Saturday, February 11, 2012

A review of Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus"

Professor Bart Ehrman was once a self-described born-again, Bible-believing Christian many years ago. He is now a self-proclaimed agnostic. After desiring to learn more about the scriptures in depth, and attaining a doctorate degree, he determined that the Bible was not the infallible Word of God. Due to the fact that we do not posses the originals, and the copies vary in some details, he believes that the Bible has been altered and changed from the original documents. Therefore, we cannot know what was written. He has written a New York Times Bestselling book titled, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why to report his findings to a layperson audience. It seems reasonable to assume that Dr. Ehrman has a proverbial ax to grind when dealing with scripture. The intent of this specific paper is to refute the claims made in his book and show that the Bible is reliable and can be shown that we can know what the original autographs had to say.

Books played a significant part of early Christianity. In fact, Ehrman is correct when he states, “…the books that were of paramount importance in early Christianity were for the most part read out loud…so that the illiterate could hear, understand, and even study them.”[1] The books of the New Testament came to be thought of as the inspired Word of God to the early Christians. Ehrman states that the Bible is, “by all counts, the most significant book in the history of Western civilization.” [2] Given this claim, it has been deemed important—by both scholars and non-scholars alike—to study the New Testament material. In the first four chapters of his book, Ehrman sets out to give his audience his own personal journey and a basic understanding of textual criticism. This is the discipline for studying ancient documents in possession today—whose original writings are either unknown or destroyed—in order to determine what the original writings actually said. The undertaking, according to Ehrman isn’t an easy one. It requires careful and critical thought, study, comparisons with other scholars, and at times, “judgment calls have to be made.”[3]

As previously stated, Dr. Ehrman believes the Bible has been corrupted in such a way that we cannot know what the originals said. On the surface it appears that Ehrman makes a considerably strong case. He states that scholars will differ in the amount of variances within the New Testament, but those numbers can be estimated up to over 400,000. This means that there are more variances among the manuscripts than there are words in the entire New Testament,[4] which numbers to 138,000. For Ehrman, this is a serious problem. Be that as it may, he respectfully admits, “Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple—slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another…completely insignificant, immaterial, of no real importance…”[5]

In addition to the obvious spelling and grammatical discrepancies in the Bible, there are three other types of variances. They are listed as follows: (1) minor differences that do not affect translation or that involves synonyms (2) differences that affect the meaning of the text but are not viable and (3) differences that both affect the meaning of the text and are viable.[6] Given the lack of room for this paper, let’s look at what is the most critical type of variance—namely (3).

The meaningful and viable variants noticeably pose the greatest threats to the idea of Biblical inerrancy and supports Dr. Ehrman’s thesis that the Bible is a human book only. One example is Ehrman’s take on Mark 1:41 which modern translations read, “Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’” The focal point for Ehrman is the word, compassion. Most of the ancient manuscripts available today render the reading that Jesus felt compassion. However, Ehrman argues that Jesus may have been filled with an alternative emotion to compassion, namely anger.

He points out that in one of the oldest manuscripts, the Codex Bezae, the Greek word orgistheis (anger) is used instead of splangnistheis (compassion). The Codex Bezae is also supported by three ancient Latin manuscripts as well.[7] Although a majority of the texts may state compassion, it doesn’t mean that it’s faithful to the original documents. Further problems seemingly arise because textual critics (both believer and non-believer) acknowledge that in many cases the most difficult reading is usually the correct one. The reason is that many scribes and copyists would attempt to smooth over difficult readings as opposed to leaving it difficult to understand. Clearly the most difficult reading in this particular passage is that Jesus was angry and not compassionate upon healing this man.

What are we to make of Ehrman’s claim? Is this a serious concern? First, while making his claim Ehrman actually points out that compassion is also considered to be very ancient—and he even questions which one is actually the original.[8] He admits he doesn’t know but only assumes that anger is probably the more correct word used. On page 208, Ehrman states, “It bears repeating that the decisions that have to be made are by no means obvious, and that competent, well-meaning, highly intelligent scholars often come to opposite conclusions when looking at the same evidence.” Ehrman’s own mentor, and who the book is dedicated to, Bruce Metzger, did not include the word angry. Although Metzger does admit it is a possibility, he commented, “The…evidence in support of ὀργισθείς (anger) is less impressive than the diversity and character of evidence that supports σπλαγχνισθείς”[9] (compassion).

Second, even if his argument is correct, what exactly has he proved? Timothy Paul Jones comments that Jesus was apparently teaching and healed the man in the synagogue. This is where the Jews would go to hear the Word of God. “Apparently Jesus was in a synagogue (Mark 1:39) where the Jews of the town had gathered to hear God’s Word. If so, this man’s presence could have rendered an entire Jewish community unclean! Although Jesus challenged the traditions that had been added to the Law of Moses, he consistently called his people to live by the laws that God had graciously given them through Moses (see Mark 1:44). According to these laws, the leprous man was supposed to have sequestered himself away from his fellow Jews (Leviticus 13). Instead, he placed an entire Jewish community in danger of ceremonial uncleanness. Is it any wonder that Jesus became angry? And still, Jesus healed him. So was Jesus angry or was he compassionate? [The answer is] Yes.[10]

Also, Jesus is said to have been angry at different points in Scripture. Consider Mark 3:5 where Jesus is said to be angry because the Jews’ hearts were hardened due to Him healing on the Sabbath. Scholars readily admit that the wording in this verse is original text. It is reasonable to conclude that even if the text was changed from angry to compassionate; this does not change the theology of the gospel according to Mark. Jesus was also angry in Matthew 21:12 when He drove the people out of the Temple for turning it into a marketplace. Furthermore Jesus severely criticized the Pharisees in Matthew 23:15 when he calls the Pharisees, “…sons of Hell.” If that isn’t enough He tells Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matthew 16:23).

When Ehrman states, “At what would Jesus be is one struck by the portrayal of Jesus [being angry]…we have to admit that Jesus does not come off as the meek-and-mild, soft-featured, good shepherd of the stain-glassed window.”[11] It appears that he wants to portray a different type of Jesus than contemporary Christianity believes Him to be. In response, the Bible never tries to deny the human emotions of Jesus—even anger. If this was the case, each passage would have surely been changed to present Jesus as a lowly, gentle pacifist human. This was hardly the case. Early Christians believed that Jesus was both human and divine. If anything, this portrays both the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

Speaking of the divine and human aspect of Jesus, Ehrman believes Jesus is portrayed first as a human messiah, and then alterations were made to the scriptures in order to depict Jesus as divine. He claims that there were many Christian groups in the early centuries that had different views regarding Jesus. Some thought He was human, but not divine. Others thought He was divine, but not human. Still others claimed Jesus was both man and God. Furthermore within these groups, some held that Jesus’ death obtained salvation for mankind while other groups thought that He either (1) didn’t die, or (2) his death was not for salvation.[12]

Ehrman believes that given all the debates and discussions between these groups, only one group “won out.” This group was known as the “orthodox” or those who claimed to have the “right belief.” Ehrman states this was determined in the early 4th century and that the scribes altered scripture in order to establish their own views of Christ. In a humorous and at the same time a serious interview with Stephen Colbert, Ehrman said, “This [Jesus is a divine being] isn’t found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke for example that Jesus is a divine being…in John Jesus is clearly divine…He’s not God in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, only John.”[13]

Given the context of the culture in ancient Israel, there were certainly, obvious reasons for not proclaiming Jesus as divine. If anyone had a reason, it was the original followers of Jesus and/or the authors of the scriptures. They knew they would be put to death for proclaiming such a statement. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is depicted as divine in the beginning! Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In the last part of the book, the Roman soldier says, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39).

In Mark 14:62-64 Jesus identified Himself as the Son of Man and that he would be sitting on the right hand of the Father. Daniel chapter 7 explicitly states that the Son of Man was more than a human being and would ride upon the clouds. He would also have all authority—even to forgive sins. In Mark 2:5 Jesus heals a man and says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Two verses later (Mark 2:7) the religious leaders around said, “…Who can forgive sins but God alone?” In light of this information, one can only conclude that Mark portrays Jesus as divine.

In the book of Matthew, the gospel begins with meaning of Jesus’ name, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Just as in Mark’s gospel, at the end of Matthew (28:20), Jesus says, “I am with you always, till the end of the age.” The logic subsequently follows: If God is with Jesus, and Jesus is with the apostles, then God is with the apostles.[14]

Surprisingly, Ehrman does not address the verses in Mark and Matthew which clearly define the divinity of Jesus. Could he just be selective? He does however address a verse in Luke 1:35. This verse includes, “Son of God.” Although Ehrman doesn’t deny the inclusion of the “Son of God”, he does question when the Son of God actually became divine. He alludes to a problem found between Luke 1:35 and Acts 10:37-38. In Acts 10:37-38 it says, “…after the baptism which John proclaimed. (38) You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power…for God was with Him.”

Ehrman seems to miss the point. The baptism of Jesus was at the point in which His ministry was to begin—not to become divine. Jesus even stated in John 5 that He could do nothing by Himself. Therefore God had to be with Him from the beginning. Luke had already stated divinity in 1:35. Also in Luke 22:69-70, those who accused Jesus of blasphemy said, “Are you the son of God, then? [Jesus] said, “You are right in saying I am.” Ehrman moreover avoids this passage in Misquoting Jesus as well.

Even though Ehrman declared that the Gospel of John presents Jesus as divine—how could he not when John 20:28 says, “My Lord and my God!”—he still attempts to point out possible issues within John’s gospel regarding the divinity of Jesus. One example that Ehrman gives is the “possible” problem with John 1:18. Here’s how Ehrman’s hypothesis works: in verse 18 it says, “No one has seen God at any time, but the unique Son/the unique God who is in the bosom of the Father, that one has made him known.” Ehrman asks, “Is he [Jesus] to be identified as the ‘unique God in the bosom of the Father’ or as the “unique Son in the bosom of the Father’”? [15] Furthermore, he argues that the unique Son is in the oldest manuscripts, which textual critics more times than not consider them to be the best. “Unique” in the Greek means “one of a kind”[16] therefore Ehrman believes that only God can be one of a kind, not Jesus. This leads him to believe that there was an alteration in the text to make Jesus appear to be God in human flesh.

In his scholarly work, Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which precedes, Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman asserts that the proper grammatical Greek text should read—if Jesus is to be God in human flesh, “the unique one who is also, God who is in the bosom of the Father.”[17] Dan Wallace responds to Ehrman’s assertions and points out there are several verses in the Bible in which take the same grammatical form as is read in John 1:18. Furthermore, Wallace points out that Ehrman’s grammatical argument “won’t cut it”, and the “…evidence is strong that the meaning of this phrase [John 1:18] is “the unique one, himself God.”[18]

Dr. Ehrman also believes that Matthew 24:36 is another example which could display that Jesus is not divine. The verse reads, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” He points out that several manuscripts leave out the section of the verse, “nor the Son”, in order to preserve the belief that Jesus was God in human flesh.

At first glance this seems to be a significant issue. However, even if the part “nor the Son” is omitted it doesn’t change anything. The verse still states that only the Father knows. Also, Mark 13:32 states, “But as for that day or hour no one knows it—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father.” If the scribes were trying to alter the meaning of Matthew 24:36, why did they not do so in Mark? Apparently this was not a problem for the early church, which displays no thought of a doctrinal concern. If so, then Ehrman needs to argue on a different field of play.

Ehrman conveniently leaves out the passage of Mark, yet refers to Matthew 24:36 around six times. The question is, “Why”? Dan Wallace comments, “The importance of this textual variant for the thesis of Misquoting Jesus is difficult to assess, however. Ehrman alludes to Matt 24.36 in his conclusion, apparently to underscore his argument that textual variants alter basic doctrines. His initial discussion of this passage certainly leaves this impression as well. But if he does not mean this, then he is writing more provocatively than is necessary, misleading his readers. And if he does mean it, he has overstated his case.”[19]

Given the fact that there are solid answers to Ehrman’s claims, one may reasonably ask, Why isn’t Jesus unequivocally called “God” more? Perhaps this would shut down critics such as Bart Ehrman. R.T. France, former principle of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University said, “…explicit use of God-language about Jesus is infrequent in the New Testament and is concentrated in the later writings…It was such shocking language that, even when the beliefs underlying it were firmly established, it was easier, and perhaps more politic, to express these beliefs in less direct terms. The wonder is not that the New Testament so seldom describes Jesus as God, but that in [a radically monotheistic] milieu it does so at all.[20]

The gospels truly portray Jesus as divine. Jesus’ divinity was settled days after His crucifixion. It was not made up by those who “won the debate” in the fourth century. Paul’s epistles overtly portray Jesus as divine, especially in 1st Corinthians 15. This writing is well known to be the first writings of the New Testament, and was being taught and preached within five years of the crucifixion. Many scholars believed Paul received this teaching directly from the disciples themselves.

Although questions do arise about the reliability of the New Testament, we can be confident that we have the unyielding doctrines and teachings of Jesus and His apostles. Most New Testament scholars will admit to it. Of course there were times when scribes smoothed things over, but it never affected the purity of the text. And there were occasions where a word or phrase may have been added, but that only adds up to 2% over a 1400-year period. Furthermore out of 138,000 words, only two at the most have no manuscript support. This is amazing given the other documents of antiquity we possess today.[21]

Textual critics are confident that only 1% of the Bible conforms to meaningful variants. This leaves 99% of the variants that can effectively and easily be ‘resolved’.[22] Dan Wallace & company ask of the skeptics, “…one has to wonder what drives their dogmatic skepticism, because it certainly isn’t the evidence.”[23] It appears that even Ehrman agrees when he admits that his agnosticism had nothing to do with the Bible, “…but with pain and suffering in the world.”[24]

[1] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (New York, NY, Harper Collins 2005) p. 42

[2] Ibid p. 208

[3] Ibid p. 132

[4] Ibid p. 89-90

[5] Ibid p. 55, 207

[6]J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Dan B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2006) p. 56

[7]Ehrman, p. 134

[8] Ehrman, p.133

[10] Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007), p.73-74; as quoted

[11] Ehrman, p. 136-137

[12] Ehrman, p. 153

[14] J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Dan B. Wallace, p.173

[15] Ibid p.161

[16] Ibid. p.162

[17]J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Dan B. Wallace, p. 290 n.24

[18] Ibid p.292

[19] Daniel B. Wallace, The Gospel According to Bart,

[20] R.T. France, The Worship of Jesus: A Neglected Factor in Christological Debate? (Vox Evangelica 12; 1981) p. 25 as quoted in J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Dan B. Wallace, p.174

[21] J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Dan B. Wallace, p.109

[22] Ibid p.60, 96.

[23] J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Dan B. Wallace, p.109

[24] Ehrman, 248

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Life After Death?

Mark Cahill has written a fascinating book, One Thing You Can't Do In Heaven. This book has really changed the way I think about talking to lost people. One question he asks, is "When you die, what do you think is on the other side?" This question doesn't assume anything, plus it is open-ended. I have had the opportunity to ask some people this question lately. It is amazing at the responses that you will get and sometimes it will generate stimulating conversation.

Yesterday, a kid came by to sell me newspapers. I threw out the question. He said, "You know, I've been thinking about that for a long time." We ended up having a one-hour and fifteen minute conversation. He even got my number to talk about this at a later time.

Now, I'm not simplistic enough to think that negative responses won't come your way when you attempt to start a conversation with people, but the consequences are God's. Planting seeds is ours. Go check out the book...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Beginning to the Universe? Or is it eternal?

World renowned astronomer Carl Sagan wrote in all capital letters, “THE COSMOS IS ALL THAT IS OR EVER WILL BE.”[1] Agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell said in a debate on the existence of God, “The universe is just there, and that’s all.”[2] By excluding supernatural intervention, naturalists such as Sagan and Russell are left with only two possible explanations. Either the universe is eternal or it created itself from nothing, otherwise known as ex nihilo.
Could the universe be eternal? Some espouse to this, however most astronomers acknowledge that the universe had a beginning, thus denying an eternal status. This beginning is commonly known as the Big Bang, which at first was a derogatory term coined by Sir Fred Hoyle. Robert Jastrow, astronomer and founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, notes there are three lines of evidence to suggest a beginning of the universe—the motions of the galaxies, the laws of thermodynamics, and the life story of the stars.[3]
Regarding the motion of the galaxies first, ninety-four years ago, Vesto Melvin Slipher discovered about a dozen galaxies that were moving away from the Milky Way galaxy at speeds up to two million miles per hour. This was the first suggestion that the universe was indeed expanding. The second suggestion concerns Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity published in 1917. His theory predicted an explosion of the universe even though this was not his objective. This explosion started the process of the galaxies moving away from each other at very high speeds. The reason the galaxies were moving apart was due to the fact that they were thrown apart by a primordial explosion, not because they were moving apart due to some mystifying force of nature. Therefore something had to “jump-start” this incredible event.
Einstein was saddened to discover that his theory implied the universe had a beginning—therefore the universe wasn’t eternal—and he startlingly admitted the “the presence of a superior reasoning power.”[4] He even attempted to introduce and additional theory called the Cosmological Constant in order to avoid the idea of the universe having a beginning. Einstein would later reject his own theory because he didn’t believe it had any credibility, but ironically over sixty years later, scientists have verified its validity. However, this validity implies that the universe had a beginning due to the self-stretching of the space-time framework.
Third, in 1929 astronomer Edwin Hubble took measurements of forty different galaxies showing they were indisputably moving away from each other. Hubble’s discovery verified the calculations of Einstein’s theory of relativity. This theory is deemed as possibly the most precise weathered theory in scientific history. It is so precise that astronomer Hugh Ross states, “…general relativity is confirmed overall to an error of no more than one part in a hundred trillion.”[5]
The next line of evidence Jastrow gives for the beginning of the universe concerns the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of entropy, can be stated as “In a closed system, the amount of usable energy in the universe is decreasing.”[6] The reason is that usable energy is used for processes in the universe such as development, repairs, and production. Once usable energy is “used” it is then transformed into unusable energy. Entropy is the measuring stick of the amount of unusable energy within an isolated system. Thus, when usable energy decreases, entropy increases. Jastrow sums up the second law when applied to the cosmos as the “Universe is running down like a clock. If it is running down, then there must have been a time when it was fully wound up.”[7] Hence, the notion that the universe had a beginning.
The third line of evidence Jastrow gives for the beginning of the universe is the life story of the stars. He says that, “We owe our corporeal existence to events that took place billions of years ago, in stars that lived and died long before the solar system came into being.”[8] Stars are “born” by a vigorous process involving the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen. Hydrogen is the foremost basis for which stars shine, and is the building block for all other elements in the cosmos. As the star burns throughout its lifetime, it consumes hydrogen and leaves behind its own “remains”. These remains are, as Carl Sagan states, “The very matter of which we are composed, the atoms that make life possible…were generated in stars.”[9]
Just as stars are “born”, stars will also undergo “death”. Hydrogen is consumed by stars and used until the star dies. The used hydrogen transforms into different, heavier elements. The problem is that hydrogen can never return to its original form. As time passes on hydrogen is used up thereby depleting the amount of this all-important element in the universe. This leads to a very interesting, yet critical point. If all elements come from hydrogen by the process of hydrogen being used up, then there must have been a time when there was nothing in the universe but hydrogen. Jastrow states, “This point in time must have marked the beginning of the universe.”[10] Incredibly, other aspects concerning stars are evidential to not only show the beginning of the universe, but to support life as well. Hugh Ross acknowledges this is actually the strongest form of evidence when he states, “Perhaps the most concrete big bang evidence is…stable stars are possible only in a Big Bang universe. Physical life would be impossible unless…stars burn with stability, and stars orbit galaxy cores with stability.”[11] The stability of stars and their orbits are dependant upon a “fine-tuned” Big Bang. If the universe was expanding too slowly, only neutron stars (a type of supernovae) or black holes would be produced. Stars, such as the Sun, would not exist. Also, if the universe expanded too quickly, no stars, no planets, no stable orbits would be formed and consequently, no life.
Interestingly enough, another line of evidence for the beginning of the universe has been confirmed since Jastrow published his first edition. This led Stephen Hawking to say, “It is the discovery of a lifetime, if not of all time,” and University of California-Berkley astronomer, George Smoot to state, “What we have found is evidence for the birth of the universe. It’s like looking at God.”[12] These discoveries came from NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). COBE found the missing link for how the universe began. What they observed were 15 billion year old fossils including the largest, oldest structure ever to be seen. This missing link explained how galaxies formed out of the Big Bang, thus confirming the Big Bang theory.
COBE has also established the reality of the background radiation in which Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias discovered a mysterious radiation that came from every direction in space. The earth seemed to be submersed in a dim glow. Their work showed that the earth was not the source of this radiation, but that it came from one source, the entire universe. The Big Bang theory predicted the universe exploded as a sort of fire ball at the beginning. As time passed and the universe expanded, the fireball may have “died” but the radiation would not have completely disappeared. Wilson and Penzias made their discovery in 1965, but COBE has now enabled their finding to be all the more concrete. Jastrow comments, “No other explanation other than the Big Bang has been found for the fireball radiation. At the present time, the Big Bang theory has no competitors.”[13] Those who oppose the Big Bang do so based on a metaphysical, personal type of reasoning. They cannot present their case based on substantial empirical evidence.
Today, a majority of astronomers and others whose work specializes in space studies believe the universe had a beginning. Those who do not necessarily ascribe to the supernatural admit this as well. Hawking said, “There must have been a Big Bang singularity.”[14] Carl Sagan followed suit, “…the Big Bang, the event that began our universe.”[15] So, how did the universe come to be? Did the universe create itself out of nothing as Dr. Edward P. Tryon, professor of physics at the City University of New York, declared? “I proposed that our Universe had been created spontaneously from nothing, as a result of established principles of physics. Our universe is simply one of those things that happen from time to time.”[16]
If the universe did come from nothing, what actually is nothing? Physicists define “nothing” in following manner: lack of matter, energy, and all ten space-time dimensions of the universe.[17] The summation of this definition of nothing means exactly what it says, There Was Nothing! This begs the question, why is there something rather than nothing? This would imply that there is an effect without a cause and undercuts the groundwork of mathematics, logic, and all of science. Every material effect, the specific case here being the universe, must have an adequate antecedent cause. This is commonly known as the Law or Principle of Causality. The fact of the matter is the universe is here rather than nothing. Life does exist. Given the fact that an effect doesn’t come before or possess superiority over its cause, the cause can be reasonably seen as to be eternal and powerful—a logically conclusive Supernatural Being. Jastrow comments, “An effect without a cause? That is not the world of science; it is a world of witchcraft, of wild events and the whims of demons, a medieval world which science has tried to banish.”[18]
Those who devote themselves to Naturalism have found themselves in an unwanted position. At this point many will concede their own argument by attempting to shift the burden of proof as Carl Sagan did when he asked, “…matter created from nothing? How does that happen? …we must, of course ask next, ‘Where did God come from?’ If we say that God has always existed, why not…conclude the universe has always existed?”[19] Sagan attempts to undermine the scientific evidence by shifting the burden of proof, thus entering into the metaphysical realm. First, he should consider what he is actually asserting because he states the universe is finite![20] Anything that is finite is subjected to time, which according to Hawking, “must have a beginning.”[21] Consider the Law of Causality stated earlier. Anything that has a beginning (effect) must have a cause. God did not have a beginning therefore he doesn’t need a cause. He is infinite in nature, not confined to time, but outside of time. If God were to need a cause that would start an infinite revert of causes. The question could never be answered. Philosopher JP Moreland equates this as asking the question, what color is the musical note C? It is absurd to even ponder such an assertion.
It is thus reasonable to conclude that Naturalism has undoubtedly failed from a scientific viewpoint in answering the questions regarding the two alternatives to a supernatural origin of the universe. Jastrow concludes, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”[22]
[1] Carl Sagan. Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 4.
[2] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 125.
[3] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 111.
[4] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 72.
[5] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 105.
[6] Norman Geisler, Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999) page 724.
[7]Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 48.
[8] Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 109.
[9] Carl Sagan. Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 233.
[10] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 110.
[11] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 43.
[12] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 31.
[13] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), pages 15-16.
[14] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 121.
[15] Carl Sagan. Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 246.
[16] Bert Thompson, The Scientific Case for Creation, (Montgomery, Apologetics Press, 1986), page 22.
[17] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 130.
[18] Bert Thompson, The Scientific Case for Creation, (Montgomery, Apologetics Press, 1986), page 35.
[19] Carl Sagan, Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 257.
[20] Carl Sagan, Cosmos, (New York: Random House, 1980), page 246.
[21] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 102.
[22] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, (New York, W.W. Norton & Co, 1978), page 116.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Man is more than matter

Naturalism faces a significant philosophical hurdle in attempting to establish the idea that everything—including human beings—is nothing more than physical matter. Man, therefore would be the equivalent of a biological computer. In order for Naturalism to be firmly established, everything about mankind must be explained by physical terms such as explaining the components of a car, or say how the components of Microsoft Windows operate. In defense of the naturalistic position, philosopher Daniel Dennett writes, “Our brains are made of neurons, and nothing else.”[1] Steven Pinker writes, “…every aspect of our mental lives depends entirely on physiological events in the tissues of the brain.”[2] In summation, Dennett and Pinker are clearly stating that emotions, thoughts, and even moral perceptions are rooted in this biological machine.
The difficulty of their proposition is that in a dogmatic sense of the Naturalistic view, the proposition is self-refuting. C.S. Lewis argues, “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. It discredits our processes of reasoning or at least reduces their credit to such a humble level that it cannot longer support Naturalism itself.”[3] In addition, humans do not live in such a way that thoughts are considered to be a result of physical processes, but that “most” thoughts have the idea of being valid. The dilemma for the Naturalist is plausibly obvious. Otherwise, we are left with a philosophy which puts the value of human reason in doubt—and if human reason is in doubt, there can be no way to establish it by using reason. [4] Thus the Naturalist’s argument commits philosophical and intellectual suicide.
Something does however take place inside the brain other than sending messages causing the arms and legs to move, and for the organs to operate efficiently. This must entail that events take place in the brain. Thoughts are a different type of event, which can be proven to be either true or false. Other types of events are not concerned with being true or false, nor are they about any particular thing. [5] A thought with reference to knowledge pertaining to the operating system of a car is wholly distinct and separate from the car itself. This must entail that there is something beyond atoms in the brain when thoughts or reasoning come about. A perfect example would be to consider a scientific theory. Wendell Berry comments, “At the root of the word, ‘theory’, is the word ‘theatre’; it has to do with watching, with observation. A scientific theory is an aid to observation.”[6] The theory in and of itself cannot be explained by any type of physical process because it is a nonphysical theory about a physical object. In conjunction, Norman Geisler gives the following illustration: “A physics professor was once asked; ‘If everything is matter, then what is a scientific theory?’ His response was, ‘It is magic!’ When asked his basis for believing that, he replied, ‘Faith!’”[7] When humans have thoughts or use the ability to reason, there must be something beyond physical matter, which cannot be measured or explained by physical processes.
However, Naturalists will attempt to challenge this notion. The best argument in support of their theory is how humans correlate with matter using the five senses. They further argue based on the effects of alcohol, exhaustion, and a harsh hit to the head. Alcohol can inhibit one’s ability to think. Navy Seals, undergoing Bud’s Training (also known as Hell Week), have been known to hallucinate due to the fact they stay awake for five consecutive days. Receiving a hard blow to the head will sometimes produce a state of unconsciousness. Mental diseases can produce one to lose the capacity to think clearly, and inhibit their physical abilities.
This argument however, can be dealt with in a reasonable and concise manner. CS Lewis argues that their must be a relation due to the fact that humans contain both physical and non-physical attributes. He states, “A man’s Rational thinking is just so much of his share in eternal Reason as the state of his brain allows to be come operative; it represents, so to speak, the bargain struck or the frontier fixed between Reason and Nature at that particular point. A nation’s moral outlook is just so much of its share in eternal Moral Wisdom as its history, economics, etc. lets through. What we call rational thought in a man always involves a state of the brain, in the long run a relation of atoms…and Reason is something more than cerebral biochemistry.”[8]
What may be an even stronger argument against this philosophical view of Naturalism is the notion of morality. Naturalists, such as Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker perceive morality as something derived from natural selection, in which the primary purpose of natural selection is to endure and reproduce; not to produce morality. This begs the question as to where they obtain the basis for their claim. Dawkins claims that morality is an enduring part of the plan of both survival and reproduction of the genes. This plan is seemingly programmed within the genes. However, if all forms of life come from a common ancestor—as natural selection suggests—how is it that humans differ from other types of species regarding thought and morality? Dr. Frans de Waal, who has meticulously studied chimpanzees writes, “It is hard to believe that animals weigh their own interests against the rights of others, that they develop a vision of the greater good of society, or that they feel lifelong guilt about something that they should not have done.”[9]
Dawkins attempts to defend his claim, in his book The Selfish Gene, when he wrote, “we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators…if we understand our own selfish genes are up to…we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs.”[10] How is it possible that morality is not only found within the genes, but that we can turn from them? The Naturalist seems to be delving back into the metaphysical world, which ironically requires a bit of “faith” on his part. Assuming he is correct, why is Dawkins & Co. so concerned with vehemently proclaiming Naturalism if all they do is rebel against it? Perhaps that is a separate issue, but it appears that Dawkins has somewhat cornered himself in espousing the idea that morality can be traced to the genetics of the human body. If he claims morals to be somewhat useful, where is his foundation for knowing for certain? Even Dawkins’ counterpart, Pinker admits, “Human behavior makes the most sense when it is explained in terms of beliefs and desires, not in terms of volts and grams.”[11] Thus in a sense Pinker seems to challenge their own views!
If there is no basis for showing morality comes from the genes, some may appeal to an individual and societal experience. If this is the case then morals must have been learned by the way of an extremely long, historical process by the way of “majority rule”. However, this is insufficient as well for providing a basis for moral conduct. Lewis states, “…until there were thinkers, there was no truth or falsehood.”[12] If there was no truth to begin with, “majority rule” cannot create truth with the passing of time. Only a “truth-claim” can come as a result. Thus there is no foundation for Naturalism to firmly plant its feet.
As a result however, society doesn’t live as if there is no truth concerning morals. Immanuel Kant said that not only is it unacceptable but it is impossible for humans to live as if there is no truth concerning morality. Donald Brown discovered in his work, Human universals, over three hundred standardized patters of conduct, which included many moral beliefs commonly “shared by all cultures.”[13] All people have within themselves moral precepts, which say, “ought to” do something and “not ought to” do something. When people invoke phrases such as these, we actually plead to a standard of human judgment shared by all with is outside of ourselves. Lewis states, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are in fact, comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as real Right, independent of what people think, and is some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others. Or put it this way. If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something—some Real Morality—for them to be true about.”[14]
If there is a “Real Right” and a “Real Morality” then both must have come from a “Real Something.” This “Something” cannot be based on genetics, nor can it be based on some type of learned historical process in which the majority rules. This “Something” cannot be concretely established via scientific or natural methods, therefore the source must have a supernatural origin; and if there is a supernatural origin, the ancient Biblical writer stated correctly when he said that the law must have been written on the hearts of people. Thus Naturalism has failed and is insufficient in providing a philosophical foundation for human behavior.
Probability Hurdle
Naturalism faces yet another significant hurdle based on a probability standpoint. Probability is used in all aspects of life. Meteorologists use it to predict the weather. Businessmen use probability in dealing with the stock market. It is also used in the realm of science. Former Yale professor of biophysics, Harold Morowitz, said, “Randomness itself displays certain properties which have been turned into powerful tools in the study of behavior and atoms.”[15] Randomness is dealt with by probability and therefore can shed some light on the subject of Naturalism.
Dr. Emile Borel is credited with formulating what mathematicians refer to as the “law of probability.” This law of probability states that if any event occurs where the chances are beyond one in one followed by 50 zeroes, that event—can be stated with certainty—will never take place; regardless of how much time is allowed and the number of possible opportunities could exist in order for the event to take place. The question then is what is the probability that Naturalism could be true regarding the origin and maintaining of life as we know it? There are an abundant amount of factors to consider if this is a probabilistic and logically acceptable.
Morowitz estimated the chance of life developing from a “simple living organism” is one part in 1x10^340,000,000[16] This number far surpasses the “upper limit” fifty that Borel established in his law of probability. It is so enormous that the mind can hardly fathom it. What’s even more amazing is that there also must be a vast number of factors concerning the universe for even the simplest living organism to exist!
One example would be to consider the number of electrons in the universe. Ross shows that this number must equal the number of protons to an accuracy of one part in 10^37 or better. If the accuracy was off the mark even by an extremely small factor, then electromagnetic forces involved would prevail over gravity. The results would be that galaxies, stars, or planets would not have been created; therefore no life would exist. In order to understand this more clearly, he gives the following example: “Cover the entire North American continent in dimes, all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles. Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a million other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds he will pick the red dime are 10^37th power.”[17]
The example above is one out of about 128 parameters Hugh Ross gives in order for life to exist on any give planet such as earth. Considering that there are billions upon billions of stars in the universe, the probability—based on a naturalistic viewpoint—that a planet such as earth would be able to sustain life would be 1 x 10^-144th power. This number turns out to be one in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. Ross comments that one would have a better chance of being killed by a sudden reversal of the 2nd law of thermodynamics.[18] Probabilistically, it stands to reason that Naturalism is beyond the scope of ever achieving mathematical certainty. The evidence is completely overwhelming. Even Richard Dawkins stated, “The more statistically improbable a thing is, the less we can believe it happened by blind chance. Superficially the obvious alternative to chance is an intelligent Designer."[19]
[1] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 240.
[2] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 241.
[3] CS Lewis, Miracles, (New York, Harper Collins, edition 2001), page 22.
[4] CS Lewis, Miracles, (New York, Harper Collins, edition 2001), page 33.
[5] CS Lewis, Miracles, (New York, Harper Collins, edition 2001), page 25.
[6] Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle, (Washington D.C., Counterpoint, 2002), page 18.
[7] Norman Geisler, Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999) pg 522.
[8]CS Lewis, Miracles, (New York, Harper Collins, edition 2001), page 62-63.
[9] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 227.
[10] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 241. “Interesting that Dawkins uses the word, “design.”
[11] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 245. (Immanuel Kant statement taken from the same page).
[12] CS Lewis, Miracles, (New York, Harper Collins, edition 2001), page 28.
[13] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity, (Washington D.C., Regnery Publishing, 2007), page 230.
[14] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1996 edition), page 25.
[15] Bert Thompson, The Scientific Case for Creation, (Montgomery, Apologetics Press, 1986), page 68.
[16] Bert Thompson, The Scientific Case for Creation, (Montgomery, Apologetics Press, 1986), page 70.
[17] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 150.
[18] Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, (Colorado Springs, Navpress, 2001), page 194.
[19] Bert Thompson, The Scientific Case for Creation, (Montgomery, Apologetics Press, 1986), page 75.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Only One Way To Heaven?

Oprah Winfrey believes that there are millions of ways to Heaven. Here is a small excerpt from her show.

“One of the mistakes that human beings make is believing that there is only one way, and that we don’t accept diverse ways of living in the world. There are many paths to what you call God…and her (lady in the audience) loving and kindness and generosity brings her to the same point that it brings you, it doesn’t matter if she calls it God or not…there couldn't possibly be just one way.”

Is Oprah's statement accurate? Many people believe this to be true. In fact, it is quite an attractive take on life and immortality and seems to be reasonable. But what is Oprah really saying? She is fundamentally stating that there is no absolute knowledge when it comes to religion, but she herself is making a statement that is absolute when it comes to her view on religion (the specific case here being the afterlife)!! In other words, you can't trust anyone's view but mine. The problem here is that most people will not see the apparent contradiction.

Also, regarding the main religions of the world, they believe and teach that their view is the correct view and that their way is the only way. Christianity teaches that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Islam claims Jesus didn't die on the cross and that Muhammad is the last and greatest of all prophets. Buddhism teaches that after you follow the Four Noble Truths, you then you pass on into a state of Nirvana.

Not all of these religious points of view can be true and not true at the same time. The basic and philosophical principles of logic will not allow it. Either one is right, or all are wrong.