Does the Bible's claim that a donkey talked destroy its credibility on the topic of God?
A debate between Dr Potter, Anonymous and Kirk Straughen


Belief in God —
Just a product of contemporary culture?


Dr Bob Potter

(Investigator 155, 2014 March)


I grew up on a small farm in Onkaparinga, on the edge of the Adelaide Hills.

I learned to ride a pony before mastering a bicycle, initially taught by an uncle who insisted horses were 'very intelligent' … with straight face he told me, in an emergency, horses might even talk.


I remember his 'proving the point' with an anecdote about his friend, who once was riding in the region of Mt Lofty, when the horse stopped dead in its tracks, refusing to take a single step forwards. Digging his heels into the horse or slapping it, achieved nothing … in fact, as soon as he dismounted, the horse lay down, refusing to budge. Threatening with a stick, even about to beat the horse, amazingly, the animal opened his mouth and spoke, asking what crime he'd committed deserving such treatment – warning that progressing further along the path would have serious consequences for them both. “If I had a gun I'd shoot you for your stubbornness!" replied the frustrated rider, where-upon, there was a sudden rumbling noise ahead and many tons of boulders rolled down onto the path; the disobedient animal had saved the two of them from almost certain death.

Remembering one's childhood memories and feelings is always difficult, so I'm unsure as to the extent to which I actually believed this tale of a 'talking horse'; I'd have been five or six years old at the time and probably did still credit the existence of Father Christmas. Probably, I thought it just might be true?! However, remembering this tale many years later, like everyone reading this page, it's appreciated my uncle was just 'spinning a yarn', teaching me to be kind to horses! Every Investigator reader could recount similar yarns they were told in their childhood … and bear no grudge against the adult who 'lied to them' in this way … however don't make the mistake of believing all people discard their 'childish ways' as Paul suggests (1 Cor. 13). Arguably, there is no shortage of individuals scattered about who do believe in talking animals; those fundamentalist Christian, Jewish and Muslim devotees, confident their scriptures are literally 'true', will find a talking donkey, behaving not too dissimilarly to that of my uncle's horse, reported factually in the twenty second chapter of the book of Numbers!

I am grateful to both Kevin Rogers and Anonymous for their replies to my query as to why so many individuals persist in their 'God beliefs'. From different approaches they attempt to address some of my points, but both share the same fundamental 'misunderstanding' of what a person means when they describe themselves as 'an atheist'; in similar fashion, in previous Investigator articles, I've been accused of “believing in atheism". Similar accusations are frequently aimed at Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, Christopher Hitchens et al. At first, I assumed those who oppose our stance were just carelessly formulating their allegation, but I've since realized it's more likely those of us who are atheists, that is, see no reason to hypothesize supernatural interventions ever occurring, haven't managed to appropriately indicate that's exactly what the term means, nothing more, nothing less.

If my next door neighbour believes he has a fairy living in his woodshed, and that he went riding every evening of the full moon on a talking horse, if he were to ask me whether I believed in the existence of his fairy and horse, I'd say “no", I do not so believe. If he pursued his questioning of me, asking why I didn't believe, I would simply say that I could see no reason to believe in either – and if he then listed a number of reasons as to why he believed, namely that his lettuces had less slugs on them (thanks to the fairy feeding them to the talking horse), I'd be happy to let my neighbour continue with his beliefs – even after I'd been snubbed for suggesting the explanation might simply be that he was a more competent gardener than I was, spending more money on the fertilizers etc.  

It is perfectly feasible that my said neighbour might have met other 'sceptics' and had therefore, together with other members of his 'friends of the fairies club', decided to label me and others like me, 'boogers', even writing press articles, informing readers 'Bob believes in boogerism', or that as Bob grew up in a 'booger environment', he has 'an emotional attachment to boogerism'  -- and other similar prattle.    As I've tried once again to make 'crystal clear', I don't 'believe in atheism' … rather, I just see no reason that hypothesizing the existence of any supernatural 'force' or 'being' might in any way prove helpful in my continuing attempts to understand the universe we inhabit.

In these more recent 'answers' to my exploration as to why people still believe in God, both Kevin and Anonymous make assumptions about my early life, all of which are as distant from the truth as it's possible to be; Anonymous argues, “if Potter had grown up 'totally isolated from atheism' he wouldn't be so atheistic!", while Kevin suggests, Bob “lives in a modern western secular society Theism is considered a plausible option within that culture, but had Bob been born in another time or culture, it would be highly unlikely that Bob would be an atheist". I know I'm a little older than Kevin, and have no idea when Anonymous arrived on this planet – but, I'm left amazed they could write as they do if they experienced the same world as I did. For the benefit of readers who have little knowledge of Adelaide life in the 1930s, forgive me for inserting a little of my own personal biography … clearly relevant to this current discussion.

I was born in a nursing home in the Prospect Road in July 1932, a few streets from where my mother lived before marriage. My Dad had a small farm, close to the Adelaide Hills. He was a keen horseman and a member of Militia, the 'Gawler' cavalry unit, based at nearby O'Halloran Hill. Following the outbreak of war, in 1939, he became a 'foundation member' of the 2/48th battalion, AIF, part of the Ninth Division soon to become part of history as one of Haw Haw's 'rats of Tobruk'. My father was a staunch Anglican, a regular church attendee, in his latter years well known for his 'involvements' associated with St Peter's Cathedral, near the Adelaide Oval. Members of my family still living in Adelaide still occasionally attend services there.

Due to the war, the farm was sold; my mother and her two kids (I was the older) returned to Prospect. My mother (and her mother), were staunch Baptists, although, for some reason, during her final years, my mother switched to a nearby Methodist Church, never missing a Sunday service. Throughout my childhood years, I was a regular Sunday School attendee – in a Baptist Church, ten minutes walk from home. Sunday School was one of the highlights of my week; I loved the Bible study sessions, always had plenty to say (!) and still have scores of little 'picture cards', inscribed with  Biblical texts, handed to attendees each Sunday.  I have kept two books, given me as Sunday School 'prizes'!  

Around the ages of twelve/thirteen years, I began exploring other beliefs – I honestly cannot remember why I was so interested, although I've spent two days wondering about this, after receiving Investigator 154. A highlight of many school lunch hours were the occasional 'speakers', who would appear on platforms near the entrance to the school (Nailsworth Primary) on the Enfield Road; these speakers were very popular with the children, always getting us to join them in singing hymns – they often used an accordion as accompaniment.  We often were given little booklets, or copies of a single gospel. At one of these gatherings I talked with a Christadelphian, leading to several visits to his (and his wife's) home, lengthy evening discussions about the Bible, Bible prophecy. I was introduced to their Bible 'reading plan', a routine I followed for probably about six months.   By now, I was beginning to realize the importance of 'reading the Book' itself, not rely upon what others claim it says (it was some years later I realized just reading a modern translation, 'in isolation', wasn't sufficient either!)

However, by the time I reached fourteen years of age, I was widely reading other books, tending more to general philosophy rather than centering on theology.  Religious instruction was part of the curriculum at High School, and increasingly I would tackle the visiting priest during these lessons – mostly 'teachers' were pleased about this. There was just one visiting priest who strongly objected to being questioned/challenged. (Incidentally, I loved school, both at Nailsworth and later Adelaide High – and was delighted to be reminded, when I visited Adelaide, briefly, in 1978, to see my name still on the 'roll of honour board', in the main AHS assembly hall, then at Grote Street.)   

The first Bertrand Russell book I encountered was Marriage and Morals, probably spurred by the usual sexual interests of a developing individual, but this led me to acquire other books by Russell. His 'potboiler', History of Western Philosophy, was certainly the largest 'serious' book I read, cover to cover, and from then on, I progressed to many of the actual texts, often finding the impressions I received from the books themselves were not always what Russell had caused me to expect.   (Arthur Schopenhauer became my teenage 'hero' for a lengthy period!)

So it was around the age of fifteen that I began to see myself as an atheist, although after much thought during the past few days, I can say, quite truthfully that I'm sure that at this time I had never consciously met or spoken with anyone who would describe themselves as an atheist. I remember attempting to discuss the topic with parents and grandparents. One granny (mother's side) just 'believed', she just 'knew' Christ's teaching was the truth, it wasn't a matter for discussion. Paternal Granny wished me to talk with her priest (she organized his visit!); he reported to her, afterwards, I'd “grow out of it". My mother declined discussion on the topic, apologizing and telling me she was 'too dim' to discuss these matters; my father became very enraged, told me aggressively that I was forbidden to use the word 'atheism' in his house and warned me that if I attempted to 'influence' my (now two) younger brothers, he'd have me 'placed in a home'. In the wider family, relatives were warned to never discuss religion with Bob – he was just “argumentative", the implication being I just liked debating for the sake of 'winning arguments' and that I picked on religion 'just because he enjoys upsetting people'. (Interesting – when I read Kevin's final paragraph (page 21): “Bob has a strong emotional commitment to atheism. Does Bob form his beliefs truthfully, based on reason and evidence?")

In my fifteenth year I needed to decide what I wanted to do with my life – there was tremendous pressure from parents that I apply to the then Royal Military College (Duntroon), as an officer cadet. I was accepted. In those days (maybe still?) one needed declare their religion and I'm quite sure that had I written 'atheist' I would not have been considered for selection. Normally, the occasional person who did not already belong to a church would be classified 'C of E'. Most other cadets were Roman Catholic.

It was only when I arrived at the College I learned that not only was the Sunday religious parade compulsory, but there was provision for the half dozen 'oddballs' who did not subscribe to the two main cults. For the next two years I officially became a Methodist. An advantageous 'spin off' of this decision being that not only was transport provided to the main Methodist church in Canberra, but I was invariably invited home for Sunday lunch by one of the congregation members, at the conclusion of service.

In spite of my non-attendance at the C of E fellowships in the College itself, I remained Anglican so far as the Army was concerned and hence received a regular visit to my room by the College padre. Needless to say, I was delighted when he came; there were invariably lengthy and interesting discussions, mostly about theology and its relation to science. It was a break for me from the more routine study periods —  throughout my life, I've always felt I've 'got on well' with most priests I've met, especially those in the Anglican, Catholic and Methodist communities.   

My Sunday excursions to the Wesley church literally proved a 'god send' for me; a community of people who not only always made me feel welcome, but were willing (and competent) to discuss theology with me – even inviting me to present my own  views regarding Christianity (and other faiths) to a couple of very successful 'brotherhood' meetings. It was many years later that I learned although I may have been reasonably popular with a section of the Methodist community, the pastor (whom, I admit, always seemed somewhat 'reserved') was less pleased. Following my prompt dismissal from the Military College around the time my opposition to the Australian involvement in America's attack upon Korea was becoming apparent, the Australian Security Services interviewed numerous local people to discover whom I had been associating with and what I'd been saying/doing while at the College.

More than 40 years later, using the Freedom of Information Act, I received more than a hundred copied documents held by ASIO regarding me – among them, comments made by the Methodist pastor, which so many years later, I found a little surprising and disappointing. Here's what the Rev Walter Whitbread, Pastor of Wesley Church, Canberra reported to ASIO': “for his age, Potter is a confirmed Atheist. I was annoyed when Potter delivered an address to the Methodist Brotherhood as, notwithstanding the fact he was addressing Church people, he Potter, criticized the Bible and literally 'tore it to pieces'. I never heard Potter express any political beliefs and have no reason to believe he is a Communist, rather a case for a psychiatrist." My feeling was that his strong hostility was not shared by many members of his congregation – admittedly I may be kidding myself!? (My understanding is this Wesley Church no longer exists.)

Suffice to say, my memories from my adolescent years of the 1940s strongly differ from the 'atheism as a plausible option within modern western secular society' Kevin Rogers talks about. At the time, I saw myself very much as a very 'lonely individual', supported only by 'ancient' books penned by Bertrand Russell, together with a mixture of Tom Paine, Robert Ingersoll, Annie Besant, Charles Bradlaugh – texts mostly discovered by myself, unaided, on shelves of the Adelaide Library on North Terrace. So far as I can recall, as I've said above, at the time of my return to Adelaide in December 1950, I had still not knowingly met, face to face, a single atheist!

I have no idea on what basis Anonymous and Kevin base their 'biographical' assumptions – but they are clearly quite wrong – although my 'situation' was soon to change.

Back in Adelaide, I contacted and joined the Rationalist Association (an organization that no longer exists – I think it transformed into the Atheist Association/Foundation?), where I soon did meet real, live atheists! Within weeks, I became a regular speaker on their platform in Adelaide's Botanic Park, every Sunday afternoon. Reports of my speeches were passed to my father, now employed in some capacity by the Australian Staff Corps at Keswick Barracks; I was forced to leave home and live with the Chair of the Rationalist Association – and yes, he was an atheist! The comfortable acceptance of atheist views of which Kevin Rogers talks was never something I experienced – my own battle for the right to think and speak as I chose was, so far as my own personal history was concerned, a relentless and non-ending battle for freedom of opinion and speech.    


Perhaps I was not typical?! Just unfortunate. I can only describe my own life experiences, as I remember them!

Bob Potter.  

 



BELIEF IN GOD —
Response to Dr Potter (#155)


Anonymous

(Investigator156, May 2014)


ATHEISTIC INFLUENCE

Dr Potter (#155) challenges my claim, "If Potter had grown up totally isolated from atheism he wouldn't be so atheistic" since he never, as a youth, met any atheists face to face.

However, Potter also writes that at 14 he began to read "Bertrand Russell … Tom Paine, Robert Ingersoll, Annie Besant, Charles Bradlaugh". Clearly, Potter was not "totally isolated from atheism" since reading can sometimes lead to deeper, longer-lasting influence than face to face interaction.


TALKING DONKEY

Potter's main target in his latest attack is the story of Balaam's talking donkey in Numbers 22. For the Bible to allege that a donkey talked surely exposes the Bible, including its claims about God, as myth?

Suppose Dr Potter is taking a stroll in the British countryside and passes a field where horses are grazing. One horse looks up and from its mouth come the words, "Good morning Dr Potter, I'm Dr Smith."

Potter would not be fooled; he would suspect a prank. He knows that wireless technology and concealed microphone can transmit a man's voice and make it come from a horse.

When Potter later describes this experience at the hotel, and does so literally without interpreting how it happened, he would say, "Today a horse spoke to me; the horse addressed me as Dr Potter and called himself Dr Smith."

If we played this prank on someone without knowledge of technology, perhaps an Australian Aborigine who has never left the wilderness where he grew up, the man might believe that a kangaroo or camel actually spoke. He would believe because he saw and heard.

Numbers 22:22-35 is a description of what Balaam experienced, giving Balaam's point of view, with the narrator adding that an "angel of the Lord", unseen to Balaam, was blocking the donkey's path. It is one of many Bible reports of an entity from the supernatural realm talking to humans or otherwise interfering in their lives.

Numbers 22:28 — "Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said…" — is how Balaam experienced the situation. The reader would understand that it is the "angel of the Lord" talking, not the donkey.

We deduce this from 22:31 "Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD…" at which point the two speak directly to each other and leave the donkey out of it.


When the New Testament says "a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice" (II Peter 2 16) it is giving Balaam's viewpoint prior to the point where "the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam".


THE SUPERNATURAL

Is there a realm we can provisionally regard as the "supernatural"?

In the "Angel Gabriel" debate (#125) and the article "Gravity and the Supernatural" (#126) I equated this realm with extra dimensions beyond the four that we are aware of — up-down, left-right, forwards-reverse, and past-future. To remind himself of the evidence Dr Potter may need to re-read it. If intelligent entities in higher dimensions exist they would be unimaginably superior to us.

Today extra dimensions are postulated by "string theorists" to explain how the Universe works, or to explain how or where a "Multiverse" can exist. Some suggest that scientific confirmation of other dimensions will come this century with technology such as the "Large Hadron Collider" situated under the French-Swiss border.

An example of how seriously science takes such possibilities is when neutrinos were measured breaking the "fundamental speed limit" of the Universe. New Scientist reported: "the result could be the first evidence for a reality built out of extra dimensions." (1 October, 2011)


EVIDENCE FOR THE BIBLE

Wouldn't it be simpler to take Numbers 22 as fiction and the Bible as wrong, than to argue for superior, supernatural beings such as "angels" in higher dimensions? No one proposes that the talking animals in Aesop's Fables were real and that behind them were supernatural spirits — so why do so with Balaam's donkey?

The reason is that so many other Bible events formerly considered silly turned out true. As a young person in the early 1970s I concluded from reading the Bible that huge rocks from Space have on occasion impacted Earth and changed the our planet, and that it will happen again and envelop the whole planet in fire. In the 1970s such notions were scientific nonsense contrary to geological "Uniformitarianism" and believed only by a few "maverick" scientists. In 1980 the tide began to turn and today the whole world believes. (#62—Asteroids and the Bible)

Counting the other conflicts where the Bible was supposed to be wrong — conflicts in archaeology, logic, ethics, psychology, biology, astronomy, geography, history, etc — gives hundreds of confirmations of the Bible, many reported in Investigator over the past 20 years.

This result, along with the evidence for a Creator-God which I provided in #143 and #151, makes it reasonable to believe the Bible and conclude there is more to the "talking donkey" than sceptics suppose.


THE GAPS

Believers are often accused of believing in a "God of the gaps" i.e. relying on areas of ignorance where scientific evidence is inconclusive.

Dr Potter, however, is an "atheist of the gaps". He ignores obvious inferences based on the accumulating number of Bible claims confirmed, and seeks out Bible points that current science still leaves unresolved. Potter's "seek the gaps" method led to our many debates such as History's Truth (#147/148) and Paul and Freud (#149/151) and some gaps were filled.


By reading Bertrand Russell and other atheists at 14, and putting their arguments to people who didn't know how science confirms the Bible, Potter got diverted onto a wrong path.





Poor old Anonymous!    
He's losing the plot!


Bob Potter

(Investigator 157, 2014 July)


Readers of Investigator must be well and truly accustomed to the illogical repartees contributed by 'our unknown friend', but his 'brief barbs' aimed at me (Investigator 156) surely take the biscuit!

Reading my reply to his earlier criticisms, Anonymous now argues 'a contradiction' between my saying that never, as a youth, did I encounter any atheists, although I mention reading books by “Bertrand Russell … Tom Paine, Robert Ingersoll, Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh". Clearly, my critic falsely assumes each of these writers was an atheist — hence, equally clearly, Anonymous has not, himself, actually looked at the writings of these authors!!

Starting with Tom Paine, ever a great hero of mine;  I must have given copies of Paine's Age of Reason to at least twenty people during the course of my lifetime – most recently to Kevin Rogers when visiting us, in Brighton, a few years ago. Although arguably a few 'errors' appear in Paine's book, it should be remembered he had written the first part before his arrest, and the second part while in a French prison, awaiting the guillotine (during the French Revolution), without access to a Bible. This second part, sometimes challenged on detail, was published in 1795.

If our anonymous friend took the trouble to read The Age of Reason, he would appreciate the book does indeed attack Christianity, but from the standpoint of deism, not atheism – a truth requiring expansion if one is to understand the book, for it was written primarily as a means of opposing atheism. As the author, himself, put it:
“The people of France are running headlong into atheism, and I had the work translated in their own language, to stop them in their career, and fix them to the first article of every man's creed who has any creed at all – I believe in God."   (Paine's emphasis)
Paine attributed his imprisonment, in part, to his attitude against 'atheism'. It is one of the ironies of history that almost always the most damaging attacks upon religion come from those seeking to defend religion!

Next on the list is Robert Ingersoll, a great admirer of Paine, friend of everybody who was anybody in the United States, campaigner (against the Churches) for the abolition of slavery, friend and associate of Mark Twain, author of hundreds of pamphlets … (look on the web, Mr Anonymous). A brilliant lawyer and renowned orator, one of his most famous speeches, printed repeatedly, carries the title Why am I an Agnostic? The title probably says all that needs be said, but here are a few words from the text:
“A large majority of mankind has believed in what is known as God, and equally large a majority has implicitly believed in what is known as the Devil.  These beings were inferred from phenomena, and were produced for the most part by ignorance, by fear and by selfishness … Is it possible for the human mind to conceive of an infinite personality?  Can it imagine a beginning-less being, infinitely powerful and intelligent?  If such a being existed, then there must have been an eternity during which nothing did exist except this being; because, if the universe was created, there must have been a time when it was not, and back of that there must have been an eternity during which nothing but an infinite personality existed.  Is it possible to imagine an infinite intelligence dwelling for an eternity in infinite nothing?"
Ingersoll's classic pamphlet continues for more than twenty pages – look at it for yourself, Mr Anonymous, before you inappropriately label the writer of 'atheism'!

Annie Besant authored hundreds of books and booklets (I have only about twenty of them); most are now digitalized. She spent much of her life in India, actively involved in struggles on a multitude of issues, especially the 'rights of women'.   Her earlier writings were (like the two previously discussed authors/activists) indeed hostile to Christianity; but her later life was engulfed in the theosophical society – which would hardly be described as 'atheistic' by most objective assessors (naturally, I cannot speak for Anonymous!).

Yes, Bertie Russell would be an 'atheist' in the sense I've always used the word (not something to be 'believed in' — why invent a term to fill the gaps in our knowledge?); Charles Bradlaugh? Indeed yes, he (and only he!) certainly fits the Anonymous categorization! The important aspect missing from the logic of my critic is the obvious fact that during my teenage years I was reading scores of books – and yes, one or two of them written by atheists.

I have absolutely no fault to find with the Anonymous 'hypothetical explanation' for the myth of Balaam's talking donkey. It all makes perfect sense to me! In the past, I have often made reference to the important book, Abduction, written by John E Mack, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (1994).

The writer describes detailed investigations of more than eighty cases of alleged 'alien abductions' of American citizens, detailing thousands of hours of interviews and subsequent treatment of those reporting their experiences. Dr Mack is convinced (as are most intelligent, objective readers) these 'abducted' men, women and children are not inventing their stories, rather reporting authentic experiences. His patients tell remarkably consistent tales of encounters with small grey beings, with huge dark eyes, who transport their immobilized subjects to a spacecraft where they are probed in a battery of tests relating to sexual and reproductive matters. Details provided are persuasive as reportage of 'very real' encounters when they describe contact with 'the aliens'!

In the United States, several polls have investigated the prevalence of the 'UFO abduction phenomenon', notably by the Roper organization, between July and September 1991. Findings have been challenged and argued about at considerable length; overall suggesting the number of US citizens 'involved' ranges from several hundred thousand to several million (depending upon definitions of 'the abduction experience'). This writer has no great commitment/or interest in this research, beyond the general acceptance that patients, such as those examined and treated by John E Mack, are genuinely reporting their own believed experiences.

In the light of my own family/life experiences, I have no problem accepting many of us 'experience' events that an independent witness might argue has no material, factual basis. Schizoid experiences are part of our everyday life – hence my readiness to accept the Anonymous 'version' of the talking donkey; what a pity John E Mack and members of his medical school weren't on call when Paul had his Damascus Road experience!

 



ATHEISTS, BALAAM and Dr Potter

Anonymous

(Investigator 158, 2014, September)


WERE THEY ATHEISTS?

Dr Potter in Investigator 157 says I have "lost the plot" because I suggested (in #155) that some authors he read as a teenager were atheists whereas he denies atheists influenced him.

I specifically named Bertrand Russell. Was Russell an atheist?
As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove [sic] that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist... None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of Homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof. Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.
(Wikipedia citing: Am I an Agnostic or an Atheist?, from Last Philosophical Testament 1943–1968 (1997), Routledge)
Bertrand Russell was, "speaking popularly", an atheist.

What about Ingersoll? An Internet site titled "The Collected Works of Robert Green Ingersoll" includes "Why Am I Agnostic?" (1896).

Ingersoll writes in the conclusion, "Is there a God? I don't know." This suggests agnosticism. On previous pages, however, Ingersoll does know. His article is a concentrated attack on the Bible as "the work of ignorant men". Ingersoll calls himself an "implacable enemy of Christianity" and says:
•    "I became convinced … that all the ghosts and gods are myths…"   
•    "It is as impossible to conceive of such a being as to imagine a square triangle…"
•    "There was, there is no creator."
As regards Charles Bradlaugh, Potter himself says Bradlaugh was an atheist — no further comment here needed.

That leaves Tom Paine and Annie Besant. Besant was a critic of Christianity and so appears atheistic regarding the biblical God if not atheistic with respect to all gods. Ditto Tom Paine.

I actually named only Bertrand Russell as an atheist and wrote: "By reading Bertrand Russell and other atheists at 14, and putting their arguments to people who didn't know how science confirms the Bible, Potter got diverted onto a wrong path." (#156)


BALAAM'S DONKEY AGAIN

Potter had (in #155) brought up atheism in connection with Balaam's talking donkey — suggesting that the biblical God is myth because the Bible also says that a donkey spoke.

I did not prove the donkey event to be checkable history. I merely showed that the biblical story implies an "angel" from the supernatural realm spoke, not the donkey. That the donkey spoke was Balaam's initial mistaken impression. (#156)

Possible evidence for a supernatural realm, basing it in extra dimensions, is supplied in the "Angel Gabriel" debate and in a discussion on anomalies in gravity:
•    Mary and Gabriel Evidence Sufficient (#125)
•    Gravity and the Supernatural (#126)
The evidence is plausible but not conclusive; and perhaps other interpretations of the supernatural may turn out better. Space — empty space without planets, matter, atoms or anything physical, just plain nothingness — can bend, twist, expand and ripple. But what does Space bend, expand, twist and ripple with respect to? It is as if space is embedded in some other medium that science cannot yet study. Could that other medium be the "supernatural" realm?

Currently science finds that most of the Universe is missing — the motions of the galaxies conflict with the law of gravity and imply that most of the Universe consists of undetectable "dark matter". One interpretation, a minority view, is that gravity is leaking into other dimensions.

Potter puts the idea of the supernatural on a level with reports of UFOs and meetings with aliens.

Such comparison of course forgets that the donkey story is NOT all that there is to the Bible. In the past two centuries hundreds of Bible statements have been confirmed, many of them previously regarded as nonsense. I concluded from the Bible in 1970-1971, that one day the ocean levels would rise. No one back then bothered about it. Only 43 years later and Australian prime ministers have lost office partly over "climate change" policies, huge international conferences over "carbon emissions" take place, coastal protection is politicized, and New Scientist reports, "Ice sheets on course for collapse". (28 June, 2014)



CONCLUSION

Potter's digression into whether Russell, Ingersoll and others were atheists is a distraction to avoid facing the main point — which is that ever more of the Bible is being confirmed and criticisms of it disconfirmed. Instead of facing the facts Dr Potter is, dare I say, pottering.

 



BALAAM'S ASS —
A Case of Supernatural Ventriloquism?


Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 157, 2014 July)


I refer to Anonymous' explanation for Balaam's ass (Inv. 156, pg. 17) and make the following observation: It seems to me that Anonymous attempts to explain the unproven (a talking ass) by reference to the unprovable (angels) and then suggests the story is a historical fact.

Is the story of a talking ass made more believable by claiming an angel put words into the mouth of the animal? What evidence do we have for the existence of angels? If angels exist (yet to be proven, if possible) what evidence do we have that one put words into the mouth of an ass?

In essence Anonymous appears to be suggesting we should believe the story true because (in his opinion) other parts of the Bible are true. But to believe this is so is to commit the fallacy of arguing from particulars to universals. It is like a man seeing numerous white swans (particular instances) and then based on these observations concluding that all swans are white (universal).

Not all swans, however, are white — some are black. Similarly with the Bible — some parts may be true but we cannot from these particular instances then arrive at the sweeping conclusion that all parts are true.

In the final analysis Anonymous has not given sound reasons as to why we should believe the account of Balaam's ass is an historical fact accurately portrayed by the Bible.

Kirk Straughen




 
BALAAM

Anonymous

(Investigator 158, 2014 September)


Mr Straughen suggests my article in #156 is an: "attempt to explain the unproven (a talking ass) by reference to the unprovable (angels) and then suggest the story is a historical fact."

What I "explained" is that to test the Balaam story by investigating whether asses or donkeys speak human languages misses the point. It misses the point because the story implies the involvement of the supernatural — what the Bible calls "angels" — and that this was the source of the words Balaam heard.

My preferred interpretation of the supernatural is that the four dimensions we experience are imbedded in something infinitely bigger, i.e. in extra dimensions that harbor superior forms of life. This is therefore the topic to explore and not whether donkeys talk.

Such exploration we have already started in:
#63                    Satan's Existence
#101 - #106     Demon Possession debate
#119 - #125     Angel Gabriel debate
#126                 Gravity and the Supernatural.
Straughen thinks the evidence insufficient. As with other Bible difficulties I can add to the evidence when more is discovered or as it comes to my attention. Many other biblical issues took thousands of years to get settled and had to wait until science discovered the answers.

Straughen says that to "believe the story [of Balaam] because other parts of the Bible are true" commits "the fallacy of arguing from particulars to universals".

I've explained before that everyone has to "reason inductively", in effect "argue from particulars to universals" even if wrong conclusions can result. If we don't, we die. We all know of people injured or killed after falling off roofs. If such past occurrences convince us to avoid falling, we are reasoning "inductively". We are generalizing or "arguing from particulars to universals". We do this in every conscious second of our lives. If some "universals" turn out false, as when "all swans are white" is refuted by a black swan then we should change our inductive generalization i.e. our "universal". We might then try "all swans are either white or black".

Philosophers and logicians have not solved the problem of which current trends are "projectable". Otherwise the future would be predictable, readable like an open book. As things are, everyone just has to do their best. Those who get it right more than others and on average make better decisions are considered to have "wisdom".

If someone predicts, based on having seen only white swans, that "All swans are white", and gets it wrong, nothing much is lost. Or, if he bucks the trend, ignores his past sightings of only white swans, and says "I believe in black swans", again nothing much is lost or gained whether he ever meets black swans or doesn't.  

However, what about trends involving death, injury or danger? Everyone who puts his head on a railway line in front of an oncoming train dies. Should we ignore that particular trend and refuse to project past results to the next occasion? That is, should we avoid the supposed fallacy of "arguing from particulars to universals" and "put our heads on line"?

When life, health or other valuables are at stake, and "other things are equal", then I suggest go with what is known from past experience. Don't do the opposite just to avoid the "fallacy of arguing from particulars to universals".

What sort of trend is it when the Bible repeatedly turns out correct over thousands of years? Is it safe to ignore and believe the opposite, like believing in black swans after we've only seen white swans? Or is rejecting biblical counsel more like ignoring an oncoming train and assume the train to be harmless?

Nazism, Communism and sexual immorality – just these three rejections of the Bible — killed over 400 million people in the 20th century. Prior to the "blessing of Abraham to all the nations of the earth" (Genesis18:18; Acts 3:25-26) taking effect, hundreds of millions died by infanticide, forced fighting in amphitheatres, torture, widow burning, lack of medicine, poverty, and numerous other evils. Today every major newspaper reports crimes, deaths, injuries and other suffering easily avoided by heeding the Bible. Consider also the Bible prediction that world-wide fire will one day destroy everything although humans could potentially prevent it.

Conclusion: To ignore the Bible is more like ignoring the danger of oncoming trains than misjudging the colour of the next swan. Although many biblical points still await full scientific confirmation, enough is confirmed to make the remainder plausible. Ignore the Bible and declare it wrong to your peril.


The Bible and the existence of God investigated on this website:

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/