Friday, September 30, 2011

What Is Atheism? Part 5: Krueger and Miracles

Nick Peters continues his series:


In our continuing look at Krueger’s “work” the fifth chapter is about miracles. Do they prove that God exists? You know that it’s going to be a highly errant look at the topic when the first sentence is just wrong.

“A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature because of supernatural influence.”

Well, no. A miracle is what happens when God intervenes in a situation that disrupts what would normally happen had He not intervened. It is not a violation of the laws of nature as the laws of nature still remain intact. The loaves and fishes were miraculously created, but the digestion process went on as normal. God created a sperm in Mary for the virgin birth, but the birth process went on for the same nine months.

Such a way of phrasing the topic poisons the well. Unfortunately for Krueger, he cites no theological or philosophical dictionary that gives such a definition. Make it a point readers to watch the way people define terms. Often they can set it to win at the outset with just how they define their terms.

Of course, the argument is Humean (see link below) and has been dealt with. By this point, most every Christian philosopher and their mother has answered Hume. Still, his ghost keeps coming back. (Hmmm. Perhaps that should be considered a miracle.)

As an example of the idea, Krueger says that if we hear about a man who was holy and floated in mid-air because he was in a trance, we must either believe everyone has been mistaken about gravity, or that the report misunderstands or is lying. Instead, it could simply be that if said case was true, God was working but not violating a law of nature as gravity still holds throughout the universe. One can believe in gravity and also believe a higher power can cause something to float that normally wouldn’t.

Interestingly, Krueger goes on to say the laws of nature are not known completely. While I agree with this tentatively (I still hold out questions on if we can really speak of laws of nature), I see this as a great weakness in the argument. It means that whatever happens, Krueger can just say “Well that’s not a miracle. We just don’t understand the law yet.”

So if Krueger is presented with evidence that he cannot deny that Jesus rose from the dead, he’s really going to try to look for a law of nature that will explain one resurrection that took place at one point in time rather than thinking about eschatological fulfillment, the honor-shame dynamic, etc.?

Keep in mind, we theists are the ones who are supposed to examine our claims.

Krueger says there are also always alternative explanations. Sure. So what? That doesn’t mean they’re right. One shouldn’t go with an explanation because it’s an alternative to one you don’t like. You should go with it because it is true. In a revealing sentence at the end of the page on this part he says “Almost any other proposed explanation for a seeming miracle would be more likely to be true than theism because the other claims would not assert the existence of a supreme being, a situation which would place the theistic proposal at a great disadvantage.”

In other words, we have to assert any possibility that could be true except theism and since we cannot accept the theistic claim, that puts theism at a great disadvantage.

No joke. Really?

Krueger also says that even if the laws were violated, it would not show God’s existence since gods are usually thought to bring about events by magic powers or uttering certain words and that it could never be established that one god chose to do a miracle instead of another.

Well, maybe unless we could do something like establish that only one God exists which has been done….

Krueger also dismisses any biblical testimony since he thinks he’s shown the Bible to be unreliable. (See link to previous blog post on that topic)

Finally, Krueger says all such claims outside the Bible have not held up under examination. He tells about CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. An example worth mentioning is the Shroud of Turin. I have not seen word yet of this being refuted. Even if one does not accept it, there are a lot of unanswered questions about it. I wouldn’t use it in an apologetic argument, but it is something fun to think about.

I conclude that Krueger is simply dismissing every miracle claim too fast not also aware that even the Catholic Church has its own branch to investigate miracle claims thoroughly.

Not much here today folks. We’ll see what chapter 6 has next time.

On Hume

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Panic in the Henhouse

About a week ago, I issued a challenge to Norman Geisler (link below) regarding his presuppositions concerning certain aspects of his arguments against Mike Licona.

A day or so later, someone posted a link to that challenge on Geisler’s ministry Facebook page.

Sometime in the last day or two, it was deleted – with no comment.

We want to know why – and we’ll keep the pressure on until an answer is produced.

Of course, it is possible that Geisler doesn’t manage his own ministry Facebook page (I don’t), and that it was deleted without his knowledge. But that still calls for an explanation. And to paraphrase his original open letter to Licona, he owes us one. (That’s being facetious, by the way.)

While we’re at it, I’m in the process of investigating this point made by Geisler:

…[t]here are far bigger and better scholarly circles than this, such as, the nearly 300 international scholars who formed the ICBI statement on inerrancy and its statements which declare that views like Licona’s were incompatible with the view of full inerrancy which declared that the Bible is wholly and completely without error and denied all dehistoricizing of the Gospel record.

I had an idea that “scholars” here was used a little too liberally, so I received a list of those “300 international scholars” to see how many actually qualify. I am up to the Es as of this typing, and the results are appalling. The list is top-heavy with pastors so far, most of whom we have no reason to believe would have sufficient knowledge to judge the issue Licona was writing on, and are decidedly undeserving to be called “scholars” in any real sense. Theologians are also top-heavy on the list: People whose scholarship is not in the right field. A handful are utterly unqualified; the list includes Josh McDowell, Hal Lindsey (!), Bill Bright, and a couple of businessmen so far. Many names cannot be further identified with anyone, presumably for reasons such as that they were deceased before record of them reached the Internet. I hope to confer with someone about any names I cannot correlate with known persons once I get done with my initial survey.

OT scholars are found in fair number (but still not many), while so far only 8 people out of 87 checked could be regarded as having some sort of competence in the subject area of concern to Licona (among them, D. A. Carson). And of course, Licona had gotten two of those 300 to sign in his favor already.

I’ll publish the results of my survey when it is complete. In the meantime, perhaps it is not hard to see why Geisler deleted that challenge.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Is Atheism? Part 4

We're back to Nick Peters taking on this dreary little tome. Maybe we could make Krueger more entertaining by drawing him in a monkey outfit.


For our fourth installment, the argument Krueger wishes to look at is if the Bible proves that God exists. This is not often an argument I see being used although I do think if one can establish prophecy, that counts for something, but that can turn into debates on textual criticism and hermeneutics way too easily. If there was any argument I’d use, it’d involve the Bible as a historical document and use it to establish basic facts about the resurrection of Jesus and from there show that God exists.

Krueger starts with prophecy and says that before we show a prophecy is truly what it is, we must rule out every other hypothesis. In a revealing statement on page 95 he writes “Given the extraordinarily strong claim about the nature of the theistic god, however, it would seem that almost any other explanation would be more likely than that of theism. Time-traveling human beings, amazing coincidences, carefully planned hoaxes, all would be more likely explanations for the supposed fulfillment of a prophecy than the god hypothesis because these claims are weaker than the theistic claim.”

Such a statement says much about Krueger. Because of the nature of the God claim, he is ready to believe anything else other than that. Do we have evidence of time-traveling human beings? No. They’re more likely however. Do we have any evidence of a major hoax the Jews had been planning on humanity for thousands of years? No. It’s more likely though. Krueger will say that we also lack evidence for God. We will deal with that later.

Kreuger then lists five criteria for prophecy.

#1-It must be clear and contain sufficient detail to make fulfillment by a wide variety of possible events unlikely.

On this one, I’d have some concerns about what is meant by clear. Does Krueger want everything to be spelled out? I would consider it sufficient to show it was understandable to the people of the time.

#2-The event that can fulfill it must be unusual or unique.

I really don’t have much issue with this one.

#3-The prophecy must be known to have been made prior to its fulfillment.

Obviously no problem.

#4-The event must not be what could be the result of an educated guess.

I would think it less likely to be divine, but in some cases, I could accept such an event. To have an educated guess fulfilled hundreds of years in the future however seems quite unlikely.

#5-It cannot be staged or manipulated by those aware of the prophecy.

No problem with this either.

Before we get to this point, Krueger has some statements about the Bible. In the midst he says that most of the books of the Old Testament were written centuries after the death of the person for whom it is named. Krueger states this as “known” but he gives no source whatsoever for this claim. He goes on to state the same of the NT saying the gospels were written decades afterwards.

Now of course in a sense, that’s true. 30 years later for some would count as decades. What Krueger does not state however is that in the ancient world if you had an account written decades after the event, scholars of ancient history would be drooling with excitement to see such an account so close to the events.

For some false prophecies, Krueger cites 2 Kings 22:20 and Ezekiel 26:3-36. (See links below) Krueger also thinks Jeremiah 31:4 could only point to 1948. It is doubtful that Krueger is aware that this event was fulfilled much sooner by the return of Judah from captivity.

For the New Testament, Krueger points to Jesus being supposedly in the heart of the Earth for three days and three nights. (See link below again) Next is Jesus being born a Nazarene in Matthew 2:23. (See link below) Of course, there’s Isaiah 7:14 being misunderstood. (See link below)

Krueger is unaware of preterist interpretations as he cites Matthew 16:28 and Matthew 10:23. It’s odd that he’d do this seeing as he believes the gospels were written late. Does he believe that they were written afterwards and with prophecies in them that would have been known to be false? Of course, there’s also that Jesus got the time of His second coming wrong, something I would most certainly disagree with. Of course, to make it most hilarious, Krueger recommends Callahan’s book on Bible Prophecy for those doubtful.

Krueger next wants to show that the Bible is unreliable and says that “The best unbiased bible scholars hold that there are good reasons to believe that the books of the bible are unreliable sources.” To begin with, this seems like a No True Scotsman Fallacy. How do you recognize the best unbiased scholars of the Bible? They hold that it is unreliable. Second, who are these scholars? What are their books? Where can I read their arguments? Your guess is as good as mine. Krueger gives no information.

Well what are Krueger’s reasons?

#1-Almost all the books of the Bible are anonymous. (Tekton has several articles on this issue according to book.)

#2-They were written decades after the events recorded. (Likewise, and note that this is still a blip in the ancient world)

#3-We have no original documents. (Likewise)

#4-The NT was written in Greek. (This isn’t a problem, and note that Krueger begins this part saying “If Jesus did exist.”

#5-At some points in church history, lying to promote Christianity was not only not discouraged but encouraged. There is unfortunately no source on this.

#6-Documents critical of Christianity were sought out and destroyed. (See link below and how this relates to textual criticism is anyone’s guess. Note his source on this is Joseph Hoffman.)

#7-Some manuscripts are different from copies of the same book. Krueger doesn’t say that this is the same for any ancient work and seems to think he’s ripped a hole into Christianity by pointing out that 1 John 5:7 is an interpretation. (See link below)

#8-Most NT books are known to be forgeries. There is no source here given. It is simply assertions. (See link below)

#9-The gospels are not independent accounts. This is amusing since he complains so much of contradictions, but if there was literary dependence going on to this level one would think there would be no contradictions.

#10-The development of the Bible undermines its reliability. For this, we have troubles with canonization saying that the first attempt to canonize the NT text was in 367, unaware there was for all intents and purposes an accepted canon at the time. Ironically, Krueger says this while on the very next page mentioning the Muratorian Canon and references to other fathers. His dispute of some is along the lines of “But they did not include Hebrews.” That the topic was even being discussed however shows that canonization was being attempted and that there was criteria.

#11-Biblical accounts contradict facts about nature and the ancient world.

For this, he has a few subheadings. To start with, he questions the credibility of the destruction of Ai based on an article in Biblical Archaeology Review. Second, Darius the Mede becoming king when Cyrus conquered the throne. Third, Daniel was written in the second century B.C. Also, that the conquest narratives are unhistorical with only a citation of William H. Stiebing Jr.

For other errors, there’s Leviticus 11:6 and Deuteronomy 14:7 stating hares chew the cud, the usual canard about bats being birds, Leviticus 11:23 about insects having four legs, (You think no one in thousands of years ever picked one up and counted?) and the events of Genesis 30:37-42.

Then, there are events such as the sun standing still in Joshua and the verses used to condemn Galileo. Finally for the OT, there are counting discrepancies between Ezra and Nehemiah. No shock that Thomas Paine’s opinion is cited. (Needless to say, Tekton's had articles on all these issues for quite some time; sample links below.)

For the NT, there’s the lack of mention of the atrocity of Bethlehem, and the darkness over the Earth and the mass resurrection in Matthew 27. Krueger states that historians like Philo-Judaeus lived in Jerusalem at the time but don’t mention Jesus or resurrections. There is no source that shows he was living there at the time.

#12-The Bible contains many contradictions.

Of course, this is a favorite one. What do we have? The following, all of which are again old news (sample links below):

Does God repent?
Does God punish children for the sins of their parents?
Is anyone righteous?
Are we justified by faith or works?
Does God keep his promises?
Is everything possible with faith?
Will all who call upon Jesus’s name be saved?
Will god always be there in times of need? (Hard to believe Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 10:1 are used here.)
Was Jesus God?

This last one needs to be expanded on. To begin with, Krueger says that in John 8:42, Jesus says he is sent by God. Krueger tells us that if he is sent by God, he cannot be God. He also reminds us that he admits he did not send himself as he did not come on his own. Krueger has done two things here. First, he has given us a good argument against modalism. Second, he has revealed his own ignorance. Note to atheists out there wanting to write a book against Christianity. Make sure you get the basic information right. I can easily say Krueger is an unreliable source on Christianity at this point due to mistakes such as these.

Of course, Krueger compounds this by asking who Jesus prayed to if he was God. Does he honestly think no one in thousands of years of church history notice that Jesus prayed?

Krueger goes on to state about how enlightened Christians don’t take the Bible literally because of this. Well some of us don’t take it literally in some parts simply because we pay attention to genre.

After this, there is nothing new and worthwhile in this section. It would help Krueger to actually cite what his opponents say and show some understanding of the text. He does neither.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An Ode to Independence

Nick Peters will have more to say on Doug Krueger, but I wanted to break in for something else this week. Over on the Ticker I'd been giving an account of what's happened to Mike Licona as a result of Norman Geisler's misplaced crusade. I won't be writing about that directly here, but it does illustrate the point I do want to make, along with an entry I wrote some months back about a person who had an equally misplaced doctrinal issue with me (concerning the nature of hell).

That incident ended in failure for my accuser, which is how it should have been. My views did not threaten orthodoxy, though they did threaten some people's views of what orthodoxy should be. Unlike Licona, neither pressure nor sanctions were applied to me by anyone. (I was disgusted to have brought to my attention, by Nick, a blog by a pissant North Carolina pastor who was observing, with a self-gratifying smugness, that Licona was no longer listed as a speaker on certain conference lists now; such pastors as this one, who are self-manifestly ignorant dolts, are a sort I have had to deal with before who ought to have their pastorate taken from them, and will end up as toilet scrubbers in New Jerusalem because they have misled their flock. His type will send their youth next door to have their faith shattered by Bart Ehrman, and will scratch their heads not understanding why, or else blaming pride, sin, or some other rationalized excuse for their own miserable failure.)

Why no sanctions on me, though? Obviously, there's a huge difference between the way Mike and I are employed. He is (soon to be was) part of a much larger organization, the North American Mission Board, which in turn is a small part of the Southern Baptist Convention. That means he had a vast network which supported his work financially and in other ways. But in the end, he was also beholden (I do not say agreeably, of necessity) to the strictures placed on him by whoever was in authority -- even if that authority happened to be a pompous jackass who thought apologetics was a useless distraction and what we really needed was more and better praise choruses.

In contrast, Tekton has always lived on the edge in terms of finances and all else a corporate machine like NAMB/SBC provides. On October 20 of this year, Tekton will have been operating as a full time ministry for 10 full years, and for at least 7 of those years, it was open to doubt whether another year could be had of it. The current bad economy likely assures us of another year on the edge ahead.

But then again -- Tekton has also never had to worry about being lorded over by a pompous jackass. I don't have to toe a "party line" of some denominational organization. I can speak freely, being accountable not to some distant board of stuffed shirts who wouldn't know Greco-Roman rhetoric from a roasted pig, but to those who actually find the information Tekton provides and consider it helpful.

In the past 10 years I have asked myself more than a few times which situation I'd rather be in -- and in the end, I have to say that the situation as is, always wins out over what Mike has had to deal with. It is worth far more to be able to be free to say and do what needs to be said and done, rather than be thumbed under by a dense bureaucrat.

As an illustration of this, there was a time (before NAMB cut budgets) when I did some freelance PPTs for NAMB. One of those referenced Hindu practices of meditation, and to illustrate it, I found a picture of a somewhat older gentleman in a yoga position. Some yahoo at NAMB, however, had been given some kind of oversight over the project, and this yahoo wasn't an apologist. They were, however, deeply concerned because the man in the yoga picture was dressed in nothing but what was equal in coverage to men's bicycle shorts.

Stories like that remind me why I never wanted to be part of a larger organization, and still don't. Oversight is an excellent thing in principle, but it doesn't actually work unless the "overseer" has their priorities straight and also has some idea what they're overseeing.



Shortly after I posted this, Mike sent out the following to several people which he said could be posted and distributed as seen fit. So here it is! With that list of signators, if I were Geisler, I'd find a deep place to hide. (9/10/11: Licona has requested a revision, explained below.)


An Open Response to Norman Geisler

Norman Geisler has taken issue with a portion of my recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, in which I proposed that the story of the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53 should probably be interpreted as apocalyptic imagery rather than literal history. In response, Dr. Geisler has offered strong criticisms in two Open Letters to me on the Internet. Until now I have been unable to comment because I have multiple writing deadlines, two September debates in South Africa for which to prepare, and, consequently, no time to be drawn into what would probably turn into an endless debate. I shared these first two reasons with Dr. Geisler in an email several weeks ago. Yet he insisted that I “give careful and immediate attention” to the matter. I simply could not do this and fulfill the pressing obligations of my ministry, which is my higher priority before the Lord.

Dr. Geisler questions whether I still hold to biblical inerrancy. I want to be clear that I continue to affirm this evangelical distinctive. My conclusion in reference to the raised saints in Matthew 27 was based upon my analysis of the genre of the text. This was not an attempt to wiggle out from under the burden of an inerrant text; it was an attempt to respect the text by seeking to learn what Matthew was trying to communicate. This is responsible hermeneutical practice. Any reasonable doctrine of biblical inerrancy must respect authorial intent rather than predetermine it.

When writing a sizable book, there will always be portions in which one could have articulated a matter more appropriately. And those portions, I suppose, will often be located outside the primary thesis of the book, such as the one on which Dr. Geisler has chosen to focus. When writing my book, I always regarded the entirety of Matthew 27 as historical narrative containing apocalyptic allusions. I selected the term “poetic” in order to allude to similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general and Virgil in particular. However, since Matthew is a Jew writing to Jews, “apocalyptic” may be the most appropriate technical term, while “special effects” communicates the gist on a popular level.

Further research over the last year in the Greco-Roman literature has led me to reexamine the position I took in my book. Although additional research certainly remains, at present I am just as inclined to understand the narrative of the raised saints in Matthew 27 as a report of a factual (i.e., literal) event as I am to view it as an apocalyptic symbol. It may also be a report of a real event described partially in apocalyptic terms. I will be pleased to revise the relevant section in a future edition of my book.

Michael R. Licona, Ph.D.

August 31, 2011

We the undersigned are aware of the above stated position by Dr. Michael Licona, including his present position pertaining to the report of the raised saints in Matthew 27: He proposes that the report may refer to a literal/historical event, a real event partially described in apocalyptic terms, or an apocalyptic symbol. Though most of us do not hold Licona’s proposal, we are in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy, despite objections to the contrary. We are encouraged to see the confluence of biblical scholars, historians, and philosophers in this question.

It has come to my attention that this matter may become a political/theological hot potato. The scholars on the list have stood with me. It was not my intent to amass a huge list. It was my intent to demonstrate that a significant number of the most highly respected evangelical scholars, all of whom are members of ETS, see no incompatibility between the position I took in my book and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The list has served its purpose. I have no desire to be the cause of pressure brought on those who have stood with me or on their academic institutions. Therefore, I have decided to remove the list of names for the present time at least. In no case, did an institution demand that their professors withdraw their names.

A number of scholars have suggested that this discussion is better played out in the theatre of an academic forum. I could not agree more! Southeastern Theological Review (STR) has offered to host a ‘virtual’ roundtable discussion involving several significant scholars commenting on my book. A main subject of this roundtable will be the raising of the dead saints in Matthew 27:52-53. This roundtable discussion(s) will be posted on the STR web site and will precede a full journal devoted to my book in the Summer 2012 edition of STR.