kyle: The blueprint may be eternal. Nobody created it. It simply exists.
G&T: The same way I insist that God simply exists?
Kyle: Right. And maybe when natural conditions are right, the complexity of the other dimensions solidifies into space, time and matter. Compare it to water. When conditions are right, it transforms from a liquid to a solid. Other conditions cause it to transform from a liquid to a gas. It’s still water, but it changes form. That’s the power of nature. Intelligence is not required. 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.
G&T: That sounds pretty far-out.
Kyle: No more far-out than your God theory. In fact, you mentioned a principle...
G&T (117): The Principle of Uniformity?
Kyle: Yes. The Principle of Uniformity favors natural phenomena, even if we don’t fully understand them, over a super-intelligence. Compared with the forces of nature, the intelligence of man is a trifling thing, and we have absolutely no scientific evidence for any intelligence greater than man’s. Intelligence itself is a natural phenomenon. Intelligence depends on nature – not the other way around.
G&T: Well, you would have a hard time proving your hypothesis, and disproving the existence of God.
Kyle: I agree. And to the same extent, you would have a hard time proving the existence of God and disproving my hypothesis. And remember, the burden of proof is yours.
G&T: I have one more argument to prove the existence of God.
Kyle: Let’s go for it.
G&T: Okay, but before we do, let’s review the scientific evidence.
Review of the Scientific Evidence
G&T (159-160): I have attempted to prove in chapters 3 to 6 that the Intelligent Design theory is not based on the Bible. It’s a conclusion based on empirically detectable evidence, not sacred texts.
Kyle: I’m glad you made the attempt. As an atheist, I require evidence outside the Bible. And what is the “empirically detectable evidence” you mention?
G&T (166): First, the universe exploded into being out of nothing.
Kyle: You mean, space, time and matter exploded into being out of other dimensions, assuming SURGE science and the Big Bang theory are correct, as you presented it.
G&T: Yes, of course.
Kyle: Which means that the other dimensions must be as marvelous and complex as space, time and matter.
G&T: Right. I believe that the other dimensions consist of one person: God.
Kyle: You haven't given me any reason to rule out the hypothesis that the other dimensions are as varied and marvelous as the physical life forms we have here on Earth. You haven’t proved the necessity for a god. So your first line of evidence fails. What else did you have?
G&T (166): Second, this tiny, remote planet called Earth has over 100 fine-tuned, life-enabling constants.
Kyle: How do you interpret this fact?
G&T (96, 165): A super-intelligent being must have tweaked the laws of physics.
Kyle: I disagree. I believe the laws of nature have been marvelously complex forever. No tweaking was ever required.
G&T: You have no proof.
Kyle: Do you?
Kyle: Okay. What’s next?
G&T (166): Life has been observed to arise only from existing life.
Kyle: This fact actually favors panspermia over creation. Life has never been observed to be created.
G&T (166): Life consists of thousands and even millions of volumes of empirically detectable specified complexity.
Kyle: That is a marvelous thing, but it does nothing to prove the existence of gods. Life has always been marvelously complex through all eternity.
G&T (167): Life changes cyclically, and only within a limited range.
Kyle: In the present conditions of our planet Earth, yes. This doesn’t prove the existence of gods. It only describes certain facts of nature.
G&T (167): Life cannot be built or modified gradually.
Kyle: The irreducible complexity of life is eternal – not created.
G&T (167): Life is molecularly isolated between basic types.
Kyle: Which could easily have been the case eternally.
G&T (167): Life leaves a fossil record of fully formed creatures that appear suddenly, do not change, and then disappear suddenly.
Kyle: That’s consistent with varied life forms in other dimensions, and natural phenomena which cause these life forms to manifest themselves in space, time and matter. Gods are not required.
Kyle: In these four chapters you have utterly failed to prove the existence of God. Your scientific evidence falls short of its mark. It proves that the universe is marvelous, complex and mysterious. It does not explain why. Thrusting God into the equation raises more problems than it solves. It seems more reasonable to live with the mystery, while exploring theories that are more consistent with the Principle of Uniformity.
G&T (171): The Moral Law Argument goes like this:
Kyle: You’re joking, right?
G&T: Do I sound like I’m joking?
Kyle: Just look at your first premise. What do you mean by “Every law has a law giver”?
G&T (171): Of course every law has a lawgiver. There can be no legislation unless there’s a legislature. Moreover, if there are moral obligations, there must be someone to be obligated to.
Kyle: I think we need to define our terms. Your seventh chapter doesn’t seem to deal with the laws of the land. Legislators write the United States Code, and judges write opinions in court cases. We’re not talking about such legislation or legal precedent, are we?
G&T (171): No, we’re more concerned about moral laws. When we say the moral law exists, we mean that all people are impressed with a fundamental sense of right and wrong.
Kyle: Exactly. And this fundamental sense of right and wrong is not a code written by legislators.
G&T (170, 177, 189, 192-193): I say it is. God is the legislator who writes his moral law on our hearts.
Kyle: I take that metaphorically....
G&T: Of course.
Kyle: Do you acknowledge that there’s a fundamental difference between laws written and enforced by human governments, and the moral sense within us?
Kyle: Would you object if instead of moral “laws” we called them moral principles? That way we can more easily distinguish moral principles from the laws of the land.
G&T (80): By all means, let’s avoid equivocation.
Kyle: So your first premise would be less equivocal if it said, “Every principle has a source.”
G&T: I see you replaced ‘law giver’ with ‘source.’ I guess that makes sense. ‘Principle giver’ doesn’t sound right.
Kyle: So the new syllogism would look like this:
G&T: That’s kind of watered down. It doesn’t make as much impact as my original syllogism.
Kyle: If you want to rely on equivocation and jump to unwarranted conclusions, you can keep your original argument. But if you are honest and forthright, this is what your original argument boils down to. Am I right?
Kyle: Now, I agree with the second premise. Moral principles exist.
G&T (172-181): How do you like my eight reasons that we know the moral “law” exists?
Kyle: Generally, I agree with them and I applaud them.
G&T (182-186): And what do you think about my six distinctions that clear up confusion about moral principles?
Kyle: Again, I agree with your major points.
G&T: You don’t sound completely convinced.
Kyle: Well, you do jump to some unsupported conclusions. You assume that God is the only source for morality. This is especially evident in your seventh reason.
G&T (180-181): You mean when I say, “atheists ... have no objective moral grounds,” and, “in a nontheistic world there are no rights”?
Kyle: Yes, I find those statements offensive.
G&T: But are they true?
Kyle: No! Absolutely not!
G&T: Where else can moral principles come from?
Kyle: From human interaction. Every child develops his “fundamental sense of right and wrong” as part of growing up. Interaction with other human beings teaches children that it’s more comfortable to cooperate with other people than to oppose them. Hurting other people brings negative consequences. When an infant bites his mother’s nipple, he’s likely to get a gentle slap. That starts to teach the child that other people should be treated with respect. This moral sense is refined and developed as the child matures. Some people develop their moral sense more completely than others, but all sane people attain the basics of morality. Morality is a human phenomenon, and it develops from the interaction of people with other people.
G&T (170, 177, 189, 192-193): But God writes the moral law on our hearts.
Kyle: (Stunned silence)
Kyle: Do you know the difference between an assertion and an argument?
G&T (191): Yes. An assertion merely states a conclusion; an argument, on the other hand, states the conclusion and then supports it with evidence.
Kyle: Where is your evidence for the assertion that God is the source of our moral sense?
G&T: Um ... the Bible?
Kyle: But in this chapter you’re attempting to prove God’s existence without reference to the Bible. Isn’t that right?
G&T (198): Yes, that was my intent.
Kyle: But you have no extra-biblical evidence that God is the source of our moral sense, do you? I could read and reread your seventh chapter until I’m blue in the face, and I will find many assertions, but no evidence.
G&T: You seem to have caught me empty handed. I have no evidence. Where is your evidence?
Kyle: For one thing, you are carrying the burden of proof – trying to prove the existence of God. All I need to do is expose your lack of evidence. For another thing, it seems to be self-evident that morality is taught and learned. If you want to question the obvious, go to the library. There are any number of scientific books on how children learn morality. For now, here's an excerpt from an article on "Child Development" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the 2005 version on CD:
Kyle: So we both agree that every sane human being has a moral sense of right and wrong. We only disagree on the source of that moral sense. You say God writes it on every heart. I say we learn it – like language, social skills and customs.
G&T (177): Don’t you think morality is objective? Isn’t there an unchanging standard outside yourself?
Kyle: Yes. The consensus of society is the standard outside ourselves. Its most basic moral principles never change. If you were to rewrite your seventh chapter, replacing such words as ‘God’ and ‘theism’ with ‘society,’ I would find it instructive and acceptable. Let’s go through your summary and give it a try.
G&T (192): Alright. My first point is this: There is an absolute standard of right and wrong that is written on the hearts of every human being. People may deny it; they may suppress it; their actions may contradict it; but their reactions reveal that they know it.
Kyle: Well, there’s nothing particularly theistic about that point. I accept it as written. Go on.
G&T (192): Relativism is false. Human beings do not determine right and wrong; we discover right and wrong. If human beings determined right and wrong, then anyone would be “right” in asserting that rape, murder, the Holocaust, or any other evil is not really wrong. But we know those acts are wrong intuitively through our consciences, which are manifestations of the Moral Law.
Kyle: I would change ‘human beings’ to ‘individuals.’ Humanity in general does determine right and wrong. Individuals discover it. In addition, I would put ‘moral law’ in lower case letters. I notice throughout your seventh chapter you use capital letters to imply that God is the source of morality. Pretty sneaky of you.
G&T: I can’t slip anything past you, can I?
Kyle: Well, not that, anyway.
G&T (192): This Moral Law must have a source higher than ourselves because it is a prescription that is on the hearts of all people. Since prescriptions always have prescribers – they don’t arise from nothing – the Moral Law Prescriber (God) must exist.
Kyle: May I rephrase? These moral principles must have a source beyond individual opinions because it is a standard common to all sane people. Since common standards don’t just happen by coincidence, we all have a common source (society) for moral standards. What is your next point?
G&T (193): This Moral Law is God’s standard of rightness, and it helps us adjudicate between the different moral opinions people may have. Without God’s standard, we’re left with just that – human opinions. The Moral Law is the final standard by which everything is measured.
Kyle: Let’s see if I can rephrase that.... These moral principles are society’s standard of rightness, and they help us adjudicate between the different moral opinions individuals may have. Without society’s standard, we’re left with just that – individual opinions. The moral principles of society are the final standard by which everything is measured.
G&T: Where can I find these “moral principles of society”? Where are they written?
Kyle: Some of them are written, and some aren’t. Mankind has codified many moral principles as the laws of the land. Other principles are recorded in books of etiquette. Also, there are many writings on ethics and related philosophies. Some principles aren’t recorded at all, but we grow into them as part of our society’s culture.
G&T: That makes sense.
Kyle: So, what’s your next point?
G&T (193): Although it is widely believed that all morality is relative, core moral values are absolute, and they transcend cultures. Confusion over this is often based on a misunderstanding or misapplication of moral absolutes, not on a real rejection of them. That is, moral values are absolute, even if our understanding of them or of the circumstances in which they should be applied are not absolute.
Kyle: That’s good. I’ll accept it as written.
G&T (193): Atheists have no real basis for objective right and wrong. This does not mean that atheists are not moral or don’t understand right from wrong. On the contrary, atheists can and do understand right from wrong because the Moral Law is written on their hearts just as on every other heart. But while they may believe in an objective right and wrong, they have no way to justify such a belief (unless they admit a Moral Law Giver, at which point they cease being atheists.)
Kyle: Excuse me a minute while I try to keep my righteous indignation under control.
G&T: Why should my last statement make you angry?
Kyle: It’s so vitriolic, and so untrue. I am proud to be an atheist. I’m a consistent atheist, and contrary to what you assert in the last paragraph of page 193, I believe that murder, rape, genocide, torture and other heinous acts are wrong. I can justify my morality as well as any theist can. Probably better.
G&T: Well, I ...
Kyle: Excuse me, I’m not done. What you said is not only hateful and untrue, your rejection of ethical philosophy causes real harm. I have known people who had based their personal code of conduct entirely on obedience to God. When they discovered that God was a fantasy, they had not developed any reasonable foundation for ethics to fall back on. They went off the deep end and committed any number of immoral acts before they began to get grounded in a true philosophy of ethics.
G&T: So how would you rephrase my last point?
Kyle: I wouldn’t rephrase it at all. If I replaced ‘atheist’ with ‘anti-humanist’ or any other word, it would come off as hateful as the original. Let me just say that all people – no matter what they believe – have access to ethical philosophy. I would encourage people who believe in God to supplement their obedience with an understanding of why certain actions are right or wrong. Try to understand morality from a human standpoint. It could not harm your faith, and it would give you all the more reason and strength to live morally upright lives.
G&T: How can I argue with that?
G&T (197): Let’s review the evidence for the existence of God. First, we have the Cosmological Argument:
Kyle: Assuming your science is correct, I accept the conclusion: the Big Bang had a cause. But you have failed to prove what the cause was. You assert that the cause was God, but you do not prove it. It is at least as likely that the cause was a natural phenomenon. So your Cosmological Argument misses the mark. It fails to prove the existence of God.
G&T (198): Then there’s the Teleological Argument:
Kyle: The first premise is false. Even you admit that God – who must be complex and precise, if he exists – was never deliberately planned and manufactured by anyone else. Complexity and precision never had a beginning. They are eternal. Nature has ways of reproducing complexity and precision, without the need for intelligent "tweaking." So your Teleological Argument fails to prove the existence of God.
G&T (198): Then there’s the Moral Argument:
Kyle: I agree with the conclusion. There is a source for moral principles. But you have utterly failed to demonstrate that the source is God. It is more likely that the source for morality is human society. The Moral Argument fails to prove the existence of God.
G&T (200): So you don’t believe me when I say that I have proved the existence of God beyond a reasonable doubt?
Kyle: Why should I? A collection of false arguments does not make your assertion true. Not only do you fail to meet the “reasonable doubt” standard, but you have failed to provide one scintilla of evidence for the existence of God. If this is the best non-biblical evidence you have to offer...
G&T (394): It is.
Kyle: Then the complete lack of evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that God does not exist. The theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are not worthy of belief.
Kyle: Is there any reason to continue our conversation? You have established a pattern of deception. Why should I continue to entertain your fallacies?
G&T (213): Wait a minute. I’ve tried, but apparently failed, to convince you with non-biblical evidence that God exists. There’s still the Bible. If the Bible is true, God exists. I will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bible is true.
Kyle: Miracles and all, huh?
G&T: Yes. If a god exists, he can surely do miracles.
Kyle: I accept that statement, with a healthy emphasis on the ‘if.’
Kyle: So, how can you prove the occurrence of a miracle?
G&T (208): 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?
G&T (210-215, 217): Yes. Of course, we must distinguish miracles from other types of unusual events such as providence, Satanic signs, psychosomatic cures, magic and anomalies.
Kyle: Of course. Don’t forget hoaxes and fraudulent claims. Do you admit that there are more false miracles than real ones?
G&T: For example?
Kyle: Images of the Virgin Mary on underpass stains and grilled cheese sandwiches, Benny Hinn’s pseudo-healings, Bible Codes, etc.
G&T: Of course, we have to use common sense and all our logical tools in evaluating miracle claims.
Kyle: As a matter of fact, 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.
G&T (29): Good. You’re right to be skeptical.
Kyle: And if this omniscient God can see into the future ...
G&T (215): He can. That’s one way we know a miracle is from God. He predicts it.
Kyle: Then he should provide evidence that’s convincing enough to overcome our natural skepticism.
G&T (213): He does. That’s how I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bible is true.
Kyle: Bring on the evidence, but be forewarned that I will subject it to rigorous testing.
G&T (321): Good. That’s what you should do. The evidence can withstand the most rigorous of testing. There is more than usual evidence for Biblical miracles.
Kyle: We’ll see.
G&T (222-223): 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?
G&T (221-222): 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:
Kyle: How certain are we that Josephus actually wrote those words?
G&T (424): That’s a good question. Most scholars believe that Christians changed the quotation.
Kyle: That's right. Even Christian scholars say that parts of the passage are questionable (http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/josephus.html). G&T, I’d like you to meet Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2005 Deluxe. Let’s call him EB for short.
G&T: That’s an encyclopedia on CD?
Kyle: Yes. 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.
Kyle: EB, what do you say about this passage in your article on “Jesus Christ: Sources for the life of Jesus”?
Kyle: And what do you say about this passage in your article on “Josephus, Flavius: Josephus as historian”?
G&T (222): That’s right: Josephus wrote another passage, which mentions “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.”
Kyle: Notice, though, that at least one of the passages referring to Jesus was tampered with, or so heavily revised that we cannot discern what Josephus really said.
G&T: If that’s true, I can’t very well rely on it for evidence.
Kyle: Let’s assume, though, for the sake of the argument, that Josephus really did write those passages. What would the passages prove?
G&T (223): They would affirm the general story of Christ and the early church.
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.
G&T (221): But Josephus was the greatest Jewish historian of his time. Why would any historian include a story that he had not verified as true?
Kyle: 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 (“Josephus, Flavius: Josephus as historian” and “Josephus, Flavius: Assessment”). EB, what is your assessment of Josephus?
Kyle: So you see, it’s uncertain what Josephus wrote about Jesus. Even if we accept the passage as genuine, it would only prove that a legend about Jesus existed in about A.D. 93. We can’t rely on Josephus to report accurate history.
G&T: Okay, so you have discredited my star witness. What about the other nine?
Kyle: Who were they?
G&T (424): I mention the ten non-Christian writers in my footnote 5. They were:
Kyle: How many of these ten ever saw Jesus?
G&T: I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?
Kyle: Okay. You’ve already admitted that Josephus was born in about A.D. 37, several years after Jesus’ death. He had no personal knowledge of Jesus. What about Tacitus? EB, when was he born?
EB: A.D. 56 (“Tacitus”).
Kyle: So he had no firsthand knowledge of Jesus. EB, When was Pliny the Younger born?
EB: A.D. 61 or 62 (“Pliny the Younger”).
Kyle: How about Phlegon?
EB: I don’t know anything about Phlegon.
G&T: Phlegon was a freed slave of the emperor Hadrian.
EB: Hadrian was born in A.D. 76 (“Hadrian”).
Kyle: So it’s unlikely that Phlegon ever had personal knowledge of Jesus. How about Thallus?
EB: I know nothing about Thallus.
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:
What about Suetonius?
EB: He was born A.D. 69 (“Suetonius”).
Kyle: What about Lucian?
EB: He was born A.D. 120 (“Lucian”).
Kyle: What about Celsus?
EB: He lived in the second century (“Hellenistic religion: Religion from Commodus to Theodosius I: AD 180–395”).
Kyle: What about Mara Bar-Serapion?
EB: I don’t know about him.
Kyle: From a web page on “Early Christian Writings” (www.earlychristianwritings.com), we find that Mara Bar-Serapion wrote his letter sometime between A.D. 73 and 165. He didn’t claim to know Jesus or live during his time. What about the Talmud?
G&T: My own footnote 7 states that the Talmud was likely composed in the early second century A.D.
Kyle: That’s too late to contain firsthand knowledge of Jesus.
G&T: So none of my ten non-Christian writers had firsthand knowledge of Jesus. Does that necessarily mean they were wrong?
Kyle: Not necessarily. It only means that out of your ten non-Christian writers, none was an eyewitness. All of them received their information by hearsay. Some are known to have written legend and fantasy as if they were history. These circumstances are enough to raise a reasonable doubt that Jesus was an historic figure. Considering only these writings, the most 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.
G&T (221): So there is no “Gospel According to Non-Christians.”
Kyle: Right. Evidence for the life of Jesus comes only from Christian sources. Do you agree, EB? What do you say under “Jesus Christ: Sources for the life of Jesus”?
Kyle: Notice what EB said: “This knowledge of Jesus, however, was dependent on familiarity with early Christianity and does not provide independent evidence about Jesus. ”
G&T: Well, even if the New Testament stands alone, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Kyle: I agree. But don’t you find it curious? I mean, here’s a man who was supposed to have worked miracles, gathered crowds of thousands and risen from the dead. Yet we have absolutely no eyewitness testimony from non-Christian sources.
G&T (233): Maybe that’s because everyone who heard about Jesus became a Christian.
Kyle: You can’t seriously maintain that position. According to the New Testament, many people heard the gospel and witnessed miracles, but did not become Christians.
G&T (254): Well, you’re right. The events of Christianity were “not done in a corner.” They were common knowledge and surely had not “escaped [the king’s] notice.” That’s what Paul said to Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26:24-28.
Kyle: Yet 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.
G&T: What do you have there?
Kyle: A CD player. 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,” available through The Teaching Company. You can look them up at www.teach12.com:
Kyle: Let’s fast forward a little.
Kyle: Professor Ehrman goes on to describe Josephus. We’ll skip over this part, because we’ve already discussed him.
Kyle: So you see, 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. What is that quote from Reader’s Digest you like so much?
G&T (61): “That’s what happens when a beautiful theory meets a brutal gang of facts.”
Kyle: Yeah. That pretty much summarizes what just happened here. A brutal gang of facts has made mincemeat of your beautiful theory. When we look at the first century A.D., we don’t find any non-Christian verification that Jesus even existed. All you are left with is faith in the New Testament.
G&T: Well, I guess we’ll just have to examine the New Testament, then.
Kyle: Isn’t the New Testament story a legend? What makes you think it’s historically accurate?
G&T (223-224): 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?
Kyle: I think there is more room for doubt than you lead us to believe in your ninth chapter. However, let’s not get into that. I will accept, 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.
G&T (224): Good. So we can skip pages 224-230. The second question is: Do those documents speak the truth?
Kyle: Ay, there’s the rub.
Kyle: Never mind. It’s from Shakespeare. Hamlet’s soliloquy. What I mean is, that’s the main obstacle. That’s the question we need to answer. Is the New Testament an accurate history, or is it legend? What is its genre?
G&T (224, 230): In other words, is it truth, or a lie?
Kyle: I think your dichotomy is a little harsh. When Aesop wrote his fables, was he lying? After all, foxes and birds don’t talk.
G&T: No, he wasn’t lying, really. He was expressing true principles through fictitious fables.
Kyle: Was Jesus lying when he told parables that were not historically accurate?
G&T: No, they were parables.
Kyle: That’s what I mean by genre. When somebody writes fiction, legend, fables or parables, isn’t it harsh to call the author a liar?
G&T: Yes. I get your point.
Kyle: So what we need to find out is: What is the New Testament’s genre? Was it written as history or something else?
G&T (231-232): Good question. Do you believe history can be known?
Kyle: Yes. Of course.
G&T (233): 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.
G&T (28): I appreciate your caution. That’s healthy. If I can’t back up my claims with good evidence and good reasoning, you shouldn’t believe them.
Kyle: Fair enough.
G&T (233-235): 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.
G&T (235): Well, let’s examine the evidence. First, how early are the New Testament writings?
Kyle: Let me save you some time. Although your dating is arguable, I’ll accept, for the sake of the argument, that the New Testament books were written as early as you claim.
G&T (241): So you agree that the earliest of our gospels was written within 25 or 30 years of Jesus’ death?
Kyle: Sure, I’ll accept that, for the sake of the argument.
G&T (243): And do you accept that the earliest of Paul’s writings was written about A.D. 48?
Kyle: Sure, why not?
G&T (244): So you accept that there is only a 15- to 40-year gap between the life of Christ and the writings about him?
Kyle: Yes, for the sake of the argument.
G&T: Good. We’re ready to go on to the next chapter.
G&T (251-253): Now let’s see if we can determine that the New Testament documents contain eyewitness testimony. First, I would like to point out that 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.
G&T (255): You’re taking the words right out of my pages.
Kyle: Okay, but you ask a valid question: What evidence do we have that the New Testament writers were really eyewitnesses or had access to eyewitness testimony?
G&T (255-256): Much more than you might think. Let’s look at Luke. He wrote one of the gospels and the book of Acts. Luke may not have been an eyewitness to the Resurrection itself, but he certainly was an eyewitness to many New Testament events. Luke includes more eyewitness details than the other New Testament writers. He displays an incredible array of knowledge of local places, names, environmental conditions, customs and circumstances that befit only an eyewitness contemporary of the time and events. Would you like me to list 84 details in Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research?
Kyle: No thank you. I’ll take your word for it. For the sake of the argument, I accept that the book of Acts accurately describes the historical background of its narrative.
G&T (260): Good. Now, Luke reports a total of 35 miracles in the book of Acts. All of these miracles are included in the same historical narrative that has been confirmed as authentic on 84 points. In light of the fact that Luke has proven accurate with so many trivial details, it is nothing but pure anti-supernatural bias to say he’s not telling the truth about the miracles he records.
Kyle: What’s wrong with an anti-supernatural bias?
G&T (260): If God exists, we should expect him to perform miracles.
Kyle: But you have failed to prove that God exists. Therefore, I think a reasonable person should be skeptical about miracle claims. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Besides, I think I can get you to admit that your argument is weak. G&T, I’d like you to meet The Pearl of Great Price.
Pearl: Hi. I’m a miscellaneous selection from the revelations, translations and narrations of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church.
G&T: Oh my stars, Kyle, you can’t be serious.
Kyle: Just listen a minute. We’ll make a brief point, and then I’ll put Pearl back on the shelf. Go ahead, Pearl.
Pearl: I contain a section called “Joseph Smith – History,” in which Joseph Smith tells his own story. In this short section you’ll find 38 details – the same kind of details you find in Acts. These details can be verified as accurate:
G&T: For the sake of the argument, I’ll take your word for it that those particular details are historically correct.
Pearl: Good. Now, this history of Joseph Smith also contains visitations from God the Father, Jesus Christ, an angel named Moroni, and John the Baptist. Joseph Smith also claimed to translate golden plates by the miraculous working of peep stones called the Urim and Thummim. These visitations and miracles are included in the same writing that is confirmed as authentic on 38 points. In light of the fact that Joseph Smith has proven accurate with so many trivial details, it is nothing but pure anti-Mormon bias to say he’s not telling the truth about the visitations and miracles.
G&T (254): Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Mormon?
Kyle: No, but I do expect to persuade you that your argument is invalid.
G&T: Yes, I get the comparison. My argument is pretty weak, isn’t it. Or maybe it means that Mormonism is as true as Christianity.
Kyle: Oh, my. 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. King Louis XI also figures in the novel, and he was a real person. So does that make you believe Quasimodo was a real person who did everything Hugo wrote about him?
G&T: Quasi- who?
Kyle: Quasimodo. You know. The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
G&T: Sounds like a football player to me.
Kyle: Very funny.
G&T: Seriously, I get your point.
Kyle: My point is that the setting of a narrative can be accurate while the story line is fictitious. Your 84 points fail to establish that Luke’s stories were true.
G&T (261): But what about Luke’s gospel? Luke writes, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3). Isn’t that statement worthy of belief?
Kyle: Not necessarily. Look at the Author’s Preface to The Life & Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe:
G&T: But Robinson Crusoe is fictitious, isn’t it?
Kyle: Exactly. And the Preface to The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas says, “... the heroes of this history which we are about to have the honor of relating to our readers have nothing mythological about them.” The Preface goes on to describe the search for evidence and the discovery of a manuscript described as historical. The manuscript turns out to be the novel itself. Do you believe The Three Musketeers is historically true?
Kyle: You're right. My copy has an introduction in which J. Walker McSpadden writes:
G&T: Are you comparing the New Testament to The Three Musketeers? Is the New Testament a mixture of fact and fiction?
Kyle: I think it is. At least I have demonstrated that a veneer of historicity is possible, and a veneer does not make a narrative historical. Writers often use real settings – real places, real people and historical events – as a backdrop to their fictitious stories.
G&T (262): I thought my logic was inescapable.
Kyle: Well, let’s check your logic by reducing your argument to a syllogism:
G&T ( 255-262): Yes, that’s what this part of my tenth chapter boils down to.
Kyle: I accept the first premise. Luke gave an accurate travelogue. The background to his narrative is historical.
G&T: But you don’t agree with the second premise.
Kyle: Right, I don’t. Joseph Smith is an example of a person who told the truth about his journeys through Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. Yet his visions, revelations and other miracles are unbelievable.
G&T (262): So, since I failed to establish the historicity of Luke’s story, I can’t establish the historicity of Mark and Matthew by pointing out that they tell the same story?
Kyle: Right. That would be an invalid argument.
G&T (263-268): And it wouldn’t do any good to argue the historicity of John with similar evidence?
G&T (269-271): Doesn’t it impress you at all that there are at least thirty characters in the New Testament who have been confirmed as historical by archaeology or non-Christian sources?
Kyle: No more than it impresses me that The Three Musketeers has so many historical characters in it, including King Louis XIII, Anne of Austria, Cardinal Richelieu and Monsieur de Treville.
G&T (271): But the New Testament can’t be just a historical novel.
Kyle: Why not?
G&T (271): For one thing, independent non-Christian writers collectively reveal a storyline similar to the New Testament.
Kyle: We debunked that assertion in the ninth chapter. The fact is that we have absolutely no non-Christian commentary about Jesus until 80 years after his death. We have absolutely no eyewitness testimony corroborating the New Testament.
G&T (271): Well, why would the New Testament writers endure persecution, torture and death for a fictitious story?
Kyle: Because the gospel stories were more than your average fiction. They were the legends that united congregations of Christians in fellowship. But this is the topic for the next chapter, isn’t it?
G&T (271): Yes. Let’s discuss this point later.
G&T (271): My third objection is that novelists usually don’t use the names of real people for the main characters in their stories.
Kyle: Neither does the New Testament. Name one main character in the New Testament who is cited by non-Christian writers or confirmed through archaeology.
G&T (270): The most prominent character is Jesus.
Kyle: But he isn't corroborated by non-Christian sources. How about the apostles?
G&T (270): None.
Kyle: Not even Peter or John?
G&T (270): No.
Kyle: What about Paul? Or Mary Magdalene?
G&T (270): No to both. But there was John the Baptist, Herod and Pilate.
Kyle: Are they main characters?
Kyle: It seems to me that your list is made up of peripheral characters. But it would be pointless to argue about what makes a main character. Let’s get back to your objection.
G&T (271-272): Yes. 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.
Kyle: Now, wait a minute. By the time the New Testament books were written, most of the real people mentioned in them were dead.
G&T: Can you prove that all of them were dead?
Kyle: No, but even if some were alive, 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.
G&T: How do you know that?
Kyle: EB, what do you say?
Kyle: Besides, did the New Testament writers mention the real people in a defamatory way?
G&T: Not particularly.
Kyle: Then why would they waste their precious time trying to correct rumors about them in a few little cults? Your objection doesn’t carry much weight, in my opinion. Do you have any other objections to the theory that the New Testament is an historical novel?
G&T (272): One more. The New Testament was written by nine authors spread all over the ancient world, over a 20- to 50-year period. The historical novel theory would require an implausible grand conspiracy among these writers.
Kyle: I agree.
G&T: You do? Chalk one up for Jesus!
Kyle: Not so fast, G&T. You seem to be engaging in a false dichotomy. You seem to be saying that the New Testament was either an historical novel or a true history.
G&T: Is there another alternative?
Kyle: Well, you do consider another by implication – that the New Testament is entirely fictitious – but you do an admirable job of debunking that suggestion.
G&T: Thank you.
Kyle: A novel is usually concocted from the imagination of one author. The gospels are different.
Kyle: 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. 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.
G&T: That’s an interesting theory, but isn’t it just your opinion?
Kyle: Not at all. Let me play some more from the CD of Bart D. Ehrman’s lecture. Here he’s speaking about the four gospels:
Kyle: Let’s skip ahead a little:
Kyle: You may not accept this explanation, but at least it gives a viable alternative to the two theories you mention.
G&T: So where does that leave us? Were the New Testament writers eyewitnesses or not?
Kyle: I don’t deny that the authors of Luke and John knew something about the culture of first century Jerusalem. It seems likely that the author of Luke or one of his sources really did travel to the places described in Acts. So I guess you could say they were eyewitnesses to the historical setting of the New Testament stories. However, I have shown you examples of writers who used historical settings as the background for their non-historical stories. It seems reasonable to me that the New Testament is the same. You have failed to prove that the New Testament writers were eyewitnesses to the stories they tell.
G&T (271): What else could the New Testament writers have done to prove that they were eyewitnesses who were not making up a story?
Kyle: 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. They could have taken measures to ensure that their stories were accurate. Instead we have conflicting versions of the same stories. They could have collected legal affidavits from witnesses. Instead, we have hearsay assertions that other people had seen these things happen. They could have proven their case to the courts, the media of their time, or the non-Christian world in general. Instead, the first century world is silent, as if Jesus never existed at all. From all appearances, the New Testament writers were not the least bit worried about convincing future skeptics that their stories were true. The reasonable conclusion is that the stories were legendary. There were no eyewitnesses, because the miraculous stories about Jesus never happened in reality.
G&T (274): Well, maybe my next chapter will convince you.
Kyle: Give it your best shot.
G&T (275): I can give you ten reasons why I believe the New Testament writers told the truth.
Kyle: I’m listening.
G&T (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: I have several responses to that. For one thing, you have fallen back into a false dichotomy. You 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.
G&T: Oh, yeah.
Kyle: 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.
G&T: I hadn’t thought of it that way.
Kyle: Also, do you know why bridesmaids wear ugly dresses?
G&T: Are you changing the subject?
Kyle: Not really. Bridesmaids wear ugly dresses in order to make the bride look more beautiful by contrast. The Jews had the “bridesmaid principle” figured out from the beginning of their history. Scour the Old Testament for a perfect human being. You won’t find one. In order to accentuate the perfection of God, the Bible describes its mortal heroes as less than virtuous. Look at King David. He was one of the most revered kings, but he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah. Solomon was a serial polygamist. Moses himself committed murder, doubted God, lost his temper, and was not permitted to enter Canaan. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob committed various foibles and dishonest acts.
G&T (362): I agree that the heroes of the Old Testament were Olympic-quality sinners. But that indicates the Old Testament was telling the truth.
Kyle: Maybe – maybe not – but that’s beside the point. The point is that the New Testament writers had plenty of precedent for depicting their heroes as less than perfect.
Kyle: 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.
G&T: Well, that brings us to the next reason.
Kyle: What is it?
G&T (277-279): The New Testament writers included embarrassing details and difficult sayings of Jesus.
Kyle: What are some of the embarrassing details?
G&T (277-278): 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).
G&T (278): Why would the gospel writers invent such incrimination if it weren’t true?
Kyle: 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.
G&T (278): Okay, but there are also difficult sayings that the writers would not have invented if they wanted to portray Jesus as God.
Kyle: For example?
G&T (278): Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Jesus seems to predict incorrectly that he’s coming back to earth within a generation (Matt. 24:34). Then he denies that he knows when his second coming will occur (Matt. 24:36). Jesus curses a fig tree for not having figs when it wasn’t even the season for figs (Matt. 21:18ff). He seems unable to do many miracles in his hometown (Mark 6:5).
Kyle: Which team are you playing on?
G&T (278-279): Yeah, it sounds like I’m poking fun at Jesus, but I’m not. There are reasonable explanations. The point is that the writers would be unlikely to invent such things if they wanted to prove Jesus was God. The best explanation is that the New Testament writers were not playing fast and loose with the facts but were extremely accurate in recording exactly what Jesus said and did.
Kyle: 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. The “difficult sayings” that you list are consistent with the theory that the gospel stories developed as they were repeated by word of mouth. Only after decades of embellishment were the stories recorded as the written gospels. The writers didn’t necessarily “play fast and loose with the facts.” They may have been extremely accurate in recording the legends, but the legends themselves were inaccurate.
G&T: But why would legend develop in a way that makes Jesus so imperfect?
Kyle: You need to realize that the early Christians were not unified in their beliefs. Some 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. Others thought he was partially human and partially divine. Such conflicting views caused schisms in the early church. If you wanted to prove that Jesus had human characteristics, wouldn’t you emphasize stories that make him less than a god?
G&T: I suppose.
Kyle: So your second reason fails to convince me. You assume too much when you say the writers intended to portray Jesus as beyond accusation and fully divine.
3. Impossible Commands
G&T (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: Thanks. You make an excellent point for the atheists. I agree that the Sermon on the Mount is not fit for human consumption.
G&T (280): That’s not my point. I’m only saying that the writers are not likely to invent commandments that are so difficult for them to keep. Therefore, they must be from God.
Kyle: I disagree. People are always putting impossible demands on themselves. Some religious people take vows of celibacy and poverty. That’s against human nature. Do you believe such vows are from God? Some people flagellate themselves – punishing their own flesh until it bleeds, to make them feel holier. Did God inspire such behavior? Some churches forbid smoking, drinking alcohol and even caffeine. Some churches demand vegetarianism. Did God command such things? Other people feel holy about crashing airplanes into buildings. Is that from God? According to your logic, yes!
G&T: I guess I’d better rethink this one.
Kyle: 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. Do you realize that Paul never once quotes the Sermon on the Mount?
G&T: Oh, really?
Kyle: Why didn’t he? Was it considered so unimportant that the other apostles failed to tell him about it? Or maybe it developed in the legends of the Ebionites, which Paul opposed. Either way, it is curiously suspect. You might want to consider the possibility that Jesus never uttered the Sermon on the Mount.
4. Limited Quotes
G&T (280-281): Well, that brings us to number four. The New Testament writers carefully distinguished Jesus’ words from their own.
Kyle: How does this indicate that they told the truth?
G&T (281): 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: 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?
5. Unlikely Resurrection Stories
G&T (281-283): Sure. 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: 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.
G&T: The legend theory does seem to solve the problem of unlikely inventions. But there are still problems related to the resurrection that I would like to address.
Kyle: Isn’t that what your next chapter is about?
G&T: Yes. Let’s discuss the resurrection in the next chapter.
Kyle: Okay. What’s your next reason for believing the New Testament writers told the truth?
6. Real People
G&T (283-284): The New Testament writers include more than thirty historically confirmed people in their writings.
Kyle: 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.
G&T: The real people don’t always remain in the background. John the Baptist and Pilate, for example, play important roles in the gospels.
Kyle: The development of legend adequately explains that. But let’s suppose Jesus really did rub shoulders with such people. So what? John the Baptist might have baptized Jesus, but that doesn’t prove the heavens opened or a dove came down or a voice was heard. Pilate might have condemned Jesus, but that doesn’t mean Jesus resurrected from the dead. Real elements in a story do not prove the entire story. The world is full of half-truths.
G&T (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.
Kyle: I agree that the writers did not completely agree with one another before they wrote. It seems apparent, though, that the authors of Matthew and Luke had access to the gospel of Mark. Or it’s possible that all three authors had access to a common source that has been lost. The number of similarities among the three synoptic gospels makes it difficult to argue that they were completely independent. On the other hand, the contradictions among them make it obvious that they can’t all be true.
G&T (285): Now you’re contradicting yourself. You claim that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are too uniform to be independent sources. On the other hand, you claim that they are too divergent to be telling the truth. So which are they? Are they too uniform or too divergent?
Kyle: That’s not a contradiction. They’re too uniform for one thing – to be independent sources. They’re too divergent for a different thing – to be telling the truth. It’s like saying I’m too old to get a child’s discount, but I’m too young to get a senior citizen’s discount. Which am I? Too young or too old? There’s no contradiction between the two statements.
G&T: Okay, you caught me in another false argument.
G&T (285-286): But all the Gospels agree on the same major fact – Jesus rose from the dead. Only the details differ. And even if one could find some minor details between the Gospels that are flatly contradictory, that wouldn’t prove the Resurrection is fiction. It may present a problem for the doctrine that the Bible is without any minor error, but it wouldn’t mean the major event didn’t happen.
Kyle: I agree. But the contradictions do prove that the gospel writers were careless about their stories. They shot from the hip when they wrote, not bothering to verify the facts. They weren’t historians, but preachers. They were not above exaggerating and embellishing their stories. Therefore, it’s evident that they were not eyewitnesses of historical events, but recorders of legend.
G&T: You do understand the difference between complementary details and contradictions, don’t you?
Kyle: Of course. Allow me to bring a flat contradiction to your attention. Where did the Eleven first see the resurrected Jesus?
G&T: According to Matthew 28, Jesus commanded his disciples to go to Galilee and meet him there. That’s where they saw him for the first time.
Kyle: What about Luke?
G&T: According to Luke 24, Jesus met them for the first time in Jerusalem, and commanded them to stay in the city.
Kyle: These contradictory accounts of a very important event – not just a minor detail – cannot be reconciled without doing violence to either Matthew or Luke. Both gospels cannot be completely true.
G&T: Well, I don't know how to resolve that apparent discrepancy, but I’m sure someone can.
Kyle: It’s one thing to theorize that an explanation exists. It’s another thing to produce an explanation. Reasonable people demand explanations, not just theories.
G&T (313): You’re beginning to sound like me.
Kyle: Yes, in a way. Here’s another contradiction that would be difficult or impossible to reconcile. How many times was Jesus crucified?
G&T: Only once, of course.
Kyle: What day and hour was it?
G&T: According to Mark 14:12 and 15:25, it was the third hour, on Passover day.
Kyle: What about John?
G&T: According to John 18:28 and 19:14, it was after the sixth hour, on the day before Passover.
Kyle: Can you reconcile this contradiction?
G&T: I don’t know. I’d have to do some research.
Kyle: In the meantime, let’s go on to your next reason.
G&T (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: Going back to chapter 8, you said that miracles must be distinguished from psychosomatic cures, magic and anomalies. 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.
G&T: Can you prove that Jesus and Paul were false healers?
Kyle: No, it’s too late for that. The evidence is dead and buried. But at least it’s a viable alternative to their having a real gift of healing.
G&T: Then it’s fifty-fifty.
Kyle: Not really. We know false healers exist. We have no evidence that true healers exist. According to the Principle of Uniformity, it’s more likely that Jesus and Paul were false healers than true healers.
G&T (117): Darn! Why did I ever bring up the Principle of Uniformity?
Kyle: I’m glad you did. I believe you have two more reasons.
9. Simple Style
G&T (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: Moderation in describing miracles is no proof that the stories are true. It’s only a matter of writing style, isn’t it?
G&T: I suppose so, but a simple writing style is consistent with reporting historical fact.
Kyle: It’s also consistent with reporting legendary “fact.” A legend reported in simple, straightforward language is still a legend.
G&T: So number nine’s a wash, huh?
Kyle: Yes, I think so. You have one more, right?
G&T (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?
G&T: They come from the Bible!
Kyle: If the Bible is legendary, as I believe it is, why should I take those figures at face value?
G&T: I guess you can’t. You have to believe in the Bible first.
Kyle: Also, do you really think Jerusalem was a monolith of devout Judaism at the beginning of the first century?
G&T: Wasn’t it?
Kyle: Of course not. Jerusalem was a hodgepodge of various sects – Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians, Zealots and others. There were Romans, pagans, and people who were not religious at all. Even the Bible acknowledges the formation and disbanding of new cults. Gamaliel mentioned two of them in Acts 5:36-37. The Pharisaical traditions were impossibly burdensome. 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?
G&T (292-293): I hadn’t thought of it that way. But the early Christians became martyrs. Why would they die for a fictitious messiah?
Kyle: For one thing, I suspect that you’re placing too much confidence on biblical legend and Catholic tradition. Did the early Christians really suffer persecution and martyrdom? The first real persecution of Christians was that of Nero. Let’s ask the Encyclopaedia Britannica about it:
Kyle: Besides being “local and short,” Nero’s persecution did not erupt until A.D. 64 – thirty-four years after the death of Jesus. The earliest Christians, then, did not face immediate persecution or death.
G&T: The gospels weren’t written until after the time of Nero.
Kyle: True. Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that the first-century Christians were routinely persecuted and killed. What would that prove?
G&T (292): It would prove that they didn’t think Christianity was a lie. Why would anyone die for a known lie?
Kyle: 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.
G&T: Can you give me an example of people who died for a legend?
Kyle: Sure. Look at some of my own ancestors. They were Mormons as early as 1831. They claimed to witness miracles and angelic visitations. Some early Mormons signed affidavits that they had seen and touched the Golden Plates from which Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Mormon. Fantastic legends developed around Joseph Smith, even while he was still alive. The early Mormons knew, or at least they had reason to know, that the stories about Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates were not literally true. What was their response when they were beaten, persecuted and killed by mobs? How did they react to their expulsion from Missouri and Illinois? Did they abandon their families and friends because their legends weren't historically accurate? Maybe some did. But most of them remained loyal to their fellow Mormons, and were willing to suffer and die in their defense. Such loyalty in the face of persecution solidified their bond of fellowship, and Mormonism thrived.
G&T: So enduring persecution is no indication that a person’s beliefs are true?
Kyle: Right. Throughout history, people have suffered and died defending all kinds of absurd causes.
G&T: So none of my ten reasons are very strong, are they?
Kyle: No, they’re not. There is no good reason to believe that the New Testament writers told the truth about the resurrection and other miracles.
G&T: You know, Kyle, you may have cast reasonable doubt on each of my arguments individually, but you have not disproved them. It is still possible that God exists, that the New Testament is true, and that Jesus Resurrected from the dead. Maybe all my arguments put together will make a stronger case than each taken separately.
Kyle: You realize, don’t you, that because you are making the claims, the burden of proof is on you.
G&T (313): Of course. Skeptics rightfully put the burden of proof for the Resurrection on Christians.
Kyle: And you know that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
G&T (320): Are you demanding supernatural proof, like a miracle?
Kyle: No, that would be asking too much.
G&T (320): By extraordinary, do you mean that the claimed event must be repeatable?
Kyle: No, historical events can be proved without repeating them.
G&T (321): Do you require more than the usual number of documents to prove an extraordinary claim?
Kyle: Not necessarily. When I demand extraordinary proof, I only mean that the standard of proof is higher than normal. A preponderance of evidence is not enough. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is what I’m asking for.
G&T (25, 301, 383, etc.): And proof beyond a reasonable doubt is what I’m trying to deliver.
Kyle: That’s a high standard of proof, but I think it’s necessary where miracle claims are involved. I wouldn’t want to presume immediately that a miracle has occurred whenever something extraordinary happens.
G&T (316): Neither would I, because most events actually do have a natural explanation. It makes perfect sense to seek a natural explanation first.
Kyle: Right. Miracles, if they happen at all, must be extremely rare.
G&T (201, 316): I agree.
Kyle: You realize, too, that false claims of miracles are very common.
G&T: Of course. It would be the height of gullibility to believe every miracle claim. It would also be inconsistent, because some claims contradict others.
Kyle: So how can we distinguish a true miracle from a false claim?
G&T (208): The only way to know for sure is to investigate the evidence for each miracle claim.
Kyle: I agree. And if there’s any reasonable doubt, it should be resolved in favor of a non-miracle.
G&T: Which is why I need to prove the biblical miracles beyond a reasonable doubt.
Kyle: Right. So how have you done so far?
G&T (317): Well, my first arguments were that the theistic nature of this universe makes miracles possible.
Kyle: And I exposed the fallacies in each of your arguments. You failed to prove that God exists, or that miracles occur.
G&T: But it’s still possible that God exists, and if he exists, it’s possible that he does miracles.
Kyle: I have my doubts. And considering the quality of your arguments, do you think my doubts are unreasonable?
G&T: I can’t say they are.
Kyle: Then you have failed to prove the existence of God beyond a reasonable doubt.
G&T (318-319): After that, I attempted to argue that reliable, trustworthy eyewitnesses recorded actual miracles that occurred about 2000 years ago.
Kyle: Those arguments didn’t fare much better.
G&T: But you didn’t disprove my theory that the New Testament is historically accurate.
Kyle: 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.
G&T: Go ahead and try.
Kyle: Please read Matthew 1:17.
G&T: “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.”
Kyle: Here, the author of Matthew makes the theological point that something important happens in every fourteen generations. I think his implication is that the Jews should have expected something important to happen in Jesus’ generation.
Kyle: Now read the last part of Matthew 1:8 and the first part of Matthew 1:9.
G&T: “Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham.”
Kyle: So Matthew gives this genealogy:
Now, if you look at the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 22:1,11; 24; 26:1,23), you see that there are three generations missing. The real genealogy looks like this:
G&T: That could have been a simple mistake. Uzziah and Ahaziah sound alike. Maybe Matthew accidentally skipped a few lines.
Kyle: Does it matter whether it was a mistake or intentional? The fact is that the gospel is not historically accurate. The author of Matthew obviously had access to the Hebrew Scriptures, and if he had cared enough to verify his data, he could have done so.
Kyle: Besides, that’s not the only problem with Matthew’s genealogy. According to Matthew 1:11-12, we have this genealogy:
Kyle: According to 1 Chronicles 3:17, the true genealogy is:
G&T: Jeconiah is a Hebrew variant of Jehoiachin.
Kyle: Yes, but that doesn’t account for the missing generation – Jehoiakim.
Kyle: Also, if you take the trouble to count the generations, you have fourteen in the first set, fourteen in the second set, but only thirteen generations in the last set. Obviously, the author of Matthew was not interested in historical accuracy.
G&T: Well, that’s just the first chapter.
Kyle: Okay, read Matthew 23:35.
G&T: “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”
Kyle: Why are Abel and Zechariah the only martyrs mentioned?
G&T (360): Because Jesus wanted to cover the whole gamut. Abel was killed in the first book of the Jewish Old Testament (Genesis), and Zechariah was killed in the last (Chronicles).
Kyle: Who was Zechariah, son of Berekiah?
G&T: According to Zechariah 1:1, he was the prophet who wrote the Book of Zechariah.
Kyle: He wasn’t the same person as the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21:
G&T: Wow! So Matthew got the name wrong. He meant Zechariah son of Jehoiada, but he wrote Zechariah son of Berekiah.
Kyle: That’s not the only time the author of Matthew erred concerning Zechariah. In Matthew 27:9, Zechariah is quoted, but Jeremiah is given the credit.
G&T (370): Here I thought the New Testament was inerrant.
Kyle: Now you see what happens when a “beautiful theory meets a brutal gang of facts.”
G&T (61): Right.
Kyle: So do you admit that the author of Matthew was not interested enough in historical accuracy to check his facts?
G&T: Oh, I don’t know.
Kyle: Are you at least ready to admit that the New Testament is not 100% accurate?
G&T: If I have any integrity at all, I am forced to acknowledge that fact.
Kyle: So the Bible is neither 100% true, nor 100% false. It’s a mixture of historical accuracy and legend. The question is: Where do we draw the line between history and legend?
G&T: History and archeology have proven that many of the places and rulers in the Bible are accurate.
Kyle: Good. So we can put those things on the historical side of the line. On the other side of the line, it’s reasonable to presume – until proved otherwise – that the miracles, including the resurrection, are legendary.
G&T: By the time I’m done, I hope to prove otherwise. Let’s take a look at the resurrection.
G&T (301-310): 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.
G&T (299, 301): Good. 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.
G&T (299): 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?
G&T (299): Yes.
Kyle: I suspect his study had a pro-Christian bias. Even if my suspicion is wrong, are majorities always right?
G&T (38, 353): No, beliefs, even widespread beliefs, cannot change a fact. In other words, truth is not determined by majority vote.
Kyle: You see, I would draw the line between history and legend so that the stories about witnesses to the resurrection fall on the legend side of the line.
G&T: So 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.
G&T: What about Matthew and John themselves? They were disciples of Jesus, and they wrote what they saw.
Kyle: I disagree. The gospels were written anonymously. Only in the Second Century were the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ascribed to them.
Kyle: Yes. Let’s listen to a segment of lecture 4 on “The New Testament” by Professor Bart D. Ehrman:
G&T: So you have doubts that there were any eyewitnesses to the resurrection.
Kyle: Yes. Are my doubts unreasonable?
G&T: I can’t say they are. I haven’t even thought about the development-of-legend theory.
Kyle: So I have succeeded in raising a reasonable doubt about the resurrection. And where miracles are concerned, reasonable doubts should be resolved in favor of the non-miraculous explanation.
G&T: You’re a tough nut to crack. But there’s one more line of evidence that will knock your socks off. Did you know that the resurrection was predicted hundreds of years before it happened?
Kyle: Show me.
Kyle: But before you do, I want to raise an objection. On page 321, you say, “Atheists ... believe in the Big Bang,” and, “Atheists believe in spontaneous generation and macroevolution.” That’s not true. Some atheists may believe in those things. Some Christians also believe in those things. I, an atheist, do not necessarily believe in those things. The only thing you can say about all atheists is that we have no belief in gods.
G&T: Point well taken. Now let me show you something really amazing.
G&T (340, 432): Kyle, did you know there are 71 Old Testament messianic prophecies fulfilled by Christ? Some of the Bible’s predictions are hundreds of years in advance where future circumstances could not be foreseen without divine help, and all of the Bible’s predictions have proven to be 100 percent accurate.
Kyle: Would you like to buy the Brooklyn Bridge?
G&T: Be serious.
Kyle: Okay, but your claim sounds outrageous. Show me your evidence.
G&T (329-330): I’d like you to open your Bible to Isaiah 53. When do you think this was written?
Kyle: About 538 B.C.
G&T: That would be more than five centuries before the birth of Jesus.
G&T (330, 332-333): Isaiah 53 is about a “Suffering Servant.” There are several “Servant Songs” in this part of Isaiah. I’m going to summarize some points from these songs, and I want you to ask yourself, “To whom is this referring?”
So, Kyle, who do you think this Suffering Servant is?
Kyle: The people of Israel, of course.
G&T (333): How can you say that? Just a casual reading of the passage should leave little doubt that the Suffering Servant is Jesus.
Kyle: The key word is ‘casual.’ That’s your problem: You read the passages too casually. I realize that your interpretation is hoary with age. Christians have always seen Jesus in these passages, just like they see Jesus on pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, rust on refrigerator doors and water stains under bridges.
G&T: I think at least one of those was the Virgin Mary.
Kyle: Whatever. My point is that you have misinterpreted these passages. You have abandoned the original meaning, and inserted your Jesus where he doesn’t belong.
G&T: How, then, do you interpret these passages?
Kyle: What was that heading of yours on page 316?
G&T (316): Context! Context! Context!
Kyle: Right. Context is what we need to look at first. Chapters 40-54 of Isaiah were written by an anonymous author about a century and a half after Isaiah died. The Israelites’ world had changed dramatically since Isaiah’s death. Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem in 588 B.C. and destroyed the city in about 586 B.C. The Jews were taken to Babylon, where they suffered in captivity for about half a century. In 539 B.C., the emperor Cyrus took Babylon and decreed that the Jews were free to return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem.
G&T: So you’re saying that chapters 40-54 are a supplement to the original Book of Isaiah?
Kyle: Yes. There are three supplements to Isaiah. This is the second.
G&T: And what is the main message of this supplement?
Kyle: This is a message of comfort to the Israelites. The first verse of chapter 40 says plainly, “Comfort, comfort my people.” The author encourages Israel, saying that its sins have been paid for, that its return to Jerusalem would be accompanied by miracles, that it would become a powerful, righteous nation, that it would conquer its enemies, establish peace, and offer the salvation of Yahweh to the entire world.
G&T: Of course, this is about the future, since the prophecies haven’t been fulfilled yet.
Kyle: That doesn’t make sense. Here’s a group of people about to embark on an exciting journey back to their homeland, after 50 years of captivity, and you’re telling me that they’re interested in what will happen more than 2500 years later? Why would they give a hoot about that? How would that possibly comfort them?
G&T: Surely they would be interested in a messiah.
Kyle: Five centuries later? I doubt it. They were wrapped up in their own situation. These chapters do mention a messiah, though. Can you guess who it was?
Kyle: Guess again. It was Cyrus. In Isaiah 45:1, Yahweh calls Cyrus his “anointed.” The Hebrew word is mah-shee-agh, or messiah. Cyrus was the only messiah of interest to Israel in 538 B.C. He was the hero who saved Israel from the Babylonian captivity.
G&T: Amazing. You’re not a Jew are you?
Kyle: No, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe the authors of Isaiah were true prophets. I don’t believe in Yahweh. I study the Bible as literature, and I think it’s important to understand what the authors really meant, which is often very different from the re-interpretations of later cults with axes to grind.
Kyle: You see, chapters 40-54 make perfect sense for the 6th Century B.C. There is absolutely no indication in these chapters that they were meant for any other period of time.
G&T: How, then, do you explain the parallels between the Servant Songs and Jesus?
Kyle: Some legends about Jesus were developed by First Century Jews who were familiar with the Old Testament. They took Old Testament passages out of context and changed their meaning to support the gospel stories. At the same time, they developed the gospel stories to conform to the Old Testament.
G&T: Interesting theory.
Kyle: Now, let’s look at your summary, plugging in the people of Israel as the servant:
G&T: But the servant can’t possibly be Israel.
Kyle: Why not?
G&T (333): Look at number 15. Unlike Israel, the Servant is sinless. Isaiah 53:9 says that the servant “had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”
Kyle: That doesn’t say the servant was sinless. Aren’t there other sins besides violence and deceit?
G&T: Yes, of course. You’re right.
Kyle: And you’ve got to read the passage in context. Isaiah 53:9 says, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” The death of Israel was its destruction by "rich" Babylon in 586 B.C. Israel’s burial was its captivity in "wicked" Babylon until 538 B.C. What had Israel done to deserve destruction? Israel had not attacked Babylon with violence; nor had Israel deceived Babylon.
G&T: That’s arguable. The Bible says that “Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 24:20). Isn’t breaking a treaty a form of deceit?
Kyle: Maybe, but what counts here is the poet’s viewpoint. This is a message of comfort. Jerusalem had paid double for all her sins (Isaiah 40:2), and Israel’s transgressions were forgotten (Isaiah 43:25; 44:22). Besides, there are two sides to every dispute. What the Babylonians saw as rebellion, the Israelites may have seen as a demand for justice.
G&T (333): My second objection is that unlike Israel, the Suffering Servant is a lamb who submits without any resistance whatsoever. Read Isaiah 53:7.
Kyle: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
G&T: How could that possibly describe Israel?
Kyle: Again, you’ve got to look at this in context. Yes, Jerusalem resisted Babylon’s siege for a couple of years. But the famine in Jerusalem became so severe that the Israelite army fled Jerusalem and Zedekiah was captured. His sons were killed before his eyes, and then he was blinded and taken to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-7). At some point, Israel realized that resistance was futile. It accepted its fate, cooperated with its captors, and submitted to service in Babylon. Jeremiah encouraged the exiles to make their homes peacefully in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Israel went silently into captivity, like a lamb to the slaughter.
G&T: Is there scriptural authority for any Israelites capitulating peacefully?
Kyle: Sure. 2 Kings 25:11 says that some “fell away to the king of Babylon” (KJV), or had “gone over to the king of Babylon” (NIV). Not everyone resisted. And those who did resist were forced, like lambs, to shut up and submit.
G&T: Okay, when you put it in context, Israel does seem to fit.
Kyle: Do you have other concerns?
G&T (333-334): Yes. Look at numbers 12 and 13. Unlike Israel, the Suffering Servant dies as a substitutionary atonement for the sins of others. But Israel has not died, nor is she paying for the sins of others. No one is redeemed on account of what the nation of Israel does.
Kyle: The death of Israel was its destruction by Babylon in 586 B.C. Its resurrection was its return to Jerusalem in about 538 B.C. It may be true that Israel has not redeemed other nations, but that’s beside the point.
G&T: Beside the point!? But doesn’t Isaiah say the Suffering Servant would redeem others by his suffering?
Kyle: Yes, but don’t assume the author was telling the truth. The passages in question might be false prophecy, but that has no bearing on their original interpretation.
G&T: Oh. You’re right.
Kyle: The writer of Isaiah 40-54 predicted that Israel would become a righteous world power after emerging from its suffering in Babylon. He also predicted that Israel would rebuild the temple of Yahweh and offer its services to the nations. In that way, Israel would redeem the Gentiles. Isaiah 49:8 says that Israel would be “a covenant for the people.”
G&T: Okay, so you have concocted a plausible theory that the suffering servant was the Israelite nation, and you have satisfactorily answered my objections to it. But you have no proof to back up your theory. It’s just your theory against mine.
Kyle: Au contraire. Let’s go back to the Bible. Suppose the author of Isaiah 40-54 told us plainly who the servant was. Would you believe him?
G&T: Of course I would.
Kyle: Would you please read Isaiah 41:8-9.
G&T: “But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” Wow.
Kyle: And Isaiah 44:1-2.
G&T: “But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. This is what the LORD says – he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.”
Kyle: And Isaiah 44:21.
G&T: “Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you.”
Kyle: And the first half of Isaiah 45:4.
G&T: “For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name....”
Kyle: And Isaiah 48:20.
G&T: “Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, ‘The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob.’”
Kyle: Finally, please read Isaiah 49:3.
G&T: “He said to me, You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.’”
Kyle: Well, what do you think now?
G&T: You’ve got me. I must admit that the suffering servant was Sixth Century Israel. Otherwise, I would contradict the Bible.
Kyle: What else have you got?
G&T: Genesis 3:15 predicts that Jesus would be from the seed of a woman rather than from the seed of a man.
Kyle: What exactly does Genesis 3:15 say?
G&T: This is God speaking to Satan: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Kyle: I don’t see Jesus mentioned anywhere in that verse.
G&T: Who else crushed the head of Satan?
Kyle: I don’t see Satan mentioned either. This is about a serpent. On the surface, this passage is a myth that explains the enmity between humans and snakes. Snakes strike the heels of people. People crush the heads of snakes. The passage doesn’t say anything about a future messiah.
G&T: Who else could you claim to be the seed of a woman?
G&T: But Jesus is the only person born only of the seed of woman, without the seed of man.
Kyle: You’re reading too much into the passage. If you’re going to be so literal, is Satan the seed of a serpent?
Kyle: You’ve made a really weak connection, here. You’ve read Jesus into the passage. Otherwise, he simply is not there. What’s your next messianic prophecy?
G&T (334): Read Genesis 12:3 and 7, please. This is God speaking to Abraham.
Kyle: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.... The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’”
G&T (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:
G&T: But we’re talking about Hebrew, not English.
Kyle: It’s the same in Hebrew. Zeh-rag is both singular and plural.
G&T: Can you prove that?
Kyle: Absolutely. Please read Genesis 13:16.
G&T: “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.”
Kyle: The Hebrew word for ‘offspring’ in Genesis 13:16 is the exact same form of zeh-rag as in Genesis 12:7. The word in 13:16 is obviously plural, and the most reasonable reading of 12:7 is also plural.
G&T: Well, I’ll be.
Kyle: The passage in question simply says that Abraham will be blessed, and his many descendants will inherit some land and improve the world. Nowhere in the passage does it mention a messiah, much less Jesus. What else do you have?
G&T (335): Genesis 49:10. “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.”
Kyle: What does this have to do with Jesus?
G&T (335): Who is the ultimate king, but the Messiah? This verse says that the Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah.
Kyle: But Jesus never was a king. Nor does he control the obedience of the nations.
G&T: Jesus is a spiritual king.
Kyle: Well, the verse in Genesis has nothing to do with a spiritual king. It says a king from an unbroken line of Judah would rule this earthly world. The line of Judaic kings was broken in 586 B.C. when Jerusalem fell to Babylon, and it was never restored. Not only does this verse say nothing about Jesus, it was a false prediction.
G&T (335): Next we have Jeremiah 23:5-6. “‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: the LORD Our Righteousness.’”
Kyle: What does this have to do with Jesus?
G&T (335): It says that Messiah will be a son of David, and he will be called God.
Kyle: Did Jesus ever reign as king?
G&T: Not literally, no.
Kyle: Did Israel dwell securely in the days of Jesus?
Kyle: Look at the previous verse: “... they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking....” Has that ever been fulfilled?
Kyle: Then don’t you think it does violence to Jeremiah to take this passage out of context and apply it to Jesus?
G&T: Well, maybe it has to do with the Second Coming of Christ.
Kyle: In the future?
G&T: Yes. He hasn’t returned yet.
Kyle: Then how can you use this passage to prove that Jesus fulfilled prophecy in the past?
G&T: I guess I can’t. Forget this one. Let’s go on to the next.
Kyle: Good idea.
G&T (335): Let’s go on. Please read Isaiah 9:6-7.
G&T (335): This passage says that the Messiah will be born as a child, but he will also be God. He will rule from the throne of David.
Kyle: I think you’re putting too much stock in one interpretation of the word ‘god.’
G&T: How many ways can you interpret the word ‘god’? There is only one God.
Kyle: Let’s look at Psalm 82:6-7:
G&T: Well, this does appear to call certain men gods. But this is just a Psalm. Can we really base doctrine on poetry?
Kyle: You tell me. But first, let’s read John 10:34-35:
G&T: How dare you use Jesus’ words against me! You don’t even believe in him.
Kyle: Well, do you admit that the word ‘god’ can refer to someone “to whom the word of God came”?
G&T: I have to admit that or stop believing in the Bible. So yes, I admit it.
Kyle: So when Isaiah wrote that a child would be called ‘mighty god,’ he didn’t necessarily mean that the child would be god himself.
G&T: I get your point. But what about “Everlasting Father”?
Kyle: Many people are called ‘father’ in the Bible. Being called “everlasting father” is consistent with the prediction that the Davidic throne would be established forever.
G&T: I get your point for now. What if I want to study this further?
Kyle: There’s an article by Frank Toth called “Isaiah 9:6: What is Meant by the Messiah being ‘God’ and ‘Father’?” (“Focus on the Kingdom,” March 2002, Volume 4 Number 6: http://www.focusonthekingdom.org/46.htm.) Here you’ll see that the word ‘god’ was used for ancient Hebrew heroes and judges. That should be a good starting point.
G&T: But the passage says the child would reign forever. That could only mean Jesus.
Kyle: Does the passage really say that? Read it again. All it says is that the government established by the child would last forever; the justice and righteousness he establishes will last forever.
G&T: So if the child of Isaiah 9:6 isn’t Jesus, who is it?
Kyle: Isaiah was a favorite in the court of Hezekiah. If you were a king who had just sired a prince, and you had a prophet on your staff, wouldn’t you want to know what the prophet has to say about the newborn prince?
G&T: I suppose so.
Kyle: Isaiah had been predicting that a utopian Jerusalem was about to emerge. The renewed Israel would have a righteous king from the line of David. Hezekiah’s successor was Manasseh, who was born about 698 BC. It may have been on the occasion of Manasseh’s birth, or the birth of a brother prince, that Isaiah composed Isaiah 9:6-7. This blessing on the prince was perfectly consistent with Isaiah’s overall message. It was for immediate fulfillment, not for seven centuries in the future.
G&T: But Manasseh was a wicked king. He certainly didn’t fulfill this passage.
Kyle: So what? I’m describing the original meaning of the passage. It doesn’t matter that the prediction failed, or that it was later re-interpreted to mean something else. If you’re going to use this passage as evidence that prophecy has been fulfilled, it would be illogical to base your argument on a later re-interpretation.
G&T: You’re right.
Kyle: So this passage has backfired on you, hasn’t it? Instead of proving a fulfillment of prophecy, it proves that the original prophecy was false.
G&T (335): Well, let’s go on to the next messianic prophecy. Please read Micah 5:2.
Kyle: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
G&T (335): This verse says that a Messiah, who is eternal, will be born in Bethlehem.
Kyle: Whoa, now! The verse doesn’t say that at all.
G&T: A ruler whose origins are from of old sounds like an eternal person to me.
Kyle: I suspect you’re reading the passage incorrectly. It’s not the ruler himself who is supposed to be ancient. It’s the ruler’s ancestry going back to Bethlehem Ephrathah.
G&T: But Bethlehem is the town where the ruler is supposed to be born – not his ancestor.
Kyle: Does this verse mention a birth?
G&T: Not explicitly, no.
Kyle: You’re reading a “birth” into the verse. It doesn’t mention a birth at all. You’re also reading “town” into the verse. The verse doesn’t say anything about the town of Bethlehem.
G&T: It says “Bethlehem Ephrathah.” That’s a town.
Kyle: And it says that Bethlehem Ephrathah is small among the clans – not the towns – of Judah. Do you know what famous clan came out of ancient Bethlehem?
G&T: Jesse, the father of King David, was from Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:1).
Kyle: Right. And the clan of Bethlehem Ephrathah is the line of Davidic kings. What Micah says in this passage is that a king from the lineage of David will rule over Israel after the Babylonian captivity (Micah 4:9-10). It doesn’t say where the king would be born. Jesus doesn’t fit the bill. He never ruled as a king, and he came several centuries too late to fulfill Micah’s prediction.
G&T (335): How about Malachi 3:1. Please read it.
Kyle: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.”
G&T (335): This says that the Messiah, who will be preceded by a messenger, will suddenly come to the temple.
Kyle: Let’s take a look at the context, from Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:5. The passage begins with the Israelites saying that Yahweh does not punish evil. Yahweh responds by saying that his messenger is coming, who would prepare the way before him. He will come in judgment against evildoers, and will refine the Levites so they can bring offerings in righteousness, acceptable to Yahweh. Did Jesus or his messenger purify the Levites?
Kyle: Did Jesus or his messenger punish evildoers?
G&T: No, not yet.
Kyle: Was it Jesus’ mission to renew the system of animal sacrifices?
G&T: No, he abolished animal sacrifices.
Kyle: Then Jesus did not fulfill this passage.
G&T (335): Here’s one that will really amaze you. Daniel predicted that the Messiah would die in 33 A.D. He would be “cut off” 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. He predicted the city and the temple would then be destroyed, which was fulfilled in 70 A.D.
Kyle: That sounds pretty amazing. Let’s examine your claim to see if it stands up to analysis. First, let’s read the passage.
G&T (335): Sure. The passage is Daniel 9:25-26.
Kyle: Why don’t we keep reading to the end of Daniel 9.
Kyle: Let’s crunch some numbers. How do you get A.D. 33 out of this passage?
G&T: We start with the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. That was the decree of Artaxerxes in 445 B.C.
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”? The decree of Artaxerxes came a century after the time of Daniel.
G&T: One would think so, but the decree of Cyrus was only for rebuilding the temple. The decree of Artaxerxes was for rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.
Kyle: Do you believe the Book of Isaiah is true?
G&T: Of course.
Kyle: Listen to this excerpt from Isaiah 44:24-28:
G&T: So, according to Isaiah, Cyrus decreed that Jerusalem be rebuilt!
Kyle: Right. And the most logical starting place for Daniel is 539 B.C. It looks like you arrive at A.D. 33 by using the wrong starting date. But go on. I want to hear your explanation.
G&T: We have to interpret a ‘seven’ as seven years. So 7 sevens come out to 49 years; 62 sevens come out to 434 years. Add them together, and 69 sevens come out to 483 years.
Kyle: Wait a minute. Even if we use your starting date of 445 B.C., when we add 483 years, it comes out to A.D. 39. You’re six years off.
G&T: That’s because we need to make an adjustment. Daniel was counting in years of 360 days. So 483 years times 360 days comes out to 173,880 days. Divide that by 365.242199 days in a year, and you get 476 years.
Kyle: That comes out to A.D. 32, accounting for the fact that there’s no such year as 0 between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1. Most scholars think Jesus died in about A.D. 30.
G&T: Don’t you think it’s close enough?
Kyle: Look at the rigamarole you have to go through. First, you have to start out with the wrong decree. Then you have to apply an artificial fudge factor to get to an inexact ending date. That’s not very impressive.
G&T: How else can you explain the passage?
Kyle: First, let’s start at the right date – 539 B.C. That was when Cyrus gave the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Then let’s go back in time 7 sevens, or 49 years. That takes us to 588 B.C., when Babylon laid siege on Jerusalem. For the 62 sevens, let’s apply a simple fudge factor by excluding the Sabbath day. That means it’s really 62 sixes, or 372 years. From 539 B.C., this takes us to 167 B.C.
G&T: Your fudge factor makes no more sense than mine.
Kyle: Maybe. According to 2 Chronicles 36:21, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested....” So it makes sense to include the sabbaths in the 7 sevens. But in the 62 “weeks,” the sabbaths should be excluded because they were work weeks. The Israelites had 62 work weeks to prepare for the end.
G&T: That sounds like hogwash to me.
Kyle: That’s because it is hogwash. Now you know how I felt when you applied your fudge factor. If my fudge factor is illegitimate, so is yours.
G&T: What good is the date 167 B.C., anyway?
Kyle: In 168-167 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes enforced the hellenization of Jerusalem. He took the city by force, forbade the worship of Jehovah, set himself up as Zeus Olympius, and defiled the temple with a Greek altar – the abomination that causes desolation – on which he sacrificed swine. This event is recorded in the Apocrypha:
This abomination that causes desolation is also mentioned in Daniel 11:31:
Is there any reasonable doubt that the abomination in Daniel 9:27 is the same as the abomination in 11:31?
G&T: No, that makes sense. Both verses must be referring to the same abomination.
Kyle: The eleventh chapter of Daniel describes the reigns of kings from Cyrus the Great to Antiochus Epiphanes. Historically, it’s beyond reasonable doubt that the person who set up the “abomination that causes desolation” was Antiochus Epiphanes.
G&T: So Daniel 9:25-27 really does speak of events in about 168-167 B.C.?
Kyle: Yes. It has nothing to do with Jesus.
G&T: But Jesus spoke of the abomination that causes desolation as if it were still in the future (Matthew 24:15-16).
Kyle: So what? That’s a later re-interpretation of Daniel. It has nothing to do with the original meaning of the book. Matthew’s gospel is famous for taking Old Testament passages out of context, and changing their meaning.
G&T: Well, if my interpretation is faulty, I think yours is, too. It just doesn’t sound right.
Kyle: How about an alternative? Starting at the decree of Cyrus in 539 B.C., let’s go backward again to the siege on Jerusalem in 588 B.C. That’s the 7 sevens, or 49 years.
G&T: Oh, that reminds me. That passage you quoted from Chronicles...
Kyle: 2 Chronicles 36:21?
G&T: Yes. It says, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” Jerusalem was only desolate for 49 years. Why does the Bible say 70 years here?
Kyle: Jeremiah predicted it would be 70 years. And if we use a biblical fudge factor, we can make it work. There were really 70 years between the ascendancy of Babylon in 609 B.C. to the decree of Cyrus in 539 B.C.
Kyle: And I’m glad you brought that up. Using the biblical fudge factor, we can start our 62 sevens at 609 B.C. instead of 588 B.C. That brings us to 175 B.C. (62 x 7 = 434; 609 - 434 = 175).
G&T: And what happened in 175 B.C.?
Kyle: That’s when Antiochus Epiphanes became king. And it’s interesting that Daniel 9:26 says the anointed one would be cut off and have nothing. Daniel 11:21 says Antiochus Epiphanes “has not been given the honor of royalty.” The real, anointed king was dethroned, or “cut off,” by Antiochus Epiphanes.
G&T: Neither of us has mentioned the last seven.
Kyle: That’s right. There are supposed to be 70 sevens (Daniel 9:24). We’ve only talked about 69 sevens. How do you interpret the last seven? Is it from A.D. 33 to 40?
G&T: No, it’s indefinitely postponed. It will be fulfilled sometime in the future.
Kyle: It seems odd to separate it like that. In my second interpretation, if the 62 sevens end at 175 B.C., the last seven brings it up to 168 B.C. That’s when Antiochus defiled the temple by setting up the abomination that causes desolation.
Kyle: Anyway, that’s enough about Daniel. I’ve at least succeeded in bringing reasonable doubt against your interpretation. Considering your manipulations – starting at the wrong decree, reducing the years by an illogical fudge factor, ending at the wrong date, and separating the last seven indefinitely – your interpretation is hardly impressive.
G&T: Your interpretations are not above suspicion either.
Kyle: True, but I don’t claim that my interpretations are from God.
G&T (336-337): What about Zechariah 12:10? This is a prediction that God himself would be pierced, as happened when Jesus was crucified.
Kyle: The piercing of Yahweh is not really a prediction. Zechariah mentions “the one they have pierced,” as if it had already happened when the passage was written. If the piercing were to occur in the future, Zechariah would have written, “the one they will pierce,” or “the one they will have pierced.” At any rate, it seems to me that the piercing of Yahweh is not physical, but metaphorical. Israel had “pierced” Yahweh – broken his heart – by disregarding him and his laws.
G&T (338-339): What about Psalm 22? It has lots of parallels to the crucifixion of Jesus.
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.
G&T: Does Psalm 22 make any sense without reference to the crucifixion?
Kyle: Absolutely. It’s about David and his sufferings. Like a good poet, David didn’t write everything literally. He used metaphor and other literary devices in his writings. This is a beautiful, poignant poem about David. Nothing in the poem indicates that it was meant to be prophetic of anything in the future.
G&T (340): Okay, so you’ve raised reasonable doubts about Jesus fulfilling these prophecies. These are only a few out of 71.
Kyle: Why don’t your pages include more than these few?
G&T: I thought they were the most persuasive.
Kyle: If your most persuasive evidence fails, do we really need to examine the less persuasive evidence?
G&T: Not now. You’ve done enough damage for one sitting.
Kyle: I assure you that the other “fulfilled prophecies” won’t withstand examination either.
G&T: Assuming you’re right, and there is no fulfillment of prophecy, isn’t it still possible that Jesus was God?
Kyle: Theoretically, yes. But where’s the evidence?
G&T (340-344): Jesus claimed to be God.
Kyle: Correction: The legends of the New Testament say Jesus claimed to be God.
G&T (344-345): Jesus did things that only God can do.
Kyle: Correction: The legends of the New Testament say Jesus did things that only God can do.
G&T (346-347): If Jesus were not a legend, would he be a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord?
Kyle: That’s a silly question. Of course, Jesus was a legend. There’s no need to speculate otherwise.
G&T (348): But Jesus proved that he was God with three unparalleled proofs. First, he fulfilled numerous messianic prophecies written hundreds of years in advance.
Kyle: That’s utter nonsense, and you know it. We have just gone over your favorite “fulfilled prophecies” and discovered that they fall apart under examination. If we had the time, we could go through all the alleged prophecies and do the same thing.
G&T (348): Second, he lived a sinless life and performed miraculous deeds.
Kyle: That’s just more nonsense. I acknowledge there are legends about Jesus and his miracles, but you have failed to prove that those legends are true.
G&T (348): Third, he predicted and then accomplished his own resurrection from the dead.
Kyle: Again, that’s a mere legend. You have failed to prove that the resurrection is anything but legend.
G&T: You haven’t fallen for any of my arguments, have you?
Kyle: No. You have no evidence. All you have is faith. I don't have enough faith to be a Christian.
G&T (370): I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.
G&T (356): I start with the belief that Jesus is God. Since Jesus is God, whatever he teaches is true. If Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God, then the bible is our primary source of divine truth.
Kyle: What do you base your belief on? We’ve already determined that the evidence is against Jesus being God.
G&T: I guess I’m left with faith.
G&T (362): In faith, I believe what Jesus taught – that the Old Testament is divinely authoritative, imperishable, infallible, inerrant, historically reliable, scientifically accurate, and has ultimate supremacy.
Kyle: What if I could prove that the Old Testament is not all that Jesus claimed. Wouldn’t that be convincing evidence that Jesus was false?
G&T: Yes. If Jesus taught false things about the Old Testament, he couldn’t be God.
Kyle: Although it’s beyond the scope of our conversation, here are some things to consider when you get the time: Deuteronomy 18:20-22 is a test for false prophets. You can test Isaiah by comparing Isaiah 19 with history. You can test Jeremiah by comparing Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10; and chapters 50-51 with history. You can test Ezekiel by comparing Ezekiel 29:8-16; 30:10-12,20-26; and 32:11-15 with history. I think you’ll discover that all three were false prophets. In fact, you can scour the Old Testament for a demonstrably true prophet, and you won’t find one.
G&T: I’ll send one of my buddies over here sometime, and you can argue with him about that.
Kyle: I look forward to it.
G&T: Anyway, I can make many of the same arguments with the Old Testament that I made with the New Testament.
Kyle: All of which I have shown to be inadequate.
G&T: How can you disbelieve such a perfect book?
Kyle: Perfect!? The Bible is full of errors.
G&T (370): No. The Bible does not have errors. It only has alleged errors and difficulties.
Kyle: You say you can prove your claims beyond a reasonable doubt. Can you prove this claim?
G&T (370): Yes. Let’s spell out logically why the Bible can’t have errors:
Kyle: I’m afraid you’re preaching to the choir.
G&T: What do you mean by that?
Kyle: I mean people can’t believe your conclusion unless they’re already religious. Look at your first premise: “God cannot err.” For one thing, it assumes the existence of God, which you have failed to prove. For another thing, it’s pure dogma that God cannot err.
G&T (371): But the Bible informs us several times that God cannot err.
Kyle: That’s circular reasoning. You can’t assume your conclusion before you’ve proved it. Perhaps the Bible is in error when it says God can’t err.
G&T (371): But we know God can’t err from general revelation as well.
Kyle: Poppycock. You have proved no such thing. And your second premise is just as bad. You claim that the Bible is the word of God, but your syllogism won’t work unless you prove that the Bible came directly from God without being touched by fallible human hands.
G&T (372): But the Bible didn’t come directly from God. The writers were human composers, who spoke from a human standpoint. They also reveal human thought patterns, including memory lapses, as well as human emotions.
Kyle: And human errors.
G&T (372): No. The Bible’s distinct human nature is without error.
Kyle: You have no proof for that, do you?
Kyle: 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 inerrant.
G&T (373): There’s always a chance that my conclusions about inerrancy are wrong.
Kyle: Wisely said.
G&T (373): I hasten to add, I don’t think inerrancy will ever be falsified.
Kyle: What would you accept as proof that the Bible is not inerrant?
G&T (373): My conclusion on inerrancy would be falsified if you could trace a real error back to an original scroll.
Kyle: There are many errors not attributable to copyists. I’ve already mentioned a few – the contradictory accounts of the first visit of the resurrected Jesus to the Eleven, the contradictory day and time of the crucifixion, the name of Zechariah son of Berekiah where the writer meant Zechariah son of Jehoiada, attributing a quote of Zechariah’s to Jeremiah, and a fraudulent genealogy in the beginning of Matthew.
G&T: Oops. I forgot about those.
Kyle: And there are plenty more where they came from.
G&T (286, 373): But those are minor details. Falsifying inerrancy doesn’t disprove Christianity itself.
Kyle: But it does prove Jesus was false when he claimed the Bible was inerrant. Therefore, he cannot be God. Besides, if the Bible is false about minor details, how can I believe it when it teaches important doctrine? If the Bible tells half-truths, and you have to resort to mind-bending contortions in order to harmonize differing details, what makes me think I can take its basic message at face value?
G&T (358): That sounds like John 3:12. “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
Kyle: Exactly. The Bible has proved false, or at least deceptively tricky, in its earthly things. How will I believe its heavenly things?
G&T: Good question.
Kyle: What would it take to falsify Christianity?
G&T (373): If someone could find the body of Jesus, Christianity would be proven false and I’d give it up.
Kyle: Isn’t that an unreasonable demand? You set the bar for falsification too high. What did you say about skeptics demanding extraordinary proof?
G&T (322): I said:
Kyle: Aren’t you demanding the same thing? You won’t believe the resurrection is legend unless you see the dead body of Jesus.
G&T (373): Yes, I guess that’s pretty much what I said.
Kyle: What was your response to the skeptics’ demand to see Jesus?
G&T (322): I said:
Kyle: Didn’t you say something about a theological presupposition against miracles?
G&T (316): Yes.
Kyle: If turn-around is fair play, I’m going to change a few of your words to make a point: You have a theological presupposition against legend. Of course, you don’t speak for all Christians. But certainly a majority of you deny reasonable analysis of the Bible because you share in this philosophical bias against legend. It is not that the evidence for biblical legend is weak (it’s very strong indeed). It’s that you’ve ruled out legend in advance. You arrive at the wrong conclusion because your bias makes it impossible for you to arrive at the right conclusion.
G&T (374): Well, maybe I have set an impossibly high bar for falsification. But the critics also maintain an unfalsifiable position.
Kyle: You can’t accuse me of that. I have carefully considered all the evidence you’ve presented. Had your evidence been true and convincing, I would have admitted you were right. I would have become a Christian in order to live according to the truth. But you have failed to provide any good evidence at all. Your arguments have been illogical, unreasonable and fallacious. Therefore, there is no good reason to believe your conclusions. In fact, the failure of your effort has confirmed my atheism.
G&T (376): Could I be wrong about all this? It’s possible.
Kyle: More than possible. More than probable. In light of the evidence, you’re wrong beyond a reasonable doubt.
G&T: Even if you’re right – even if the Bible is legend – the gospel is so beautiful that I don’t think I could ever abandon it.
Kyle: What’s so beautiful about it?
G&T: It gives me answers that I can’t find anywhere else.
Kyle: For example?
G&T (383): Our origins, for example. Where did we come from? According to the Bible, we are created beings, wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.
Kyle: If this were true, it would be good to know, but I don’t see how it could help you if it were only a legend.
G&T (383): It gives us a sense of identity. Who are we? Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are creatures of supreme worth. We are loved by God and endowed with certain God-given rights and responsibilities.
Kyle: In other words, God is an imaginary friend who makes you feel good about yourself.
G&T (175-176): More than that, God is the basis of all our civil and political rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote as much in the Declaration of Independence.
Kyle: I don’t deny that Jefferson, Locke and Bastiat, for example, were great political thinkers. I regret, however, that they falsely used God as a basis for our rights. The philosophy of rights is founded not on God, but on reason. Can you find anything about “liberty and justice for all” in the Bible?
G&T: Not at the moment, no.
Kyle: That’s because it isn’t there. The Bible preaches authoritarianism. It encourages people to become slaves to a monarch. It gives commands, not liberty.
G&T: Oh. I hadn’t thought about it that way.
Kyle: Think about it.
G&T (383-384): But the gospel gives us meaning. Why are we here? This temporal life is the choosing ground for eternity. In this life, we need to accept the ransom Jesus paid in order to free us from eternal punishment and welcome us into his eternal presence; we need to serve as ambassadors for Christ to help others make that same choice; and we need to learn from our own sufferings to comfort others who suffer, and realize that our sufferings enhance our own capacity to enjoy eternity.
Kyle: Look at your focus. You’re so heavenly-minded that you’re no earthly good.
G&T (384): Didn’t I say we can comfort others who suffer? That’s a good earthly activity.
Kyle: But how do you comfort them? Do you tell them their suffering will entitle them to jewels in their eternal crowns? Do you tell them all will be made right after they die? Do you encourage them to prepare for eternity?
Kyle: So even your comforting takes the focus off of this life and puts it on eternity.
G&T: So what’s wrong with that?
Kyle: I was riding in a car once with a devout Christian. He wadded up a piece of paper, and threw it out the window. Flabbergasted, I asked why he littered. He told me it didn’t matter, because God was going to destroy the earth soon, anyway, and make a new one.
G&T: You can’t blame every Christian for one man’s littering.
Kyle: That’s not the point. Littering isn’t the disease. It’s only a symptom. The disease is that Christians are so focused on a fictitious afterlife in heaven that they undervalue the reality of life on earth. Many Christians don’t care about civil rights, for example, because they regard the earth as a mere way station on their journey to heaven. They consider themselves strangers here, so they don’t even try to improve the world.
G&T: Well, eternity is what gives meaning to life.
Kyle: I disagree. Fantasies of eternity tend to sap the meaning out of life. Many Christians don’t value life. They regard it as meaningless because they’re always dreaming about pie in the sky after they die. It’s like a Star Trek fanatic who finds meaning in fictitious space travel. He might enjoy his fantasies, but if he becomes delusional about it and allows it to control his reality, he can become a burden on society.
G&T: So Christians are a burden on society?
Kyle: In a way, yes. Please notice, I’m not accusing all Christians of being delusional. But the New Testament preaches that people should be more concerned about the afterlife than life on earth. And when Christians take that seriously, they can become no earthly good.
G&T (384): But the gospel teaches morality. How should we live? The whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments.
Kyle: 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?
G&T: Does it matter why people are moral, as long as they’re moral?
Kyle: I think it matters a great deal. Suppose you had two sons. One is always very obedient to you, but lacks the confidence to think things out for himself. The other disobeys sometimes, but only because he thinks he has a better way of accomplishing your objective. Which son has the most potential? Which son would you trust to finish a project in your absence?
G&T: The one who can think for himself.
Kyle: I agree. The problem with obedience to an authoritarian god is that it discourages personal development. Why should a person develop his own moral sense when all he has to do is obey commands? I’ve seen people discover that their religion is false, and because they had not founded their morality on anything but God, they rejected morality along with their religion. There’s a very real danger of harm when people trust God so much that they fail to develop their own thinking.
G&T: Maybe thinking is overrated. We don’t get to heaven by thinking about it, but by obeying God.
Kyle: That’s scary.
G&T (384): No, it’s beautiful. We understand our destiny. Where are we going? We deserve to go to hell, but Jesus saves us so we can go to heaven instead.
Kyle: Can you prove that heaven and hell exist?
G&T: No. You just have to trust the Bible. Have faith.
Kyle: Do what?
G&T: TRUST the Bible.
Kyle: What if heaven and hell aren’t real? What if this life is all there is? Then Christians are putting their priorities in the wrong place. They’re wasting their lives chasing a pipe dream.
G&T: Well, if there’s nothing after this life, then it’s all futile anyway. Five hundred years from now, nobody will even remember any of us. And if a pipe dream gives Christians hope and makes them happy, what’s wrong with that?
Kyle: Oh! There’s someone at the door. Do you mind if I answer it?
G&T: Not at all.
(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.
Kyle: That sounds very generous.
Matthew: All I ask is that you accept it with sincerity and gratitude.
Kyle: 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.
Kyle: 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.
Kyle: You want me to be your slave?
Matthew: This is a real bargain! You can work several lifetimes, and never save up enough money to buy 5000 acres of prime Tennessee timberland.
Kyle: When would I get the land?
Matthew: When you die, I’ll review your record to see how cheerfully you gave, and how well you obeyed my commands. If you pass the test, I’ll give your heirs a deed to the 5000 acres.
Kyle: So my heirs will get the land. What’s in it for me?
Matthew: Just think of the joy you’ll have! I have hundreds of testimonials – people filled with hope and comfort, knowing that their heirs will be set for life. You will have the opportunity to meet with these people at least twice a week. In fact, your meeting with them is another way you can show your sincerity and gratitude. Once you get into the program you will beg me for more commands. You will want to dedicate one day a week to Matthew Golden McClenney. You will want to spread the program to everyone you meet.
Kyle: You say I will want to do those things. Are they really commands?
Matthew: Yes, but it only increases your own happiness. I will never command you to do anything that creates unhappiness. Trust me.
Kyle: Do what?
Matthew: TRUST me.
Kyle: Before I sign up, I’d like some proof that these thousands of acres really exist.
Matthew: If you don’t trust me enough to take my word for it, I’ll be displeased with you. It shows me that you’re neither sincere nor grateful. Besides, there’s an evil conspiracy in Tennessee. Even the state officials are in on it. They’ll try to tell you this is a scam, but you must not listen to them. They only want to keep you from being happy.
Kyle: So let me get this straight. You want me to pay you more than ten percent of my income, dedicate one seventh of my time to you, attend meetings at least twice a week, give up my freedom, and become your slave.
Matthew: That’s right.
Kyle: And in return, my heirs will get a piece of paper that purports to give them 5000 acres of Tennessee timberland, but there’s no way I can confirm that the land really exists.
Kyle: And this is supposed to make me happy?
Kyle: No thanks.
Matthew: If you reject me, your heirs will suffer in miserable poverty!
Kyle: Get out of my house, you fraud!
G&T: Wow! You’d have to be really nuts to buy into a program like that.
Kyle: Yes, you’re right. Where were we?
G&T: We were talking about the joy and comfort we get from becoming slaves to God and knowing that we will go to heaven instead of hell, even though there’s no way to verify that those places exist.
G&T: Uh, huh....
G&T: So do you have a better alternative?
Kyle: Yes. It’s called reality. We know that this life is real. We don’t know anything about life after death. So we should develop our world view to conform with the realities of this life. We should cooperate with our fellow human beings in order to make this world a better place. We should uphold equality of liberty and equality of justice for everyone. We should develop our ethics with human beings at the center – not fictitious gods. It’s time to let go of antiquated commandments that lead to misery, injustice, oppression and war. Jesus said he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34-36). He was right. Most wars and terrorist acts are caused by religion. I say it’s time to put away the swords and make peace on earth. Let’s put superstition and intolerance behind us. Let’s elevate reason, logic, philosophy and science to their rightful place. If we can stop bickering over religion, and start thinking straight, we can concentrate our efforts on cleaning up our corrupt governments. As long as there is freedom of thought, some people will opt to be religious. That’s alright. But as individuals start thinking correctly, we may become a majority. And when a majority turns to reason, the human race may have a chance at survival. Let every man, woman and child help make this world a better place. Let’s do it. Now.
The talking book looked pensive. After a long silence, he spoke: “I have given lip service to reason.”
“But you have betrayed it,” I said.
After another long silence, G&T looked at the ink on the coffee table, and said, “Do you think it’s possible for me to clarify my writing by adding more chapters? No, it would be easier to start over from scratch.”
I responded, “You’re right.”
After another long pause, G&T picked up the whiteout. He looked at the size of the bottle, and set it back down. He would need much more than just one little bottle.
Finally, the book broke the silence. “Bring me a match,” he whispered.
I gave G&T a match. He lit it solemnly, touched it to his own pages, and became a flaming torch. I diverted my eyes. A few minutes passed. I looked again. Only a whiff of smoke rose from the small pile of ashes; there would be no phoenix, no resurrection.
I swept up the ashes and scattered them in my garden. “Goodbye, G&T,” I said. “Whatever faults you had, you correctly acknowledged the primacy of reason over faith. And to your credit, you had the integrity to remove yourself from the world, where your half-truths could have led careless readers astray.”
by Kyle Williams (c) 2005 by Kyle Williams
see also preface at top
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