What Is the Key To Being an Effective Debater? Stories and Tips from Josh McDowell.

Effective Debater

This goal of this blog is for me to soak up wisdom from my father and share it with you. I have been blessed to have an incredibly influential father, Josh McDowell. He has written over 150 books and spoken to more young people live than anyone in history. But what I appreciate most about my father is his love for my mom, for his kids, and now for his many grandkids. Enjoy!

 

What Is the Key To Being an Effective Debater? Stories and Tips from Josh McDowell.

SEAN: Dad, you’ve done over 250 debates on college campuses around the world on a host of topics. What is the key to being an effective debater?

JOSH: First, do your homework. Thoroughly know the subject. Second, love your opponent, because the best way to win a debate is to love your opponent when you’re destroying his arguments. Third, always find a way to work in your personal testimony as it relates to that subject. The person with an argument is almost always at the mercy of the person with experience. The Christian should have both the argument and the experience.

Effective Debater

SEAN: Are debates still important and effective in culture today?

JOSH: Not as much as they used to be. When Evidence that Demands a Verdict first came out, there was not much access to the evidence for Christianity. And so the book took off and was an instant bestseller. But today there is much more access to the arguments for and against Christianity right on the Internet. The benefit of a debate, though, is that people get to both sides challenged right before them, and then they can decide which side is most reasonable. This rarely happens on the Internet, as so much bad information gets passed on as if it’s true. So, debates provide the opportunity for truth correction.

SEAN: What was your most memorable debate and why?

JOSH: One of them was definitely with the Muslim apologist Ahmad Deedat who was probably the top Islamic apologist in the world at that time. He was literally destroying everyone who debated him. Christians were deeply embarrassed at how badly he beat them. I received a personal letter from about 40 churches in South Africa, asking if I would debate him. And to this day, I thank God I said yes. It was probably the best debate because of the impact of it. It literally changed evangelism in the entire continent of Africa and beyond. I loved him personally, and cared for him, but he was humiliated after the debate. He only distributed his half of the debate through all Africa. Once the rest of the debate was released, his credibility and trust was completely undermined.

Amazingly, a close relative of his came to me a few years ago when I was visiting South Africa and said, “I felt you needed to know some details around the death of Ahmad. The day before he died, he asked me to find a copy of your book More Than A Carpenter. So, I brought it to him and he read some of it.” We won’t know until after this life, but there’s a chance Ahmad Deedat is in heaven.

SEAN: If you were starting again in ministry in today’s culture, would you do debates?

JOSH: I’m not totally sure. Debates have certainly lost some of their pizzazz and some of their influence. Thousands of people used to come to each of my debates. But now with the Internet, they’re much more common and accessible. One reason I might do debates, though, is that they forced me to study and master a subject. I probably spent 300 hours in preparation for a debate. I knew I could use the material the rest of my life in talks, books, and future debates. At times, some of the leading scholars in the world helped me prepare. Those times were some of the best experiences of my life.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


Resources for Greater Impact: 

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

IDHEFTBAA DVD angled CLEAR

WHY I STILL DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

Dead Things Don’t Grow

Author’s Note: The debate discussed in this blog post can be seen at the bottom article.

Many who hold the pro-choice position subscribe to a postmodern worldview. They are not arguing that we can kill the unborn because a woman’s right to choose trumps the right to life of the unborn. They are arguing that ambiguity on the question of when life begins supplies adequate justification for abortion on demand. The argument from ambiguity was central to former ACLU president Nadine Strossen’s presentation when I debated her recently on the campus of Oregon State University (OSU).

I was pleased that Nadine’s opening argument relied heavily on the claim that we cannot know when life begins. This played into the strategy I had chosen prior to the onset of the debate. Nadine did two other things I had hoped she would do in her opening statement: 1) Argue that Roe v. Wade was a moderate decision that balanced the competing interests of the individual and the state, and 2) argue that the Roe decision was necessary to stop the deaths of women who were dying as a result of unsafe abortions. In my own opening argument, which followed hers, I tried to establish two things:

1. There is clear consensus in the science of embryology that life begins at conception. Scientifically speaking, the unborn are distinct, living, whole human beings actively involved in the process of developing themselves from within from the very point of conception.

2. There is no difference between the adults we are today and the unborn humans we once were that would justify killing us at an earlier stage of development. In other words, there is no essential difference between a “human” and a “person.” Furthermore, any effort to justify abortion with philosophical distinctions among the living would invite systematic human inequality. At the end of the day, our society must choose between human equality and abortion. We simply cannot have both.

After we presented our opening statements, Nadine had an opportunity to offer a rebuttal. In that rebuttal, she challenged my claim that there was an absolute consensus among embryologists that life begins at conception. She quoted a source saying that the question could not be answered conclusively. This was a good tactic for Nadine to employ. She was obviously prepared. Fortunately, I had fully anticipated her move.

In my rebuttal, which followed hers, I drew on the work of Francis Beckwith. As Beckwith has previously written, Roe v. Wade concedes that the question of the parameters of a woman’s right to abortion is inextricably bound to the question of when life begins. Therefore, if someone is agnostic on the question of when life begins, they are also agnostic on the parameters of a woman’s right to choose. I began my rebuttal by establishing this crucial point.

Rather than conceding that there was a legitimate doubt about when life begins, I decided to reassert the point that the matter was settled. I did this by firing off numerous sources. Among them, I included former Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and Princeton Philosopher Peter Singer. I wanted to establish the fact that many honest pro-choice advocates conceded the point. In fact, they have done so for decades.

Fortunately, OSU Socratic Club debates are structured in such a way as to allow opponents to have an informal half-hour exchange following the opening statements and rebuttals. During that exchange, Nadine came across as cordial and well informed. She also impressed me as sincerely interested in my views on a number of issues related to the debate topic. She was a worthy and articulate opponent.

One downside to Nadine’s choice of questions was that they sometimes gave the appearance of trying to divert the issue from the question of the status of the unborn. When Nadine interjected the phrase “potential life” into our discussion I tried to seize the moment to refocus the debate. I asked her whether by using the phrase “potential life” she meant to deny that the unborn were humans (in a biological sense) or persons (in a philosophical sense). Her answer was “both.”

Having established that the unborn have separate DNA and that there is cell division and metabolism from the point of conception, I replied with the following: “But, Nadine, dead things don’t grow.” In fact, I said it twice during the exchange.

That statement ended up being the takeaway line from the entire debate. In fact, nearly everyone who saw the debate and spoke to me afterwards quoted that one line. It was effective because Nadine and I were in danger of getting into a war of quoting texts no one has ever read. But “dead things don’t grow” was an unmistakable appeal to common sense that I believe solidified my central thesis and allowed the pro-life position to prevail in the overall exchange.

Therefore, I would like to conclude this column by thanking my friend Jay Watts for supplying me with that line, which I saw in a recent episode of “Life is Best” – a series hosted by my friend Scott Klusendorf. That series may be the best thing Scott has ever done for the pro-life movement – and that is really saying something.

My advice to pro-lifers debaters who wish to compete (and prevail!) in debates on hostile turf is twofold. First, read everything Francis Beckwith writes on the topic of abortion. Second, watch every video, speech, and debate featuring Scott Klusendorf speaking and teaching on the topic of abortion.

The best place to start is right here: http://www.lifeisbest.tv.

 

“What is God Like — Tawhid or Trinity?” Jonathan McLatchie vs. Abdurraheem Green

I recently did a debate on Unbelievable? on Premier Christian Radio, a show that airs every Saturday on British radio (also podcasted online), featuring debates between Christians and non-Christians. Last year on the show, I did a debate on whether Christianity is evidence-based, with British atheist Elliot George. The recording of that encounter can be found here. On Saturday 16th May, the show featured a conversation between myself and British Muslim apologist, Abdurraheem Green. Our topic was “What is God Like — Tawhid or Trinity?” I have embedded the debate as a YouTube video above. Enjoy!

 

Conversaciones llenas de Gracia y sazonadas con Sal: Consejos para el Cristiano que Debate

En su carta a los Colosenses, el Apóstol Pablo enseña a sus lectores a que  “Procuren que su conversación siempre sea agradable y de buen gusto, para que den a cada uno la respuesta debida,” (Colosenses 4:6). He descubierto que este consejo es invaluable en el contexto del debate, una actividad en la que muchos de nosotros en la comunidad de la apologética  participamos.

 

En las oportunidades que se presentan para argumentar a favor del Cristianismo y su defensa, es muy importante demostrar una actitud de humildad y bondad. Muy a menudo, lamentablemente, he visto gente (creyentes y no creyentes) intentando desacreditar a las personas del otro lado de la discusión. Con respecto a los cristianos, creo firmemente que el propósito de debatir no es simplemente ganar un argumento. Permítanme decirlo una vez más: El propósito de debatir, para el creyente, no es simplemente ganar un argumento. Es posible que uno gane exitosamente el argumento, pero que al mismo tiempo pierda a la audiencia o al interlocutor. Hay almas en juego. Por lo tanto un mensaje de amor debe ser transmitido claramente a través de las palabras que hablamos –a través de nuestra conducta y forma de expresarnos, y a través de nuestra devoción por el mensaje de la cruz. Es tan fácil dejar que nuestra apologética Cristiana se reduzca a nada más que una búsqueda intelectual o a una forma de aumentar nuestro ego. Pero como el apóstol Pablo escribió en 1 Corintios 13:2,

 “Si tuviera el don de profecía, y entendiera todos los misterios, y tuviera todo el conocimiento, y si tuviera toda la fe, de tal manera que trasladara los montes, y no tengo amor, nada soy” 

Tener un gran cúmulo de conocimiento no te hará, o a alguien más, ningún bien si no tienes amor. Cada oponente que enfrentas y cada persona que observa y vigila el debate, es un alma valiosa, desesperadamente necesitada de Cristo. Si las ves de esa manera, tu conducta durante y después del debate reflejara eso.

Si somos sinceros, a veces puede haber un elemento de superioridad entre intelectuales cristianos. Nos sentimos seguros porque somos los que sabemos la verdad, y nos enorgullecemos de contar con los mejores argumentos para apoyar nuestra posición. Pero hay que recordar que, si el Espíritu no hubiera abierto nuestros ojos e iluminado nuestra visión para que podamos percibir claramente el misterio de Cristo, estaríamos precisamente en el mismo lugar –perdidos, en la oscuridad, sin Dios, sin esperanza de salvación. Lo que es tan claro para nosotros, no es claro para aquellos cuyos corazones están cubiertos por un velo (2 Corintios 3:14). Lo único que te permite percibir y entender la Verdad es la gracia de Dios –nada más ni nada menos. Darte cuenta de esa realidad es, sin duda, una experiencia de humildad , y que nos debe servir para estimularnos para tratar a nuestros compañeros de diálogo no cristianos amablemente, con amor y humildad.

 En última instancia, es el Espíritu de Dios – y no tus argumentos – el que convencerá a un hombre de su pecado y lo llevará al arrepentimiento. Sí, tus argumentos pueden convencer a él intelectualmente de que el cristianismo es verdadero –y Dios puede optar por utilizarlos como los medios para atraerlo hacia Sí mismo (Isaías 55:11). La Biblia nos muestra como Dios amorosamente nos provee de gracia la cual le permite a un hombre arrepentirse y someterse a Él, pues es evidente que el hombre está perpetuamente en rebelión contra Dios, siempre buscando excusas para no creer. Ahora, permíteme ser claro: esto no quiere en absoluto decir que no debemos manejar la información y los hechos con responsabilidad. De hecho, creo que nuestras presentaciones de la verdad siempre deben ser precisas y bien documentadas –y que en la comunidad de la apologética debemos controlarnos mutuamente en este sentido. Haciendo esto, honramos a Dios que es la Verdad misma.

Es muy importante que demostremos amor, bondad y humildad hacia las personas con las que nos involucramos en debates y argumentos –incluso si la actitud no es correspondida. Tu conducta es una parte más de tu apologética tanto como tus argumentos persuasivos. No es honrar a Dios presentar fríamente los argumentos sin ejemplificar amor y compasión por la preciada gente que a la que le estas hablando. Recuerda que es sólo por la gracia de Dios que has llegado a tener un conocimiento de la verdad sobre el evangelio. Por lo tanto, presenta una defensa de la fe que está dentro de ti, pero hazlo con delicadeza y respeto (1 Pedro 3:15).

Que otros consejos podrías compartir con la comunidad Cristiana de CrossExamined.org en cuanto a debatir se refiere para tener conversaciones llenas de gracia y sazonadas con Sal, sea en debates cara a cara o en las comunidades en linea. 

Asegúrate de dejar tus comentarios en la sección designada para estos y gracias por tu contribución.


Este articulo también esta disponible en Ingles aquí: Having Conversations Full of Grace and Seasoned with Salt: Advice to the Christian Debater


Traducido por José Giménez Chilavert

After Debate, Atheist and Christian Defend Free Speech Against Gay Activists

On April 16, I, Frank Turek, debated atheist Michael Shermer at Stony Brook University on the question: “What Better Explains Morality:  God or Science?”  Following the debate, the Graduate Queer Alliance at Stony Brook wrote a letter to the editor of the school newspaper wanting an apology from the university for allowing me to speak because I expressed my opposition to homosexual behavior and same sex marriage.  They also want shut down all future debate on such topics claiming that opposition is “hate speech.”  Dr. Shermer and I decided to issue a joint response to their false assertions and totalitarian demands.  Here it is.  

By Dr. Michael Shermer & Dr. Frank Turek

It’s not often that an atheist and a Christian, who have just had a debate on campus, can be brought into agreement by a group in the audience. But the Graduate Queer Alliance (GQA) at Stony Brook University has managed to do that. Their letter to the editor on April 30 was so full of false assertions and totalitarian demands that we, Dr. Michael Shermer (an atheist) and Dr. Frank Turek (a Christian), felt compelled to write this letter together in response.

The central assertion of the GQA is that anyone who expresses a negative opinion of same sex marriage or homosexual behavior is guilty of “hate speech” and should be barred from speaking at Stony Brook University. The GQA says this while also claiming to believe “that a university should provide an open forum for controversial ideas to be discussed and debated.” We both wonder how the GQA can hold these two contradictory opinions at the same time. After all, they say they are for the debate of controversial issues, but apparently only if both debaters hold the same position and that position agrees with the GQA. Some debate!

How is disagreement over controversial moral and political issues “hate speech?” If it is then GQA’s position is “hate speech” because it disagrees with people who believe marriage should be defined in other ways. Calling people names or characterizing their arguments as “hate speech” is not good public discourse designed to discover the truth; it is bullying—the very thing GQA should be against.

To demonstrate the oversensitivity of the GQA, you should know that our debate was not even about same sex marriage or homosexuality. Our debate was about whether God or Science better explains morality. As you can see for yourself in the debate here, Dr. Turek never mentioned homosexuality or same sex marriage in his prepared opening statement. Dr. Shermer brought up those issues in his opening statement as examples of what he believes to be moral progress (hence the title of this book, The Moral Arc). Dr. Turek expressed disagreement with Dr. Shermer’s point only when Dr. Shermer pressed him to comment during the cross-examination period. (Imagine, a debate where the debaters disagree!)

The true motives of the GQA are revealed by what is not in the letter: the arguments made by Dr. Shermer in support of same sex marriage, arguments he made with great passion that elicited equal passion—on both sides of the issue—from the audience. If those in the GQA are so interested in advancing their position through sound reason and science—which was Dr. Shermer’s point—why would they not highlight the arguments offered in support of it? Instead, the GQA seems to think they have a right not to hear an opposing opinion lest they be challenged!

It’s a shame that those in GQA appear so uninterested in evidence. Unfortunately for them, as the late Christopher Hitchens put it (and Dr. Shermer elevated to a principle, “Hitchens’ Dictum”, in one of his Scientific American columns ), “What can be asserted without evidence, can also be dismissed without evidence.” Instead of citing evidence, GQA attempted to smear the character of one of the debaters and now tries to silence all future debate by simply declaring that the major issues of our day have all been decided in their favor. Don’t bother debating anything. We know what’s right and you have no right to express your wrong opinion!

What’s also problematic is that none of the derogatory assertions about Dr. Turek made by the GQA are true. For example, contrary to the GQA:

  • Turek has not written a book that “derides gays.” His book on same sex marriage (which they obviously haven’t read) does nothing of the sort as numerous reviewers have observed. By making a derogatory judgment without knowing the facts, those in GQA are guilty of the very bigotry with which they falsely charge Dr. Turek.
  • Turek never said that gays have a choice in their sexual orientation. He believes the consensus view that the causes of sexual orientation are not entirely understood. But for him, the issue isn’t attractions—it’s actions. And we all are responsible for the actions we choose.
  • Turek made no parallel between homosexuality and a Nazi propaganda video. The video was shown in Dr. Turek’s opening statement, long before Dr. Shermer brought up the issue of homosexuality. The only purpose of the video was to demonstrate that Hitler thought natural selection gave him justification to kill the weak.

Finally, on the issue of tolerance, it appears that GQA only wants to tolerate ideas they agree with. That’s not tolerance. That’s totalitarianism. You can only tolerate ideas you disagree with. Moreover, you will never learn and grow (the essence of a university) if you hear only one side of any issue. As Dr. Shermer points out in The Moral Arc by quoting same sex marriage advocate Jonathan Rauch: “Good ideas outcompete bad ideas in the marketplace of free exchange.” Now that’s a good idea rooted in the very foundation of a free society.

Unfortunately, GQA is expressing a totalitarian impulse to silence all opinions that dissent from their own. As a free people, we must not adopt such an unlearned, intolerant and unconstitutional position. This atheist and Christian agree with same sex marriage advocate Andrew Sullivan who wrote against this totalitarian impulse this way: “If this is the gay rights movement today—hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else—then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.”

Turek-Shermer Debate: Is Morality Better Explained by God or Science?

Last week our friends at NewYorkApologetics.com hosted a debate on morality between me and Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine. You can see the raw streaming video from the debate here (a three camera professional video is forthcoming, but I’m not sure when).

You’ll notice that while both Michael and I agree that there are objective moral values, I am more interested in explaining why objective moral values exist (ontology), whereas Michael is more interested in how we know them (epistemology).  Of course, before you can know something it has to exist (this is the difference between the “order of being” and the “order of knowing”).  So why do objective moral values exist?  What grounds them (what is their foundation)?   I’ll leave it to you to judge who made the better case. (The first 30 minutes is just pre-debate happenings; you may want to skip that to get the opening statements).

Please tune in this morning at 10:05 am ET because I’ll be interviewing Michael Shermer for the full hour on CrossExamined radio.  If you miss the interview, please download the app.  It should be posted there by Monday.

(A special thanks goes out to Nick Mitchell and Anthony Uvenio of NewYorkApologetics.com who did a superb job organizing the debate and all the ensuing events in New York.  Want to learn how they did it?  Join them and others at CIA this year.  Hope to see you there.)

A Review of Patterns of Evidence: Exodus

On Monday evening I went to see the much anticipated documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: Exodus by filmmaker Tim Mahoney and Thinking Man Films.

Filmaker Tim Mahoney in Luxor, Egypt

Filmaker Tim Mahoney in Luxor, Egypt

Overall, I very much liked the film and my impression is that it was very well produced and thought out. In short, it was a very high quality production and has great potential to be effective for those on the fence about the historical account of the Exodus in the Bible.

I offer the following thoughts to those who watched it on the night of its release, and for those who plan to watch it in the future, perhaps on the History Channel or on DVD.

First I would like to state what I liked about the film and offer some positive comments. Secondly, I will point out where I think Mahoney missed a couple of valuable opportunities apologetically, historically and archaeologically.

Yesterday I posted an article titled Navigating “Patterns of Evidence for the Biblical Exodus which essentially outlined where the film would focus most of its attention. That focus was on the dating of the Exodus or the chronology (or when it happened), and that was correct. More on this in a moment, but first some positive observations of the film.

THE GOOD

Production Quality

One of the first things that impressed me about the film was its very high production quality. It had the feel of a National Geographic special. Throughout the film there was extensive use of computer graphics and 3D animation which was very helpful. In addition, Mahoney traveled to some amazing places in Egypt (Luxor), Israel and Europe to shoot the interviews. The shots were well crafted and well edited. The cinematography was top rate.

Soundtrack

The next thing might seem like a rather silly thing to comment on, but I think that it is also an important part of any film – was the music. The film score was epic, adventurous, mysterious (in places), and just well done. The music was performed by the Budapest Film Orchestra, and the Budapest Film Choir.

The Question of the Historical Exodus: Back on the Table

The film does an excellent job of putting the question of the historical exodus back on the table and in the thoughts among those in the general public, and perhaps even some scholars who are open minded. Most liberal leaning scholars and archaeologists are highly dismissive of a historical exodus (including scholars such as William Dever, Israel Finkelstein, et. al.).

Evangelical Scholars Front & Center

It was very good to see such conservative Christian scholars, such as James K. Hoffmeier, Charles Ailing, Bryant Wood & John Bimson given some air time to make the case for a historical exodus. Rarely does the general public hear a conservative give a scholarly response on a historical documentary, and some of the evidence they presented was formidable and compelling.

Historical/Archaeological Evidence for the Biblical Exodus

There was some great archeological evidence that WAS presented. Much of it was amazing!

  • The Ipuwer Papyrus
  • The Berlin Fragment
  • The Joseph Statue & Tomb
  • The Semitic Ruler’s Palace with Twelve Pillars in Avaris
  • The Walls of Jericho & the Burnt Grain of Jericho
  • The Merneptah Stele
  • The Amarna Letters

THE NOT SO GOOD (or, the not so clear)

The Argument: Which date/time? Which Pharaoh?

I’ve seen and heard some of my fellow apologists lament the fact that Mahoney didn’t cover questions like the route of the Exodus or how many Hebrew slaves came out of Egypt. I’m not saying that these are not important questions, they certainly are, but they really don’t help us pinpoint the Exodus in the historical record. Perhaps he may explore these questions in a future documentary.

As I stated in my earlier blog on the film, the focus of attention was on the dating of the Exodus. This is where things got a little fuzzy for me, and I suspect the viewers as well.

Essentially three main dating options were presented in the film. The reasoning and the evidence for each dating option, however, was not clearly explained. In my view, that was really the crux of the matter. That is what people came to see and wanted to know.

It’s one thing to state that the historical exodus might have around two hundred years earlier (say, around 1450 B.C.), but it is quite another thing to give the reasoning as to why this was the case. This wasn’t made clear, and it certainly could have been.

Mahoney presented three dating options for consideration:

  • The late date (1230 B.C.) – Israel Finkelstein, James K. Hoffmeier
  • The early date (1446 B.C.) – Bryant Wood, Charles Ailing
  • The New Revised Egyptian Chronology – David Rohl

The documentary did a good job of explaining the different views and opinions that scholars have on the biblical Exodus. But, as I’ve pointed out earlier it was unclear if any clear and defninitive answer was arrived at for when the Exodus actually occurred.

Near the end of the film, Mahoney made a statement along the lines of “Scholars disagree about the dating and the evidence for the biblical Exodus, but we do have evidence for it.”

The problem is that the evidence that was presented as supporting the Exodus was conflicting. My concern is that Christians may walk away from the film being even more agnostic about the Exodus than certain that it happened.

But perhaps that was Mahoney’s point. We do have evidence for the historical Exodus, but there is not a consensus among conservative scholars on the exact nature of that evidence and which evidence is most reliable for defending a historical Exodus. Christians should consider the evidence for themselves and decide.

I did not, however, like the fact that Rohl and his revised Egyptian chronology, seemed to play a central role in Mahoney’s film, which is unfortunate. The reason why that is unfortunate, is that there are better arguments for the Exodus which Mahoney did not give proper credit to.

I’ve known about, and been intrigued by the work of David Rohl for quite some time. I first heard about Rohl’s work when I read a review of his book, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (originally published in the UK as A Test of Time: The Bible from Myth to History) some years ago. I now have the book and have read Rohl’s arguments for revising Egyptian chronology.

In the film Rohl states that the Egyptian chronology and history is in need of major revision (shifted two centuries!). Rohl’s main argument centers on the uncertainty surrounding Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period (called a “dark age” in the film).

The ancient Egyptians kept a pretty good records of their kings. In addition to temple ruins and palace walls in Egypt, we also historical sources for Egyptian history. The work (Aegyptiaca, or “History of Egypt”) by an Egyptian priest named Manetho who served under Ptolemy Philadelphius 285-246 B.C., survives in fragments in (Jewish Antiquities) Flavius Josephus (First Cent. A.D.), Africanus (A.D. c. 221), and G. Syncellus (A.D. c.800). Manetho gives a fairly accurate account of Egyptian history, although there are some obvious gaps in it.

In ancient Egyptian history, are three “Intermediate Periods” in which foreign rulers (i.e. or non-Egyptians) would rule over Egypt. The third intermediate period begins in 1070 B.C. and ends in 664 B.C. with the expulsion of the Nubian dynasty under Psamtik I – a time span covering approximately 406 years!

To complicate things – much of the history of other nations in the Ancient Near East (Phoenicia, Assyria, Babylonia, Palestine, Canaan etc..) is LINKED to Egyptian history. So, if the dates assigned to Egyptian history and chronology are off, then consequently, so are the dates of these other nations.

Rohl is certainly correct to point out that Egyptian history is in need of revision. But the question at hand is, HOW MUCH is it off? And what reasons does he give for adjusting the Egyptian chronology 200 years? In the film we don’t get a clear answer, but Rohl’s book provides one.

In Chapter Six of the book titled “Towards a New Chronology” Rohl gives his main argument, which stems from a genealogy of Egypt’s Royal Architects discovered in Wadi Hammamat.

In a summary of the argument Rohl states:

The Genealogy of the Royal Architects, discovered in the Wadi Hammamat, confirms that the era known as the TIP (Third Intermediate Period) has been overstretched. Furthermore, all three key genealogies linking back to the New Kingdom indicate that over a century must be removed from the chronology of the transition period between the late 19th Dynasty and the Third Intermediate Period.[1]

There are numerous problems with Rohl’s Revised Egyptian Chronology. Among the several problems, archaeologist, Bryant Wood points out that,

A revised Egyptian chronology would directly affect the dating of the Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Palestine since the dating of those periods is dependent upon synchronisms with Egyptian history. Biblical chronology, on the other hand, remains unchanged since it is derived from synchronisms with Assyria in the Divided Kingdom period and then calculated backwards using the internal chronological data of the Bible.[2]

For further information and a more in-depth critique of Rohl’s Revised Egyptian Chronology see Wood’s entire article here.

As I’ve admitted in my previous article, I believe that the evidence and arguments put forth for the early date (1446 B.C.), as articulated by Dr. Bryant Wood make the most sense and solve the most problems for reconciling the biblical Exodus and the archaeological and historical record.

For those interested here are three articles which may be of interest.

The Case for the 1446 B.C. date for Exodus and Conquest – T. Wright

Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus Pharaoh – D. Petrovich

The Conquest of Jericho – B. Wood

I only wish that Mahoney had allowed Dr. Bryant Wood & Dr. Ailing more time to lay out the case for the early Exodus-Conquest model which is based on good archaeology and good scholarship.

THE BOTTOM LINE

My complaints, notwithstanding, I think the film was excellent and worth seeing again. I would even use it in my seminary class on Biblical Archaeology to show the different views which one might have on the Exodus.

I would encourage others, who were not able to see the film on the release date, to watch it and purchase the DVD when it comes out.

Perhaps on a future episode Mahoney will explore these questions further. I commend Tim on an excellent film which explores a subject and story that is very near and dear to my heart. The Christian community owes Mahoney a huge thanks for bringing such a vitally important event in biblical history in the spotlight, and he did it with excellence!

When you get a chance – go see it!

 

[1] David Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995, pg. 143.

[2]http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/05/23/David-Rohls-Revised-Egyptian-Chronology-A-View-From-Palestine.aspx#Article

Navigating the “Patterns of Evidence” for the Biblical Exodus

patterns-of-evidence-the-exodus

Today in select theaters, the fascinating documentary film, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus will be showing across the country. The film will explore the question of the historical Exodus. Is it just the stuff of myth and legend? Or, did it really happen?

The public at large has always been fascinated, even intrigued by the stories in the Bible. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bible has had a profound effect on American politics and culture, not to mention all of Western Civilization itself!

It seems that even Hollywood has rediscovered the epic stories found in the Bible, even if they don ‘t portray them exactly as they are recorded in the biblical text. The latest installment was Daniel Arnofsky’s Noah, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods & Kings, starring Christian Bale as Moses.

This most recent film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, however, is unlike other movies about the Bible because it actually explores the question of whether or not the Exodus actually happened, and what archaeological and historical evidence, if any, exists for it.

Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, follows the journey of filmmaker Tim Mahoney as a “crisis of faith” leads him to explore whether the events in the Bible (specifically the Exodus) are myth, and whether they were historical events that really happened.

Mahoney states,“I didn’t go with a preconceived conclusion, but I was willing to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt as we searched for the truth,” He said. “I went to the top people in the world and said, ‘Tell me what you know about this story and what does the archaeology tell you.’ I talked with both sides – people who can’t see any evidence for Exodus and people who see the evidence. It became a balanced approach.”[1]

So, instead of assuming the truth of the Exodus story, Mahoney traveled around the world interviewing scholars from various theological and philosophical backgrounds to compare and contrast what is said about the evidence for the Exodus, pro and con.

As can be seen from the trailer, the film explores the evidence and arguments for and against the historical Exodus, by some of the best spokesmen for each view. Unlike most documentaries, such as those the History Channel and Discovery Channel, Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus presents each view in a fair and balanced way, and allows scholars to present their case. Ultimately, it lets the viewer decide which view has the best evidence.

The list of interviewees includes archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein (Tel Aviv University) whose view of the historical Exodus is highly skeptical, based on his understanding of the archaeological record.

There are a host of other scholars and archaeologists who appear on the film besides Finkelstein, including James K. Hoffmeier (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Egyptologist Manfred Bietak (University of Vienna), John Bimson (Trinity College, Bristol), David Rohl (Egyptologist, Author), Kent Weeks (Egyptologist, Theban Mapping Project), Rabbi David Wolpe (Rabbi at Sinai Temple, Author), and Bryant Wood (Associates for Biblical Research), just to name a few!

How does one navigate the various views which are presented in the film? It has been said that if there are three archaeologists in a room together, there are at least five or six opinions between them!

The Bottom Line: DATING!

(Spoiler alert: I’m about to state the main point of contention in the film! In reality, it won’t spoil it for you, but hopefully help clarify the main idea better!)

First, I’d like to make a blanket statement, regardless of where one stands on the biblical Exodus:

The Exodus and Conquest stand or fall together. The two are inextricably linked. If there was an historical Exodus, then there should also be an Israelite conquest into Canaan approximately four decades after the Exodus. This is important because if either can be established on historical and archaeological grounds, then the patterns of evidence will begin to emerge for both.

In previous blogs on CrossExamined.org I have stated this in other contexts and articles, but most, if not all debates within Old Testament archaeology are over dating. Even agnostic archaeologist, Willam Dever’s book What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, attests to the importance of dating.

Where there is a biblical event in which it is difficult, if not impossible to establish a date – this is called an anachronism. The word stems from the Greek, meaning ἀνά ana, “against” and χρόνος khronos, “time” – (or a chronological inconsistency).

Many years ago, a brilliant scholar named Edwin R. Thiele wrote a truly groundbreaking book on reconciling the dates and reigns of the Hebrew kings in the Old Testament with the dates & reigns of other Ancient Near Eastern Kings, such as those of Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria. His book was titled, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (1951).

In chapter 1 Thiele correctly observed that,

Chronology is the backbone of history. Absolute chronology is the fixed central core around which the events of the nation [i.e. Israel] must be grouped before they may assume their exact positions in history and before their mutual relationships may be properly understood. Without exact chronology there can be no exact history. Until a correct chronology of a nation has been established, the events of that nation cannot be correctly integrated into the events of the neighboring states. If history is to be a true and exact science, then it is of fundamental importance to construct a sound chronological framework about which may be fitted the events of states and the international world. [2]

In this film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, much of the discussion surrounds chronology and dating – and in reality – it is the KEY to seeing to understanding and seeing the patterns of evidence for the Exodus.

I’ve written several articles which explore the patterns of evidence talked about in the film in much more detail. Click on the links below to learn more about where we think the best evidence lies.

I’ll be “up front” here and state, that based on historical and archaeological evidence, that I believe Dr. Bryant Wood’s view on the Exodus is most consistent with the biblical record as well as with the archaeological and historical patterns. Both Wood and John Bimson argue for a revised biblical chronology based on archaeological evidence. Others in the film, argue against chronological revisionism (James K. Hoffmeier and Israel Finkelstein), however, if the chronology is not revised, then essentially there is no evidence for the Exodus and Conquest.

Of course, you’ll need to watch the film, listen to the arguments and decide for yourself.

As an associate and archaeologist with Associates for Biblical Research, I can also state that I also have firsthand knowledge of excavating at the biblical site of Khirbet el-Maqatir in Israel, which is the site of the biblical, Canaanite city of Ai which was destroyed by Joshua (recorded in Joshua 7-8) – additional evidence for the historical reliability of the Biblical record.

The following is a list of articles that I have written in the past which dig a little deeper into these questions (complete with footnotes & sources).

Articles Which Dig Deeper into “Patterns of Evidence” for the Exodus

  1. The Challenge to the Old Testament & Responding to the Challenge 
  1. The Biblical Patriarchs: Myth or Legend?
  1. The Date of the Exodus and the Archaeological Evidence
  1. Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?
  1. The Conquest of Ai

One final word about the importance and significance of the Exodus.

If we think of the New Testament and the Gospels as the top of a tree with branches and leaves and fruit, then the bottom of the tree (the Old Testament) is anchored to the ground with roots that go deep and bring the tree life-giving water. Without the roots, the leaves and the branches would have no life and no truth to them.

Jesus died on Passover for a reason. The phrase “Jesus came to set the captives free” is not just symbolism, it is grounded in a real event in history.

The Exodus is vitally important to the religion of both Jews and Christians alike. It should rightfully be defended as being grounded in truth and reality.

 

 

[1]http://www.wnd.com/2015/01/statue-of-bibles-joseph-discovered/

[2] Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, New Revised Edition (Grand Rapid: Kregel Publications, 1983), p. 33.

Palace Where Jesus Stood Trial Discovered by Archaeologists?

Palace Discovered in Jerusalem Reveals the Reliability of the New Testament

The palace of Herod Antipas (son of Herod I who succeeded him), may have been discovered in the old city of Jerusalem. This would have been the same palace where Jesus stood trial before Herod, over 2000 years ago!

According to Shimon Gibson, an archaeologist from UNC Charlotte, quoted in the Washington Post, “there is little doubt that the trial occurred somewhere within Herod’s palace compound. In the Gospel of John, the trial is described as taking place near a gate and on a bumpy stone pavement — details that fit with previous archaeological findings near the prison.”[1]

For years there has been some debate among archaeologists, historians and biblical scholars as to the exact location of Jesus’ trial before Herod Antipas in Luke 23:6-12.

The Washington Post article says, “Questions about the location stem from various interpretations of the Gospels, which describe how Jesus of Nazareth was brought before Pilate in the “praetorium,” a Latin term for a general’s tent within a Roman encampment. Some say Pilate’s praetorium would have been in the military barracks, others say the Roman general would probably have been a guest in the palace built by Herod.”

Harold Hoehner’s landmark work, Herod Antipas: A Contemporary of Jesus Christ (Cambridge, 1972), states that, “After Pilate’s hearing that Jesus was from Galilee, Luke switches the scene to Jesus being tried by Herod [Antipas]. He was no doubt escorted by some guards as well as by some of the Sanhedrin from Pilate’s residence to the Hasmonaean palace, which was Antipas’ Jerusalem residence located west of the temple.”[2]

“Today, historians and archaeologists are certain that Herod’s palace was on the city’s western side, where the Tower of David Museum and the Ottoman-era prison stand,” according to the article.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem   - believed to be the location where Jesus stood trial before Herod (Antipas)

The Tower of David in Jerusalem – believed to be the location where Jesus stood trial before Herod (Antipas)

Well over a decade ago, as archaeologists began to dig back through the various layers of history and empires, including the British, Ottoman, and eventually back to the Roman period – a rocky pavement was discovered which may be connected to Jesus’ trial before Antipas & Pilate (see, John 19:13 Gabbatha, Hebrew for“knoll”).

To those who question the historical accuracy and reliability of the New Testament, this latest discovery reveals the fact that the events surrounding life of Jesus Christ are grounded in reality.

Archaeology certainly can’t prove the Bible in a mathematical/deductive sense, but it can certainly affirm people, places, and events which can give us a very high degree of certainty that what the Bible records actually happened, beyond a reasonable doubt!

In the words of Yisca Harani, ““For those Christians who care about accuracy in regards to historical facts, this is very forceful.”[3]

 

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/archaeologists-find-possible-site-of-jesuss-trial-in-jerusalem/2015/01/04/6d0ce098-7f9a-45de-9639-b7922855bfdb_story.html (accessed, Jan. 5, 2015).

[2] Harold Hoehner, Herod Antipas: A Contemporary of Jesus Christ (Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 239.

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/archaeologists-find-possible-site-of-jesuss-trial-in-jerusalem/2015/01/04/6d0ce098-7f9a-45de-9639-b7922855bfdb_story.html

Was There Really A Census During the Time of Caesar Augustus?

Archaeology Illuminates & Affirms a Key Fact in the Christmas Story

 By all counts, Luke’s gospel is a wealth of historical information.

He opens it this way:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us… it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you might know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. (Luke 1:1;3-4)

Luke’s primary concern is order and accuracy, so that the recipient of the document (a certain Theophilus), “might know the certainty of those things in which he was instructed (v. 4).”

Not only is Luke’s account orderly, it is an excellent record of what truly happened that no-so-silent night, two thousand years ago.

The great classical archaeologist Sir William Ramsay, said that Luke was a “first rate historian…”

One who writes “…historical works of the highest order, in which a writer commands excellent means of knowledge, either through personal acquaintance or through access to original authorities, and brings to the treatment of his subject genius, literary skill, and sympathetic historical insight into human character and the movement of events. Such an author seizes the critical events, concentrates the reader’s attention on them by giving them fuller treatment…”[1]

One such event to which Luke draws attention is a government census which took place during the reign of Augustus, before Christ was born. This event is a pivotal event in the Christmas story and is often looked at with skepticism by some.

At the very beginning of Luke’s Christmas narrative in Luke 2:1-5 we are told that a census took place in the entire Roman world. The words are very familiar during Christmas as they are read aloud in so many sermons, plays, musicals and Christmas celebrations.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Qurinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered, to Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child (Luke 2:1-5).

For many years, historians and scholars have pointed to the passage above mentioning the decree by Quirinius, as problematic if not completely inaccurate. Did a census really take place in the entire Roman world during that time, and did Mary & Joseph actually go up to Bethlehem to be registered, as Luke Gospel says?

New Testament scholar Dr. Harold W. Hoehner has summarized some of the top challenges faced by those who hold to the historical accuracy of Luke’s account.

He writes:

“[Emil] Schurer states that Luke cannot be historically accurate because: (1) nothing is known in history of a general census during the time of Augustus; (2) in a Roman census Joseph would have not had to travel to Bethlehem, but would have registered in the principle town of his residence, and Mary would hat have had to register at all; (3) no Roman census would have been made in Palestine during Herod’s reign; (4) Josephus records nothing of a Roman census in Palestine in the time of Herod – rather the census of A.D. 6-7 was something new among the Jews; and (5) a census held under Qurinius could not have occurred during Herod’s reign for Quirinius was not governor until after Herod’s death.”[2]

At first glance, these objections to the Roman census during the reigns of emperor [imperator] Caesar Augustus (Octavius) and governor [legatus] Quirinus may seem insurmountable and quite difficult to answer, but an honest appraisal of the historical and archaeological evidence suggests that they are not.

The objections we will answer here are 1 and 2 – (1) the claim that nothing is known in history of a general census during the time of Augustus, and (2) that in a Roman census Mary & Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem to register.

Was There Census During the Reign of Augustus in the Roman World?

Roman denarius

Roman denarius

It is a commonly held assumption that the decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world was to be taxed, was a single census [a single event] in the entire Roman empire. The question is, is this how Luke understood it, or intended it to be understood? Very likely, not.

According to Hoehner, “What is meant is that censuses were taken at different times in different provinces – Augustus being the first one in history to order a census or tax assessment of the whole provincial empire. This is further substantiated by the fact that Luke uses the present tense indicating that Augustus ordered censuses to be taken regularly, rather than only one time.”[3]

New Testament historian Jack Finegan says, “As to the taking of such an enrollment in general, it is known from discoveries among the Egyptian papyri that a Roman census was taken in Egypt, and therefore perhaps also throughout the empire regularly, every fourteen years. Many actual census returns have been found, and they use the very same word (ἀπογράφω) which Luke 2:2 uses for the “enrollment.”[4]

The specific census which Luke mentions (Lk. 2:2), is that it “first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.”

Apart from Luke we have two other historical sources concerning Quirinius – the Roman historian, Tacitus (Annals 3.48) and the Jewish/Roman historian, Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 18.1-2).

According to Tacitus (Annals 3.48), P. Sulpicius Quirinius died in A.D. 21.

Josephus’s reference to Quirinius in Antiquities of the Jews (18,I,1.) poses somewhat of a problem, because he informs us that the “taxings conducted by Quirinius while governing Syria were made in the thirty-seventh year of Caesar’s victory over [Marc] Anthony at Actium in 31 B.C.. This would place the census in about A.D. 6/7, a date which is too late to be brought into alignment with the birth of Christ which was likely in the winter 5/4 B.C.[5]

In Luke’s account in Luke 2:2, he speaks of a census which “first” took place when Quirinius was governing Syria, so it is not out of the question that the census to which Josephus is referring was the second one, while Luke mentions the “first” one [i.e the earlier one].

Gleason Archer also notes that Luke, “was therefore well aware of the second census, taken by Quirinius in A.D. 7, which Josephus alludes to… We know this because Luke (who lived much closer to the time that Josephus did) also quotes Gamaliel as alluding to the insurrection of Judas of Galilee “in the days of census taking” (Acts 5:37).[6]

Additional evidence also seems to suggest that Quirinius served as governor twice which would then put him in an official position over Syria to enact the census of Luke 2:2. In 1784, a Latin inscription was discovered near Tivoli, located about twenty miles east of Rome. It is known as the Lapis Tiburtinus inscription, and according to Jack Finegan it, “…contains the statement of a high Roman official that when he became governor of Syria he entered the office for the second time (Latin, iterum). It has even been thought that this personage might have been Quirinius…”[7]

Whatever the identity is of the Roman official mentioned in the inscription, at minimum shows that it was not uncommon for Roman procurators to have served twice, and maximally it may eventually reveal that it was Quirinius himself, through further research.

Is it Plausible that Mary & Joseph Traveled to Bethlehem for the Census?

Luke 2:4-5 states: And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Mary & Joseph traveling to Bethlehem

Mary & Joseph traveling to Bethlehem

Objection 2 listed above states, that in a Roman census Joseph would have not had to travel to Bethlehem, but would have registered in the principle town of his residence, and Mary would not have had to register at all.

It was generally understood that Roman law instructed property owners to register for taxation in the district where they owned land. However, “…a papyrus dated to A.D. 104, records an Egyptian prefect who ordered Egyptians to return to their ancestral homes so that a census could be taken. In first century Rome, since the Jews’ property was linked to their fathers (i.e. patriarchal), the Romans would certainly have allowed them the custom of laying claim to their family estate for taxation.”[8]

Since every person needed to appear in his ancestral homeland and since Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and pregnant with child, the two traveled to Bethlehem together. Surely Mary & Joseph would have understood the Scriptures, and the prophecies concerning Israel’s Messiah – that He must be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). It must have been truly amazing from their perspective, to see pieces of the Messianic puzzle fall in place – even if the pieces were official decrees from the Roman empire!

Once again, when Scripture is placed under the scrutiny of historical and archaeological research, it stands the test in amazing ways.

This is but one small example of where archaeology and history corroborate the Scripture to the finest detail. Luke’s gospel is just the first part of a two-volume set in which Acts is the second. Colin Hemer’s massive study, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History details at least 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by either historical or archeological research.

Truly Luke is indeed a remarkable historian. Like Theophilus, we can know the certainty of the things in which we have been instructed (the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

Jesus Came In the Fullness of Time

In Galatians 4:4 the Apostle Paul wrote: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

When Jesus the Messiah arrived, His timing was perfect! From the appearing of the star to the wise men, to the taking of the census by Rome, it was not too soon, and not too late. His first coming was not only perfect chronologically and historically, it was perfect in God’s providential time.

If Christ’s first coming is any indication of what the Second coming will be like – we can rest assured that the timing of His Second Coming (Revelation 19:11-21) will be right on God’s perfect divine time, once again.

 

[1] William Ramsay, Saint Paul: The Traveler and Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001 reprint), 16.

[2] Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), 14.

[3] Ibid., 15

[4] Jack Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past: The Archaeological Background of the Hebrew-Christian Religion, Volume II (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 258.

[5] See Finegan, Ibid., 259, See also Hoehner’s work on this date which goes into much more detail in the original sources; Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), especially Chapter 1, ‘The Date of Christ’s Birth,’ pp. 29-44.

 

[6] Gleason L. Archer, Jr., New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982),

[7] See, Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and Problems of Chronology in the Bible, Revised Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), p. 304. A view also held by William Ramsay, Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 4th Ed., London, 1920, pp. 275-300.

[8] See, Harold Hoehner, p.15

Debating Christianity and Islam on Spice FM: A Conversation on the Deity of Christ

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn3s7Q63DyM&w=560&h=315]

I was recently invited to do a debate on a local radio station that airs in Tyneside, England, called Spice FM. Every Thursday, a Muslim program, called “Eye on the East”, run by Muslim activist Daniel Johnson of the Islamic Diversity Center airs. In the video above, I take on Daniel Johnson and Muslim apologist Majid Younus on the identity of Christ and the validity of the Triune concept of God. Enjoy! You can listen to two other recent radio interviews I have done on the subject of Islam here and here.

Godbuster: A Debate With Elliot George

This past week I engaged in a radio debate with an atheist on Unbelievable on Premier Christian Radio (which you can listen to here). My interlocutor was a British atheist, a retired biology teacher who goes by the pseudonym Elliot George. In his book, Godbuster, George attempts to dismantle theistic belief. I knew when I saw the front cover that the book was unlikely to be particularly professional or intellectually challenging. After all, who writes “Dare you read this?” on the front cover of an intellectually serious piece of work? This initial impression was further compounded when I noticed that the book contains no citations or references, except for the occasional in-text citation to YouTube or Wikipedia. Apparently Elliot George was even reliant upon Wikipedia as his source for the ten commandments (p. 125).

The intellectual content of the book is also confronted with severe problems. The book showed little, if any, engagement or interaction with high-level Christian argumentation. No serious Christian arguments were addressed by the book. Instead, George throughout the book persists in attacking strawmen, even redefining terminology to comport with his position. Read more

“Naturalism or Christian Theism: Where Does the Evidence Point?” TreeSearch Founder Blake Giunta Debates Justin Schieber

I want to draw readers’ attention to a great debate that recently took place at the University of Texas at Dallas, between Blake Giunta, the founder of a recently-developed online apologetics resource called “Belief Map“, and Justin Schieber, the host of the Reasonable Doubts radio show and podcast. Blake posted a postmortem review of the debate at his website. That, along with a video of the debate itself, can be found here. I highly recommend watching this debate for yourself and reading the summary over at the TreeSearch website. Blake is an up-and-coming apologist and has shown himself to be widely read, thoughtful and reflective, and winsome in his approach. I am sure we will be hearing a lot more of him in the future.

You Can Still Hear the Recording of My Appearance on “Dogma Debate” Atheist Radio Show

A couple weeks ago I was invited, along with two friends, Blake and Derrick, to be on an atheist radio program called “Dogma Debate” (website here). Blake Giunta is the recent founder of a really great apologetics website called TreeSearch. The main host, David Smalley, and his co-hosts, enjoy interaction with Christian believers, and I applaud their efforts in seeking out opportunities to provide a platform to both sides of the argument to present and defend their case. Unfortunately, few shows are like this. Unbelievable, with host Justin Brierley, on Premier Christian Radio might be the closest Christian equivalent to this show. The hosts for this episode — indeed, our interlocutors — were David Smalley and Lydia Allen. We were originally invited on to discuss how Christians and atheists could better engage and interact with one another (something I have previously written about here). But, as is often the case with radio, the conversation went way off on a tangent quite quickly. The debate was rather intense at some points and went on for about three hours — then there was also the “After Show” discussion exclusive for paid subscribers, which went on for perhaps another 90 minutes.

You can listen to the debate at this link. Enjoy!

Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For? C.S. Lewis, Bono and the Argument from Desire

For better or worse I was a child of the 80’s, and during that time a new rock band came on the scene that changed pop music, both in Britain, America and eventually the world. I immediately loved their sound as soon as I heard it. Their style was unique, and the lyrics had a real message. Their songs resonated much deeper than the typical pop tunes being played on the radio. That band was U2 from Dublin Ireland.

In May of 1987 the band released their 5th studio album titled “The Joshua Tree.” The second track on that album is a “gospel-esque” song that producer Danny Lanois encouraged Bono to write.[1] The song is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The song has been acclaimed by many critics and publications as one of the greatest songs of all time.[2]

What makes this song so unique and timeless? Sure it’s Bono’s excellent vocals, Adam Clayton’s chilled-out bass, and the Edge’s astral guitar licks, but I believe that it is also something more, something much deeper. The song touches on a truth that is embedded in all people – a deep sense of longing and desire for something that this present world cannot fully satisfy. Here is the second refrain.

 

I have kissed honey lips

Felt the healing in her finger tips

It burned like fire

(I was) burning inside her.

 

I have spoke with the tongue of angels

I have held the hand of a devil

It was warm in the night

I was cold as a stone.

 

But I still haven’t found

What I’m looking for.

But I still haven’t found

What I’m looking for.

 

The song is written in the style of a gospel-lament which has it roots in the Psalms, the Lamentations of Jeremiah and later, African-American Spirituals. So, what is the singer lamenting?

He is lamenting that no matter what he tries or what he does, ultimate satisfaction isn’t found in this world. His satisfaction must come from somewhere else. He was made for something else, for somewhere else, or perhaps for someone else. He is a pilgrim and a sojourner on this earth, “just a passing through.”

Here a much younger “Edge” explains the origins of the song & Bono sings it with a gospel church choir in Harlem, NY.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis articulates an argument for the existence of God based on our dissatisfactions as well as our deepest desire, which sounds a lot like the lyrics of U2’s song. I would even argue that the core idea is the virtually the same.

Lewis’s argument goes like this:

…A baby feels hunger; well there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world[3]

Philosopher Peter Kreeft has done us a great service and re-formulated Lewis’s argument from desire into a syllogism that might be a little easier to follow.

  1. Every natural innate desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire
  2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth and no creature can satisfy.
  3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.
  4. This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”[4]

Premise 1 – Every natural desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire

The key here is that every natural desire has a corresponding reality. The implication is that there is a distinction between two kinds of desires – natural desires and artificial desires. Everyone has natural desires, like the desire for water, food, sleep, friendship (companionship), etc…, but we also have desires for things that are artificial, or conditioned by society – like the desire to be famous, or the desire to possess superpowers (like one of the Avengers), or the desire to own a Ferrari.

However, with the artificial desires we don’t recognize a condition called “Ferrari-lessness” which corresponds to, say a natural desire like the desire for water (thirst), or for food (hunger).

Premise 2 – But there exists a desire in us which nothing in time, nothing on earth and no creature can satisfy.

This premise is existentially true, and either one senses it or not. It can’t be forced. It may be pointed out, however, that even though one might not sense a desire for God, it doesn’t mean that the desire is non-existent,  just buried under the concerns, the worries and the busyness of life.

The Southern novelist Walker Percy commenting on “the search” in his classic novel The Moviegoer (1961) touches on this idea:

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

Something is missing, so we despair. Indeed, as Thoreau writes, “…most men live lives of quiet desperation” (Civil Disobedience & other Essays), or like mythical, Greek Sisyphus, we “feel” the futility and the endless drudgery of work & life and deeply sense that there must be “something more.”

If God is the ultimate source of joy and fellowship, then nothing but Him and Him alone (& life with Him forever) will satisfy the heart of every person.

This truth has been articulated by many different voices throughout history.

“For He [God] has set eternity in the hearts of men…” – King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

“Thou, O Lord hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” – St. Augustine (The Confessions)

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” – Blaise Pascal (Pensees)

“Not to be onto something is to be in despair” – Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)

“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” – U2 (Bono)

Peter Kreeft brilliantly summarizes premise 2 this way:

The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone defies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you really?” But we can only appeal, we cannot compel… Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’”[5]

Premise 3 – Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.

Premise 4 – This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”

Admittedly, the conclusion of this argument is not an “air-tight” case for the God of the Bible, but it is certainly a stepping stone. When the argument from desire is placed alongside of other arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument, then I think it makes a pretty compelling case worthy of serious consideration.

Kreeft says, “What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy.”[6]

Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. ~ C.S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory, pg. 42)

Truth, Goodness & Beauty

It may be that beauty, and our desire for infinite beauty and truth and goodness is where we feel the unfulfilled longing[7] the most, as Kreeft brilliantly explains:

There are three things that will never die: truth, goodness and beauty. These are three things that we all need, and need absolutely, and know we need absolutely. Our minds want not only some truth and some falsehood, but all truth, without limit. Our wills want not only some good and some evil, but all good, without limit. Our desires, imaginations, feelings or hearts just want not just some beauty and some ugliness, but all beauty without limit.

For these are three things that we will never get bored with, and never will, for all eternity, because they are three attributes of God, and therefore all God’s creation: three transcendental or absolutely universal principles of all reality.   …Truth, goodness and beauty are ‘patches of Godlight’ here in the ‘Shadowlands.’ Their home is Yonder.[8]

Christianity teaches that the only way to truly KNOW God is through Jesus Christ who came to reveal Him for Who He truly is.

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3)

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Still_Haven%27t_Found_What_I%27m_Looking_For (accessed, Sept. 2, 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, chap. 10

[4] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL, 1994), pp. 78-81, also see his “The Argument from Desire” on http://peterkreeft.com/topics/desire.htm (accessed Jan. 1, 2006).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kreeft, Op cit.

[7] In his autobiographical work Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis explored his own experiences with what he called “the stab, the pain, the iconsolable longing” that he was sure all human beings felt.

[8] Peter Kreeft, “Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness and Beauty,” in David Baggett, Gary R. Habermas and Jerry Walls, Editors, C.S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 23-36.

Was There Only One God in the Beginning?

The Case for Original Monotheism from Wilhelm Schmidt

Where did the idea of one supreme God originate? There are really only two options: either monotheism (mono– “one” theos – “god”) was original to humans from the very beginning, or it was an invention or development of religion in early human cultures.

Anthropologists and historians of religion, at least since the European Enlightenment, and certainly by the end of nineteenth century, have taught that the idea of “one supreme God” was not original to mankind, but rather was a late development in the history of religion stemming from animism and/or polytheism. Today Muslims, Christians and Jews comprise the three great monotheistic faiths of the world. The adherents to these three faiths reach well into the billions.

According to the Bible, God directly created mankind from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:5-9). In the Genesis account, the first man and woman (Adam & Eve), enjoyed direct fellowship and communication with God. The fellowship was broken when the first humans acted independently of God by an act of direct disobedience to His command (Gen. 3). The results of that act of disobedience was broken fellowship with God and banishment from His presence.

If we track with the Bible’s account of history, then as the population of the earth increased, mankind moved further and further away from God, where eventually an understanding of who He was, was either lost or replaced with polytheism, the deification of the forces of nature, or some combination of both.

In his excellent new book, In the Beginning God, Winfried Courduan states that,

The Bible does not give us an account to how idolatry and polytheism arose historically. We know that Abraham came from a line of people who worshipped a moon god, but we don’t know where that chain was broken. …there is good reason to believe that there were other monotheists around besides Melchizedek. Further, there were multiple opportunities to learn about the one God, not to mention the probability of there having been a live memory carried all along in Moses family.[1]

Nevertheless, in Genesis 12 we learn that God did not allow mankind to be unaware of who He was, but appeared to a man in ancient Mesopotamia named Abram. Historian F.E. Peters summarizes:

…at a given moment in historical time, he [God] addressed himself to one Abram, the sheikh of an extended family of Near Eastern sheep nomads who were camping in what is today called the Negev. Worship me, the god said, and I will make you and yours a great people. It was not a unique or a solitary voice; we know from plentiful evidence that there were other, many other, gods on that landscape and in the minds of Abram’s contemporaries. Abram, however, limited his worship to this one deity, and the god in turn granted his favor to Abram, or Abraham, as he was henceforward called.[2]

God tells Abraham to count the stars (Gen. 15:5)

God tells Abraham to count the stars (Gen. 15:5)

Later in biblical history, God would appear once again, but this time to Moses who grew up in Egypt, another nation of many gods. In the famous scene of the burning bush (Ex. 3), when Moses asks God His name, God tells Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex. 3:15). Finally, when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20) the first three commandments all deal with the nature of the one true God and what it means to properly worship Him and Him only (Ex. 20:3-7).

That was the working narrative for at least nineteen centuries until the rise of naturalistic & skeptical theories concerning the Bible and the rise of monotheism.

In the seventeenth century Dutch philosopher, Benedict Spinoza published the Theologico-Political Treatise in 1670 (also posthumously in 1677). In it he argued (among other things), that all revealed religion had to be analyzed on the basis of reason; not blind faith. Theology & philosophy must be kept separate. He categorically denied prophecy, miracles & the supernatural. He also denied Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and stated that it was probably a cobbled-together text which was likely composed of multiple authors.

In the following years, scholars such as Thomas Hobbs, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Julius Welhausen and many others followed Spinoza in their distrust of the biblical record of history.

By the end of the nineteenth century many scholars had developed serious doubts about the Bible’s account of reality, especially the dawn of history’s monotheistic origins in Eden.

Wilhelm Schmidt to the Rescue!

Enter Wilhelm Schmidt, a German scholar who lived in the early twentieth century and argued on scholarly grounds, that the original religion of human beings was monotheism. According to Corduan, “In 1906 Schmidt created a journal called Anthropos, [which was] intended to provide missionaries with greater awareness of new developments in the field of cultural anthropology.”[3] From this humble beginning and focus on religion, Schmidt’s thesis eventually developed into a massive 12-volume work, Der Ursprung der Gottesidee [The Origin of the Idea of God] (Munster: Aschendorff, 1912-55).

Schmidt’s thesis of original monotheism derives from what he called the “culture-historical method.”[4]

[to read Schmidt’s main thesis for yourself, it is now available this excellent new reprint version The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories originally published in 1931]

Schmidt’s Main Thesis & Ideas

In his massive 12 volume work, “Ursprung” or The Origin of the Idea of God, Schmidt analyzed the major theories of comparative religion up to his day, as well the theories of the development of religion in ethnology from cultures around the world (ethnology is a branch of anthropology that compares global nations and cultures and how they identify themselves).

Essentially Schmidt’s case for original monotheism “is grounded in the culture-historical method by which we can discern which among present cultures appear to be the ones that most closely resemble the earliest human cultures. Ethnologically, those are the ones that show the least amount of growth in their material culture. And it is precisely those that display forms of monotheism” (W. Corduan). When all of the data are sifted and analyzed, Schmidt argues that one can discern the core belief of the earliest human cultures was monotheism, or a belief in “the Primitive High God” [one God].[5]

He writes:

…the goal of all work on the lines of the historical method is not to set up theories or hypotheses but to arrive at scientific certainty. Here we mean by ‘scientific certainty’ the facts which make up our picture of primitive religion, not indeed as atoms, but as an organic and mutually interdependent whole. …If we apply that criterion to the abundant mass of data which we can now produce regarding the primitive Supreme Being, the first thing to notice is that the total sum of facts is of a nature to satisfy the total sum of human needs…[6]

Schmidt’s thesis is well grounded in his extensive research and analysis in historical, linguistic, and anthropological studies. Yet, his theory also fits perfectly with what the Bible teaches about original monotheism (in Genesis).

That being said, Corduan warns us of absolute certainty beyond all objections in Schmidt’s “original monotheism” theory.

Have we (that is to say Wilhelm Schmidt and those of us who support his cause) really shown that original monotheism is true beyond all conceivable objections? Of course, we have not. It would be impossible for any human to do so. …There is no scientific enterprise where eliminating all “conceivable” objections is the point[7]

The point is that there are good and sold reasons (aside from, but also in support of the Bible) that are grounded in thorough research and data in the field, that mankind worshipped one God from the very beginnings of the human race.

Theistic Arguments Are Grounded in Both Reality and Scripture

Although this is not the main point of my post here, the second way in which one could argue for original monotheism is via theistic arguments. If theistic arguments (such as the cosmological, teleological and moral arguments) can succeed in establishing theism, then theism (properly defined) would be the default position in the history of humanity, and atheism only a recent development.

In a touch of irony then, the so-called “primitive” monotheists of the Ancient Near East [i.e. Abraham & Moses] were more up-to-date, and in touch with reality than today’s modern sophisticated and “educated” atheist elites.

The Unique Message of Christianity: The Broken Relationship Between God and Man Is Restored in Christ

Finally a brief word about the uniqueness of the Christian claim that is relevant to the question about original monotheism. Christianity has its roots deeply embedded in the Old Testament and as such Jesus claimed to be the one promised and predicted from the writings of the Old Testament prophets (Luke 4:14-21). Not only this, but He also made the audacious claim that He was God in human flesh (John 8:21-58), even stating that He was the visible manifestation of the great “I Am” (Creator & Covenant making God) of Exodus 3 when Moses spoke with God face to face from the burning bush. In John 8 the Jewish leaders questioned Jesus about His true identity.

Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”…(Jesus said), Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds (John 8:53-8).

When the Apostle Paul was waiting for his traveling companions in Athens he even made an appeal to the Athenian philosophers, to their belief in an “unknown God” in Acts 17.

For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription TO THE UNNKOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you; ‘God who made the world and everything in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath and all things. And He has made from one blood, every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth and has appointed their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’ “ (Acts 17:23-28).

Paul then continued to proclaim Christ and His resurrection to which some of them mocked, some believed and yet others were curious to hear more (Acts 17:32-34).

Christ came for one reason only and that is to perfectly reveal the God whose fellowship was broken with mankind in the garden. He restored the knowledge of God and even more by His death, burial and resurrection, showing the world what God is truly like.

He is the image of the invisible God the first-born over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on the earth, visible and invisible…For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness [of deity] should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:15-16, 19-20).

 

[1] Winfried Courduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2013), location 5409 in the Kindle Edition

[2] F.E. Peters, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, Vol. 1 The Peoples of God (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press), xix.

[3] Forward in Wilhelm Schmidt’s, The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (Protorville, OH: Wythe-North Publishing, 2014), v.

[4] Ibid.,pp 219ff.

[5] W. Schmidt, The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories (Protorville, OH: Wythe-North Publishing), p. 283.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Win Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2013), loc 5809 in the Kindle Ed.

Do Ideas Have Consequences? Indeed They Do!

In 1948 an English professor at the University of Chicago penned a book whose main idea resonates well into the modern world and into today’s news headlines. The professor was Richard Weaver and his book was Ideas Have Consequences.

The main thesis of Weaver’s book is that philosophy undergirds all of society. What we believe about reality matters. What we say or think is real matters. Language, and how we use it is important.

In 1948 many intellectuals in Europe and America were left dumbfounded as to how such atrocities could have been committed by Germany in WWII. In the 1930’s, Germany was one of THE most literate nations in the world, so it wasn’t that Germans were ill informed or unintelligent. After all, Germany had produced such brilliant musical luminaries as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and hugely influential philosophers like Hegel, Kant, etc…

The problem, as Weaver saw it, wasn’t literacy or education per se, it was the KIND of philosophy that was informing the German view of reality.

Weaver believed that the root problem was the philosophy of nominalism. What is nominalism?

Read more

Has Joshua’s Ai Been Discovered?

Last year Christianity Today named their top ten archaeological discoveries of 2013. On the top of the list was an object that looks like a small insignificant amulet carved from stone. As it turns out, the object was a scarab from the 18th Dynasty of Egypt – very likely from the reign of Thutmose III or Amenhotep II based on parallels. The significance for those who believe in the Biblical accounts of the Conquest of Canaan as outlined in the Old Testament book of Joshua is great! The scarab is a key piece of evidence excavated last year at an archaeological site situated approximately 9 miles north of Jerusalem. That site is called Khirbet el-Maqatir and the evidence points to it as the city of Ai which the Old Testament (in Joshua 8) states was destroyed by Joshua in around 1406 B.C..

Read more

Getting Over a Hump: Does the Lack of Camel Bones Disprove the Historicity of the Biblical Patriarchs?

In a recent article published in the journal Tel Aviv, Drs. Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, believe that they have pin pointed the date of the domestication of camels in Israel.

Their research is based primarily from data that they have collected from the Aravah (or Arabah) valley located in the southern Levant. The Arabah which is now desert, was a once verdant valley in antiquity. The Arabah is located just south of the Dead Sea and runs roughly north and south bordering Israel & Jordan (see image below)

The Arabah (from Google Earth)

The Arabah (from Google Earth)

The conclusion of their research indicates that camels were domesticated between the 9th – 12th century B.C.. An article which summarized the finding stated:

“In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”[1]

The researchers seemed overly eager to point out the discrepancy with the Bible.

“Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.[2]

But, is it really the case that the biblical narratives which mention the patriarchs, were written after the events they describe? Or, could there be another explanation?

Camels and the Biblical Patriarchs

As far back as the book of Genesis, camels are can be linked with such Old Testament patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob, Laban and Moses. Camels are also mentioned periodically on various other occasions throughout later Old Testament history.

Francisco Hayez - 1844 (Wikicommons)

Jacob meets Esau by Francisco Hayez – 1844 (Wikicommons)

In Genesis 12:16 & 24:10-67 camels were used for a trip to Syria; they were also included as a bride price, and when Abraham was in Egypt camels were a small part of larger herds of other animals.

In Genesis 30:43; 31:34; 32:15 Jacob’s flocks along with Laban included camels as herd animals for Esau in the Seir area. In the Joseph narrative (Gen. 37:25) camels were used by Midianite-Ishmaelite traders caravanning to Egypt. In Exodus 9:3 camels were among the animals which were plagued during Moses’ day in Egypt.

Resolving the Camel Anachronism

For those of us who hold that the Old Testament patriarchal narratives are historical in nature, how does one solve the dilemma that this new research seems to reveal? Does the lack of camel bones in southern Israel (in the Arabah) during the Patriarchal period reveal the biblical narrative to be the work of late writers?

There are four good reasons why I do not believe this recent “discovery” is fatal to the historicity of the Old Testament patriarchs.

First of all, one of the many things that the history of archaeology in the Levant has shown over the past several decades is that one report is certainly not the last word on any given subject on ancient or biblical history. New research continues to overthrow long-held assumptions and biases against the Bible.[3]

Secondly, the archaeologists primary research area was conducted (according to their own report) in copper mining sites in the southern Arabah. According to the Bible, the patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, et. al.), were pastoralists and semi-nomads whose travel itinerary would not have left them in any one place for any length of time. It is not surprising why little camel remains are discovered in the southern Levant.

Third, as Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen points out, camels don’t actually figure that large in the lives of the patriarchs in any significant sense anyway. He writes:

“A common claim is that mentions of camels are anachronistic before circa 1100. What are the facts? In biblical terms, between roughly 2000 and 1200 their role is minimal.”[4]

In other words – yes – the biblical patriarchs owned camels, but it is not as if they were camel traders or camel herders. Camels played a small part in their lives.

But even so, other research suggests that camels have been present on the Arabian peninsula since at least 6,000 B.C.. From 2200-1200 B.C. rock art in Southwest Arabia and possible camel remains from Bir Risisim in the Levant suggest that camels were used for their milk and for transport.[5]

Camels were definitely present in the geographical area, as well as during the time of the patriarchs, so merely because we don’t find their remains in one specific location or archaeological period, certainly doesn’t mean that there are none at all.

This leads me to the fourth and final reason – Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – a phrase often attributed to the great American Biblical archaeologist, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi. In chaper IV of Dr. Yamauchi’s great book, The Stones and the Scriptures (written 42 years ago) he rightly asks:

“How much of the evidence has survived the ravages of time? How many ancient sites have archaeologists been able to excavate? When does the lack of evidence for a biblical statement prove that an error is involved? Does archaeology offset the negative appraisal of the Bible developed by higher criticism? …Historians of antiquity in using the archaeological evidence have very often failed to realize how slight is the evidence at our disposal. It would not be exaggerating to point out that what we have is but a fraction of the possible evidence.”[6]

For more information on the historicity of the Old Testament Patriarchs see my previous articles here


            [1]http://www.aftau.org/site/News2/2024116989?page=NewsArticle&id=19673&news_iv_ctrl=-1 (accessed, February 11, 14)

            [2]Ibid.

            [3] For example: the discovery of the “Tel-Dan inscription” in 1993-4 by Avraham Biram in Northern Israel, containing the extra-biblical name of David (in the Tel-Dan Stele)

            [4] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Cambridge, U.K.; 2003), 338-9.

            [5] See, Juris Zarins, “Camel,” in David Noel Freedman, Editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 1, A-C (New York, London: Anchor Doubleday, 1992), 824-6.

            [6] Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Stones and Scriptures (Philadelphia & New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1972), 146-62.

The Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye “Post-Debate” Round Up

Just as expected, the much anticipated and hyped debate between Kan Ham (CEO of Answers in Genesis) & Bill Nye (the “Science” Guy) sparked a “mini-blizzard” of blogs and articles from people on both sides of the debate (I guess this is just one more to add to the pile).

Ham-Nye debate

If you happened to miss the debate, it will be posted here on the AiG (Answers in Genesis) website and will also available for purchase. An estimated three million people viewed the debate which was streamed live from the internet to schools, churches and colleges across America and around the world.

It is certainly easy to play “Monday morning quarterback” on these sorts of debates. Both men are to be admired for being willing to stand “in the arena” and defend their respective views and take criticism.

I thought both men handled themselves admirably, although I must say that I thought Nye was more personable and passionate when he was speaking which certainly plays to his favor rhetorically. One of Ken Ham’s strongest moments, I thought, was when he played the clips of various PhD. scientists who are  creationists and have either invented useful technologies [MRI] or have conducted peer-reviewed research, undercutting Nye’s claim that a belief in Divine creation stifles or limits science.

Nearly everyone has thoughts on what “should have been said” or “what kinds of evidence should have been used.”

I read though the various blogs and articles, however, I came across several great points which I will highlight in a moment.

Originally, I had planned on writing a point-by-point critique and evaluation of the debate, but since that has already been done on numerous other sites (which I will list below for your consideration); instead, I will review just a couple of my personal expectations on what I thought the debate would accomplish (I originally shared all six on my personal Facebook page) and whether or not they “played out” as I expected.

1. Both debaters represent a popular understanding of the respective positions on this debate (Faith & Science). It will certainly not be settled in this debate, but will spark even more debate and reams of new blogs from apologists scrambling to distance themselves from “Simple minded” creationists like Ken Ham.

As expected, I remain unconvinced that someone who was watching the debate last night will walk away with a deeper and more enlightened understanding of this complex issue (i.e. faith and science and their compatibility).

There’s certainly nothing wrong with public speakers who try to popularize complex ideas and communicate them to an broad audience (that’s what I do!), but I don’t believe that these two gentlemen were the best representatives of their respective “camps.”

As a friend of mine pointed out last night, “…they both seemed like they were giving infomercials for their respective audiences.” I agree.

Also expected and fulfilled were the reams of new blogs and articles from apologists offering alternative explanations and perspectives (I guess this one is a self-fullfilled prophecy!).

2. As a classically trained apologist (in the vein of Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Geisler, et. al.), I cringe at the very likely possibility that Ham will “…beg the question” in his presuppositional approach to defending the Bible. When and if he uses evidence, I will rejoice and be glad.

The question that was debated was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” While this is a good question, it actually doesn’t get at the root issue which is whether or not a theistic God exists and what evidence, if any points to His existence.

At CrossExamined we don’t take an official position on the age of the earth. We have students and supporters who defend each of the mainline views on origins (i.e. Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism, etc…).

That said however, we confidently stand on evidence in support of our belief in a personal, all-powerful, space-less, timeless, immaterial Creator. We leave it to Christians to sift the evidence for themselves, as to whether or not the earth is young or old.

The question of the age of the earth is a “second order question.” The question of God’s existence is a “first order question.” In dialoguing and debating non-believers, we should not front-load the conversation with secondary questions. Establishing God’s existence is primary.

Last night Ken Ham’s very starting point for science was the Bible itself and the age of the earth. The only problem with that is that Bill Nye and perhaps millions of others, don’t accept the Bible as true because they don’t believe there is a God.

My criticism isn’t necessarily leveled against Ken Ham’s Young Earth Creationism (or some of the other evidences he presented), rather it’s against the WAY that he argued which is just as important. In beginning with the Bible, he put the cart before the horse.

Let me be perfectly clear – I am a staunch defender of Biblical inerrancy, but in order for inerrancy to be philosophically true, Truth (with a capital “T”) must exist, God must exist and naturalism (as a worldview) must be false. The space-time universe is not a closed system, so miracles and the supernatural are very reasonable possibilities.

3. The truth of Romans 1 & Psalm 19 has been in full operation since the creation of the world when there were no publicly hyped debates.

One of the great things about God’s Word is that its truths are timeless and ever relevant.

Creation itself (which is silent yet vocal – Psa. 19:3-4) is the greatest evidence for the Creator. The evidence is so great and overwhelming that there is no debate – all men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). The age of the earth wasn’t an issue when Paul penned Romans, yet he tells us that “everyone can know that there is a Creator.”

Below are a few blogs that I found especially helpful in illuminating and evaluating the Nye/Ham debate.

Helpful Blogs About the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate On Feb 4th, 2014

Casey Luskin (Discovery Institute) Old Earth Creationist 

David Coppedge (Creation Writer) Young Earth Creationist 

Melissa Cain Travis (Houston Baptist University) Old Earth Creationist

Dr. Albert Mohler (President, Southern Seminary) Young Earth Creationist 

 

 

Human Design Blindly Echoes Design in Nature

"Gears" from a plant hopping insect look designed

“Gears” from a plant hopping insect.

Scientists continually tell us that certain features found in nature are not “designed” but are the product of unguided evolutionary development. In his book The Blind Watchmaker biologist Richard Dawkins curiously has to remind his readers and warn them that some things in nature may appear designed when in fact they are not. He wrote that, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

A recent article posted by Christian apologist, Melissa Cain Travis, offers some compelling reasons that nature is in fact, designed. Many of these designs are copied either unconsciously or consciously (via the science of Biomimicry) by humans. The most reasonable inference is that these designs come from an Intelligent Creator.

You can read about it here