WILLIAMS vs ANON: 71-73
The following eight items constituted one of the more acrimonious Bible debates in Investigator Magazine.
1 The Improbable and the Absurd John H Williams 2 The Bible: Tested; True; Triumphant Anonymous 3 Investigator Readers Anonymous 4 Reply to Anon in Investigator Readers John H Williams 5 Response to Williams' Criticism of Me... Anonymous 6 Response to Anon John H Williams 7 Debilitating Jonah Debate B J Kotwall 8 Reply to Mr Williams Anonymous
THE IMPROBABLE AND THE ABSURD
John H Williams
(Investigator 71, 2000 March)"HUMANS ARE ATTRACTED BY THE IMPROBABLE AND CONVINCED BY THE ABSURD" (Phillip Adams – The Advertiser)
Anonymous' latest reminded me of an article Phillip Adams wrote in The Advertiser (17/12/82) titled "Confessions of a columnist", accompanied by an unforgettable Bogo graphic showing a night vista across a vast desert, populated by unbroken rows of camels/palm trees/humans, back-lit by the glow of the Milky Way, and out of which a large word balloon emerges, saying "I BELIEVE". It was this paragraph which, among others, really got my attention:Therefore, I believe and have always believed, that it is totally meaningless and that we have no destiny, no purpose, no author. We just are. For a little while, anyway. Then we aren't.I found it useful to read that, as it confirmed my teenage intuitions while listening to many sermons, psalms and prayers. It's only in the last ten years since I've begun to read extensively on Christology that the more real person of Yesu'a (Joshua/Jesus) has emerged.
Given my perception and a presumption that Mr A doesn't read/give any credence to the work of Robert Crotty, Barbara Thiering, Crossan et al, it's hardly surprising that we're opposed. Whatever his method, I find it absurd that an intelligent and well-educated person could believe that Bible statements have confirmed scientific discovery: I assert that none have and none will. Any apparent 'confirmations' are obviously coincidental and are couched in language which, given the problems of more than two millennia of translation and interpretation, have no predictive value.
The 'evidence' exhaustively provided by Mr A is, at best, highly circumstantial.
What has the Bible to tell us about DNA's double helix, plate tectonics, supernovae, viruses, antibiotics, the laws of thermodynamics, gravity and quantum mechanics? Nothing, but if one looks hard enough, a verse here and there will 'answer the call', rather like a horoscope addict will find solace in vague musings that are intended to be applicable to a twelfth of humanity! Eventually there will be so many 'hits' that the seeker will come to believe and will want to support and defend his/her delusion. Then it's farewell to balance, rationality and objectivity. If one is determined to persistently ask silly questions, then the 'answers' will be a testimony to monomanic delusion.
One current unpleasant example is the unfortunately named Adelaide Institute, whose director, Frederick Toben, has recently spent seven months in a German jail for challenging the severity of the Holocaust.
On the Institute website is this quote:We proudly proclaim that, to date, there is no evidence that millions of people were killed in homicidal gas chambers. (The Advertiser 16/12/99)My understanding is that the evidence for the holocaust is overwhelming, yet there are a small number of people with an idea fixe that it's not so, which is grossly offensive to survivors, to the memories of the victims and to the victims' families. The most interesting question is not, 'Are they right?' but, 'Why do they spend so much time and energy in such an apparently hopeless cause? Are they anti-Zionist, pro-Nazi/German? It's known that history is written by the victors, but isn't the Holocaust one of those well-documented happenings requiring minimal scepticism? Paranoia and persecution complex come to mind when one reads Dr Toben's words, "They (Zionists) had to arrest me and silence me. They talk about us and not with us. If it's a battle – and I think it is – it's a massive battle we have won." Add delusory too!
The history of science provides good examples of beliefs (hypotheses) which were 'known' to be correct, such as the heliocentric solar system propounded by Copernicus and Galileo, but which was were at odds with the Bible, and remained unaccepted' until the work of an English genius born on the day, in 1642, that Galileo died. Contrary to the legend, it took Isaac Newton 20 years of hard yakka from the 'fall of the apple story' in 1666 before geocentrism was finally given the flick by Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy [Principia] in 1687.
Unlike Galileo, Newton was a devout Anglican who taught himself Hebrew to get a better sense of the Scriptures and, despite his genius, was eager for his work on gravity to be used as an argument for God, on the grounds that, if it existed, then Someone must have put it there, requiring a cosmic designer and maintainer.
Rather like Mr A he believed that God would "step in from time to time" and set things back in their proper place (he thought that, due to constant tugs of gravity, the system would be destabilised, so a "providential celestial watchmaker" was needed. His idea of a God-made absolute space was accepted for over two centuries until Einstein (with a little help from Edwin Hubble) overturned it. (Source: Pythagoras' Trousers By Margaret Wertheim, Fourth Estate)
Naturally, the skeptic must address the possibility that he or she is wrong, check the evidence and examine his/her bias, welcoming rather than fearing incontrovertible evidence of being errant. As someone recently wrote to The Advertiser, Australian Skeptics perform a useful service but the only things they're not skeptical about are their own beliefs. A bit below the belt, I thought, but a bite worth keeping in mind, since I'm a new member of Australian Skeptics and have had enormous enjoyment from reading back-copies of that excellent journal of fact and opinion, The Skeptic.
So here's my skeptical response to Mr A's 'counterblasts'.
It's an enormous task to unravel his voluminous 'explanations' and there's no need for him to repeatedly remind me to re-read his articles, because I do! I try to select the more absurd statements and apply a common-sense, 'bleedin' obvious' critique, in the forlorn hope that Mr A will say 'fair enough', or someone else will relieve him of the burden of dodging skeptical arrows. Let's look at p 24, Investigator 69, in which he responds to Mark Newbrook's criticism:
According to the Bible, God originally wanted fellowship with humanity. Such fellowship would have included information about "natural evils" enabling humans to be prepared. However, this benefit was among the benefits forfeited when humanity chose to go it alone without God.
This, in my opinion, is bunk as are many of his opinions which are based on "according to the Bible" which, as Mr A well knows, is the subject of critical debate and therefore ought not to be used in debating the existence of a supernatural being who wants fellowship or whatever with Homo sapiens. Isn't it abundantly obvious that, if there were such a being, it wouldn't be bothered handing out information enabling Jews and Christians to avoid cyclones and earthquakes? Given human history, and our understanding of Planet Earth, isn't it an insult to the reader's intellect to assert that "humanity" collectively "chose to go it alone" without an entity they ought to have embraced, thereby 'causing' "millions of casualties"?
Comparisons are odious, I was told in Lower Fourth History, but Mr A wields them unmercifully, clubbing the reader into stupefied disbelief. Is he really comparing the cost of earthquakes with the cost of shoes? Enough on this one please! Also, could he please explain how the devastated Turks and Taiwanese "might even pray for more earthquakes", especially those many of them who are dead, severely injured, bereaved and unemployed? I think that Mr A is extremely idealistic and imagines our 200 plus nations "cooperating and sharing", as taught in the Bible. But the lion has never laid down with the lamb, nor has there ever been a time without war. There are many OT stories of the Jews smiting the Philistines and other rival groups, but that was all right because that lot were 'ungodly' and they, the victors who wrote the 'history', had great spin-meisters who convinced them that they were God's chosen!
David Suzuki (Chronicles of The Future, Weekend Australian 18/1/299) informs us that half of humanity gets by on $3 a day, that the ratio of per capita income of the richest and poorest 20% of the world has gone from 30:1 to 59:1 between 1960 and 1990! Each year there's an eco-holocaust and 50,000 species disappear. Even world-class spin is stymied by the less than palatable reality: most humans/nations will not behave altruistically unless they're forced into it, Pearl Harbour-fashion. Some might ascribe that to the much-maligned 'human nature'. Our planet is undergoing unprecedented change, according to Suzuki, and we only have a decade or two to find solutions, since it's clear that there's no likelihood of "limited intervention when things get too horrible" (Mr A' Investigator 65).
If deaths from natural disasters ("1 billion since 2000 BC") are a result of "large-scale rejections of God's standards", why is it that the frequency of climate-related disasters has increased three times as rapidly as other natural disasters in the last 20 years? It's down to large numbers of people, growth, technology, which is hardly synonymous with "human rejection of God"!
My interest is in what really happened, as opposed to that which we have been led to believe via mythical stories and miraculous tales.
For example, I've been reading Jesus the Man, Jesus and the Apocalypse and The Book That Jesus Wrote, all by Dr Barbara Thiering, which give a fascinating insight into the culture and politics of the Holy Land. Her main thesis, using the Pesher technique to reveal the hidden meaning of the Scriptures, is that Jesus was crucified in Qumran, not Jerusalem. He was taken down and survived, explaining why he was frequently seen after his 'death'; he travelled to Rome where he, Paul, Peter and others strove to deal with the complex and dangerous business of faction-ridden Judea and the vicissitudes of Rome under Caligula, Claudius and Nero.
In Thiering's version Jesus marries and has several children, which I find a lot more plausible than the virgin birth, the resurrection and the holy trinity. He was conceived and born in the usual way (birthday on c. March 1), named Yesua, was not of David's line, and was probably a bastard who became an outcast who did not get on with his family. His younger brother, James, was very much the favoured one. As soon as he could Jesus left home to live with other social outcasts. More on this in a later article.
Apropos my title, it's astonishing that the Jewish Myth and The Jesus Myth can be so literally accepted as gospel, when the truth (and I'm not asserting that Dr Thiering and other biblical scholars have it all) is so obviously elusively elsewhere. I believe that most of what Mr A asserts regarding the Jewish/Christian God is so improbable as to be eminently unbelievable. His attempts to 'explain' an obviously non-existent 'relationship', during which 'we', like naughty children, have 'gone our own way' and 'suffered for it', is incredible and laughably absurd.
THE BIBLE: TESTED; TRUE; TRIUMPHANT
(Investigator 71, 2000 March)
INVESTIGATION NOT ABSURD
John H Williams AGAIN misunderstands when he says:I find it absurd that an intelligent, well-educated person could believe that Bible statements have confirmed scientific discovery.
Actually, I believe the reverse. I compare Bible statements with scientific discoveries to test the Bible's accuracy! To investigate whether claims are true or false, and rely on science to do this, is not absurd!
In Investigator 50, I listed 311 Old Testament geographical locations confirmed by archaeology/geography plus 228 tentatively confirmed. Therefore up to 539 place names are confirmed out of a total of about 900 – including some that critics considered non-existent or literary inventions!
I've also demonstrated Bible accuracy and refutations of critics in many other sciences – astronomy, biology, genetics, medicine, psychology, zoology, etc.
In zoology consider the Hyrax – a rabbit-sized animal – which I've discussed before. The Bible calls it a "chewer of the cud" but most published comment declared this wrong. In 1964 zoologist Hubert Hendrichs did research on all cud-chewing animals. At the Munich Zoo he observed a Hyrax making swallowing movements although not eating. Further observation showed that Hyraxes chew the cud mainly at night for about an hour. In his journal report Hendrichs (1965) admitted that Moses anticipated his discovery by 3,000 years!
Inductive logic is the logic by which we generalize from particular items to general conclusions: If a person is regularly reliable we'll trust him next time. If all observed pigeons were white we expect unobserved pigeons also to be white.
And if the Bible regularly turns out correct and its critics wrong we expect more of the same. We could even hypothesise that the original Scriptures of the Bible are 100% accurate!
Mr Williams mistakenly calls the following "bunk":According to the Bible, God originally wanted fellowship with humanity. Such fellowship would have included information about "natural evils" enabling humans to be prepared. However, this benefit was among the benefits forfeited when humanity chose to go it alone without God…Genesis says Adam and Eve conversed directly with God and got information. For example:…of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.My claim that the Bible teaches this, is therefore not "bunk" but a fact. Whether the Bible is correct in teaching this is, of course, a different question.
The context in previous Investigator magazines was the philosophical contention that the following three statements accepted by Christians are incompatible:1 God is good;
2 God is omnipotent/almighty;
3 Evil exists.
If God is both good and almighty, the reasoning goes, He'd eliminate all evil instantly. Therefore the three statements form an "inconsistent triad" – one statement must be rejected for the remaining two to be consistent.
My simplified answer to this is:According to the Bible evil is a consequence of human rebellion against God. Humans are trying out their own ethics, governments, religions, social structures and laws without direct consultation with God. It's an experiment to test whether humanity can achieve the good good-life or "paradise" without God.My answer to the "inconsistent triad" – as understood from the Bible – is that all humanity is in an "experiment" whereby we have freedom to act contrary to God and experience the consequences. God cannot grant such an experiment and yet overtly intervene or compel compliance without nullifying the result.
For the experiment to give valid results God needs to be inconspicuous. Consider an analogy from psychology: Psychologists investigating human behaviour often use "double blind" techniques so that their subjects do not know what's being investigated because if they knew they'd alter their behaviour and the experiment would give false results.
Similarly if God were overwhelmingly present, the experiment of testing whether humans can go it alone without God would give false results. Therefore, God's very existence has to be deniable and any involvement with humans has to be explainable in other ways.
My answer does not imply that God, or Adam or Eve existed. Those are different questions and require searching the relevant scientific literature.
To clarify this, consider Romeo and Juliet. A literature teacher might set his students the question, "Why Did Romeo and Juliet Commit Suicide?" The students will answer from Shakespeare's play – "According to the play Romeo and Juliet". If a student has in mind that the play is fiction and Romeo and Juliet didn't exist and calls it "bunk" – he'd fail. Whether Romeo and Juliet existed in real life is irrelevant to the essay question. Even children understand this. But Mr Williams didn't.
The above statement that Mr Williams called "absurd" summarized my explanation – consistent with the Bible – to why so-called "natural evils" afflict humans if God is omnipotent and caring. Whether God, Adam and Eve actually existed are different questions and require scientific methods to answer.
NOT INSULTINGIsn't it an insult to the reader's intellect to assert that "humanity" collectively "chose to go it alone" without an entity they ought to have embraced, thereby causing "millions of casualties"? (Williams)Again, that's part of the Bible's explanation of humanity's pain and suffering. In "going it alone" humans do much that the Bible warns will hurt us. This includes war, infanticide, needless transmission of disease, sacrifices of humans to idols, theft, lies, torture, etc. Many social structures and ideologies that guide societies also lead to hurt.
According to the Bible Adam and Eve started this course and almost everyone subsequently concurred. I summed this up with "Humanity chose to go it alone causing billions of casualties."
"Casualties" following a combination of ignorance plus rejection of advice is common experience. Teenagers, for example, often despise parental counsel and ruin their lives. Jesus told of a "Prodigal Son" who insisted on getting his inheritance early and doing his own thing contrary to his father's wishes. (Luke 15) The son messed things up and was reduced to eating from swine troughs. Meanwhile the father maintained the farm for the day the son saw sense and returned. This parable is an analogy for the situation of all humanity. In the greater sense, according to the Bible, the wise father is God. Humans reject God's wisdom and: "eat the fruit of their [own] way." (Proverbs 1:29-31)
Science discovers much that enables us to make better decisions for reducing suffering. Therefore it's self-evident that knowledge and its benevolent application reduces "casualties". If an omniscient, all-powerful, caring God existed and all humans obeyed him, then human suffering would cease.
Remember, we've discussed why an omnipotent, loving God – if such exists – would allow evil. We have not proved that he does exist.
Mr Williams complains of my "voluminous explanations". Actually they're incredibly brief despite repetition to correct Mr Williams' misunderstandings. My university course on Theodicy (the question of evil) involved 3,000 pages!
THEOLOGIANS OFTEN WRONG ALSO
Under INVESTIGATION NOT ABSURD I explained a trend whereby Bible critics repeatedly prove false and the Bible correct.
Theologians are no exception to this trend and also regularly turn out wrong:
Protestant theologian Ferdinand Baur (1792-1860) applied the principles of Hegelian philosophy to the New Testament. He interpreted these documents as products of a struggle between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The Britannica says:This theory, known as the Tubingen theory, soon receded in influence… Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-89) of Cambridge demolished the Tubingen theory by showing the 1st century origin of most of the New Testament texts… (Protestantism, History of)It used to be argued that 1st and 2nd Chronicles were written in the Maccabean period, the 2nd century BC.
After the publication of the Elephantine Papyri – 5th century BC Aramaic documents found in 1904-1908 at the site of an ancient Jewish colony in Egypt – the late date for Chronicles became untenable. J M Myers (1965) subsequently concluded that 1 and 2 Chronicles were written in the Persian period some time between 538 and 333 BC.
Baptist theologian H Wheeler Robinson (1872-1945) noticed the Old Testament emphasis on community. He invented a theory of "Corporate Personality". He claimed ancient Israelites were primitive and pre-logical and did not distinguish the individual from the group. This failure to distinguish supposedly accounted for transitions between singular and plural such as Psalm 44:4 which uses both "I" and "we".
Robinson's virtual denial that ancient Israelites lacked awareness of being individuals was refuted and discredited. (Robinson 1926; Rogerson 1970; Joyce 1983)
Many scholars denied the 6th century BC desolation of Judah and the Babylonian Exile of the Jews. W Keller (1974) writes:Scholars like S. A. Cook and C. C. Torrey have denied the truth of the Biblical tradition of this carrying off into exile… Excavations indicate the exact opposite. Since 1926 a considerable number of towns and fortresses in Judah have been either wholly or partly excavated and carefully examined with a view to establishing the date of their destruction. "The results," says Professor Albright, "are uniform and convincing: many towns were destroyed at the beginning of the 6th century and were never again re-settled.John Allegro (1923-1988): "traced the source of Christianity to an edible fungus." In The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970) he argued that Jesus did not exist but was dreamed up by people affected by hallucinatory mushrooms. (Baigent, M & Leigh, R 1991) Allegro's theory is now rejected. There are simply too many links between the Gospels and archaeology.
Examples could be multiplied.
The Bible turns out correct and its opponents wrong not just in scientific disciplines but also in history and theology. Because of this trend we can generalize and predict that current historians/theologians who trivialise the Scriptures will eventually also be proved wrong.
Mr Williams cites the theologian Barbara Thiering. Refuting the latest critics is a specialized job often needing detailed knowledge of ancient languages, culture, literary customs, laws, etc. I don't do that. I'm a "generalist" who compares Bible statements with discoveries in many scientific disciplines. I seek the conclusions after the verbal fireworks die down. However, a simple critical start on Thiering might be Gwynne-Seary (1996) who argues: "Thiering's claims are a bad joke."
Is it better to trust a source that's regularly correct across thousands of years or to trust what may be "a bad joke"?
Baigent, M & Leigh, R 1991 The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, Jonathon Cape, Britain. pp. 45-56)
Gwynne-Seary, R 1996 Scroll With It; Fortean Times No. 93 December pp. 28-33
Hendrichs, H Zoologisches Zentralblatt November-December 1965 pp. 681-754
Joyce, P 1983 The Individual and the Community. In: Beginning Old Testament Study, J Rogerson (editor), SPCK, Great Britain. Chapter 5
W Keller 1974 The Bible As History, Hodder & Stoughton, Britain. p. 285)
Myers, J M 1965 The Anchor Bible, 1 Chronicles, pp. LXXXVII ff., Doubleday, USA.
Robinson, H W 1926 The Christian Doctrine of Man, T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
Rogerson, J W The Hebrew Conception of Corporate Personality, Journal of Theological Studies 1970 No. 21 pp. 1-16
[Note: "Investigator Readers" is a section in the magazine where readers introduce themselves and
is not normally used for debates but in Anonymous' case became part of his debate with Williams. – Ed.]
(Investigator 70, 2000 January)
My father's attitude to religion was: "If they can't prove it they are wasting their time arguing about it."
Nevertheless, I attended church at 13 and 14 and then stopped.
In 1968 I began encountering criticisms of the Bible that were answered by subsequent discoveries.
For example, Bible points considered false but later proved right included camels domesticated by 2000 BC; existence of Hittites; the cud-chewing behavior of hares; writing in use in Moses' time; eagles find prey by sight not smell; Belshazzar was a king of Babylon; drunkenness as a behavior is reversible.
I wondered whether we could validly generalize from such examples of the Bible turning out correct and its critics wrong, to the conclusion that the process will continue and point by point the entire original Bible will be proved correct.
To generalize from particular examples to general expectations is a common sense approach, used by everyone everyday in every area of life, and is an application of Jesus' own words:He who is faithful in very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. (Luke 16:10)I obtained a New York Times article in which Dr David Macht, a leading authority on cobra snake venom, claimed cobras hear the music of snake charmers and that the Bible agrees with this but that biologists since the time of Shakespeare had taught that snakes are deaf. (1954 January 10 Section 4 page 9)
I remembered learning the "scientific" conclusion, "snakes are deaf", as a child in Year 1! I noticed that every reference supported this – even the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Here was a test to test the validity of the generalization "The Bible might be entirely accurate". If the generalization is valid, then future, clearer evidence than that supplied in the New York Times would one day force revision in the Britannica besides also disproving all the other references opposing the Bible.
I presented these arguments to various university graduates between 1970 and 1974 including an adult theology graduate – a "liberal" who did not believe the Bible. I also told them the prediction regarding the cobra.
No one could refute this approach to the Bible. All tried to point out statements that they felt surely must be false. But because there already was a trend of alleged false statements turning out true it was always rational to say: "Let's wait and see what turns up in future."
One topic in university philosophy was Inductive Logic – the logic in which we infer general conclusions from particular observations. I incorporated the argument for the Bible into my main essay, scored 85% by the standards of the time, and afterwards asked the lecturer whether the argument is valid. He wouldn't commit himself except to say that it was subject to no clear disconfirming examples being found.
My method of finding scientific research to evaluate the Bible statement by statement is non-systematic. I merely keep alert for relevant information in newspapers, magazines and books.
Recent New Scientist articles, for example, report on ancient brick baking in Mesopotamia (perhaps relevant to the Tower of Babel), genes transmitted by eating (perhaps relevant to eating from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil"), humanity being derived from an original "mother" and from an original male (perhaps relevant to the Adam and Eve account), etc.
Researching the accuracy of the Bible is potentially practical. Its health hints, for example, are relevant to the health and long life of individuals, as well as to the health and survival of civilization as a whole. (Investigator 48; 53; 57)
From the Bible I knew about the threat of asteroids and the threat of world-wide fire from asteroids fifteen years before the scientists knew this! (Investigator 62) Had governments and scientists taken the Bible seriously the systematic search for dangerous asteroids and for methods of defence against them could have started much earlier! Imagine a scenario in which an asteroid on a future collision course whizzed by in the 1980s but wasn't noticed because governments and scientists lacked vision to consider the Bible – and therefore its orbit was not calculated and humanity is left unprepared.
Bible points proved correct – despite in numerous cases having been called "false" or "erroneous" by skeptics – number close to 1,000. (Investigator 68 p. 16) I predict the trend will go on to 2,000, 3,000, etc, and that skeptics and atheists cannot stop this.
Skeptics do not dismiss the Bible because they've disproved it, but out of habit, ignorance, peer pressure and moral failure. Their anti-Bible thoughts are familiar to them and they confuse such familiarity with being right. (Investigator 63 p. 50) They should consider that this document that always seems to turn out correct in the long run in many areas of study also presents the way of salvation!
REPLY TO ANONYMOUS
IN INVESTIGATOR READERS (Jan. 2000)
John H Williams
(Investigator 71, 2000 March)
In Investigator Readers (No. 70 p. 37) Mr A couldn't resist rehashing the tiresome twaddle we have endured adnauseam his paragraph at the top of page 39 is spectacularly speculative, even by Mr A's standards.
In it he again makes use of New Scientist to 'perhaps' about the Tower of Babel (ancient brick baking in Mesopotamia), the tree of knowledge/good/evil (genes can be ingested) and dear old Adam 'n Eve (humanity being derived from an original 'mother'/male)! Isn't this kind of adolesent wish-fulfilment the drawing of an extraordinarily long bow? And, next time he uses New Scientist material, I'd appreciate it if he names the elevant issue, so I too "can keep alert for relevant information" and check for tenuous connections never imagined by NS witers!
I don't believe that skeptics/atheists (skeptheists?) "dismiss the Bible out of habit, ignorance, peer pressure and moral failure" (rather insulting). Nor are 'we' anti-Bible – has Mr A done a survey to support this? It's more black/white simplism about a complex field of study, with Mr A crusading in defence of a book which he believes presents 'the way of salvation' (more special pleading for what is, and always has been, a pipe-dream).
I object to Mr A's repeated stereotyping of 'non-believers' as mindless moral bankrupts, compulsively scanning for ways to denigrate the OT 'n NT. Mr A may be quite different in person to how he writes (we'll never know, since he's chosen anonymity) but I'm not keen to share his moralistic vision of how the behaviour of the dominant mammalian life form should be.
Yes, Mr A, skeptheists cannot stop you and other monomanic Bibliophiles increasing the number of 'points proved correct to 2,000, 3000 etc', but few on the planet will care or be impressed.
I was cheered by Mark Newbrook's (No. 70 p. 10) fine critique. In just over one page he made perfect sense, and he highlighted, as I have, the lack of any coherent response to criticism. To Mark's description of A's ideas – disingenuous, contrived, implausible and lacking in evidence – I add speculative: perhaps is a key word in his lexicon.
RESPONSE TO WILLIAMS'CRITICISM
OF ME IN INVESTIGATOR READERS
(Investigator 71, 2000 March)
Science establishes the reliability of the Bible. In Investigator Readers (No. 70 pp. 37-39) I mentioned nine points where opposers of the Bible were wrong and the Bible right. This included a revision in the Britannica and a case where negligence of scientists has put the human race at risk.
Mr Williams is not impressed and borders on verbal abuse – "twaddle", "adolescent", etc. New Scientist says:Discovering phenomena that challenge our view of the world can be a dangerous business. Scientists may become emotional or worse…Mr Williams gets incensed when I "speculate". Yet Paul Davies, for whom Mr Williams has professed respect, speculates that life: "might have crawled out of the depths of the Earth." (New Scientist 1999 August 10) Davies' article is replete with "strongly suggests", "may even have", "I believe", "it looks increasingly", "I suspect", "The scenario I have in mind", "might explain", "This hints that", "Another possibility", "seem", "might expect", "might have", "my bet would be", "could have".
It is important to avoid assigning probability P=0 (complete disbelief) or P=1 (complete certainty) to any proposition since, if you adopt either of these values, that value can never be changed no matter how much evidence you may subsequently receive.
(1988 December 24/31 pp. 49, 51)
On the frontiers of science we produce ideas/theories and speculate or predict, and leave it to future science. If I find hundreds of correct points in the Bible that critics called false, and if even formerly unbelievable stories like Adam and Eve contain details that now have support from science, then the rational person would at the very least keep an open mind!
But not Mr Williams. He says he won't be impressed even if thousands more Bible statements get proved correct. To prove thousands more statements will require the work of thousands of scientists for decades. Scientifically accounting for the Ten Plagues of Egypt, for example, requires the expertise of experts in entomology, fungi, algae, epidemiology, preventative medicine, climatology, toxicology, neurobiology, herpetology, etc.
Science is supposedly the skeptic's reason for rejecting the Bible. Williams, however, has not only disparaged science but also future science! This means he opposes the grounds (i.e. science) on which he claims to reject the Bible. He is in a state of contradiction.
RESPONSE TO "ANON" (INVESTIGATOR 71)
John H Williams
(Investigator 72, 2000 May)
Apropos Anonymous's writing in Investigator 71, I'm responding to his criticism of my criticism.
I've tried to have a rational debate with 'A' but it's clear that he is incapable of seeing how silly some of his ideas are, so I'm retiring from the futile business of critiquing his voluminous writings (22 pages out of 58 in No. 71!)
I leave it to Investigator readers to assess who of the two of us makes more sense: is there anyone who agrees with 'A'? Let's hear from you, please, then maybe we'll have a rest from his tedious and repetitive speculation, and nick-picky justifications, sans any substantiated evidence. Am I the only reader who is heartily fed-up with sweeping generalisations like "Science establishes the reliability of The Bible" or "the number (of Bible points) proved correct (is) close to 1000"?
No matter what I write, Mr 'A' takes and twists, breaking the convention of reasonable and rational debate. I imagine be thinks he's winning points – "Williams has not only disparaged science but also future science." (Investigator 74) It's easy for the 'prince' of speculative assertion to try and put me in my place, but rigorous analysis of any of his belief-driven ideas (such as the existence of Old Nick) will expose them as real as goblins, unicorns and tooth fairies, X-file stories and those scary medieval monsters filling in bits of unvisited oceans.
If I find a statement made by Mr 'A' is ineffably silly and has no basis in evidence I will say so: "twaddle" is not a bad word for it.
For example, in 71 he had the effrontery to compare his speculation with Paul Davies, therefore making his Mr 'A' acceptable. At the risk of saying the obvious, there's a world of difference between the two, and it's exactly this kind of juvenile attempt at point-scoring, which in my opinion severely reduces Mr A's credibility, that I find objectionable. His ideas and 'arguments' are so naive, simplistic and literal that it's pointless to waste any more time on them.
I know that I'm not closed-minded, and having a person who has demonstrated a monomanic obsession with 'proving' the Bible 'correct' (in my opinion, a fruitless and futile exercise) say that I'm so, is fine by me, since it's all part of Mr A's all too familiar modus operandi.
There's another example, his treatment of Barbara Thiering: he predictably used a gross put-down by someone called Gwynne-Seary, writing in the Fortean Times (1996), to dismiss decades of fine scholarship and research as "a bad joke". Obviously, because someone writes in a rather suspect journal criticising Ms T does not invalidate some or many of her ideas.
Naturally, one asks, 'who is this Gwynne-Seary, what's his belief system, what kind of axe is he grinding? I recommend her books to Investigator readers as an antidote to the gospel stories, which, to quote Mr 'A' (in another context!) are in a "state of contradiction".
Thiering is well used to criticism and personal vilification. She's a Christian who believes in God and so is regarded by the established church as one who has betrayed them. Such is the vast power of their vested interest, they maintain the demonstrably false dogma (untruths) of the virgin birth and other miracles in the face of all the available objective evidence.
As is now clear, I have had more than enough of Mr 'A'. I've expressed my ideas and opinions on his work and have complained that he receives far too much space: over 37% of one issue (No. 71) is surely well over the top? I am deeply bored by Mr A's long-winded prose: is there no other educated and articulate believer who will write for Investigator, or is it that Mr 'A' can be relied on to serve up large dollops of the usual defensive drivel? More is often not better, but it is demonstrably true in this case, in my opinion.
I will resubscribe because of the splendid material provided by Dowling, Potter, Hutchinson, Newbrook, Straughen, Stett, Kotwall et al. I'm not averse to anti-skeptic writers like Bergman (I'm patiently waiting for a reply to my critique of one of his pieces), someone of intellectual substance whose ideas are worth taking on. Please find someone other than the egregious Mr A! I appeal to the editor to 'ration' him more than he has done. I am disinclined to read any more of his and will not be responding to anything he writes in future, no matter how provocative!
Anyone who agrees with my assessment, please write to the Editor, because a complaint from only one subscriber is unlikely to effect change.
LETTER THE THE EDITOR
DEBILITATING "JONAH" DEBATE–UNBELIEVABLE
B J Kotwall – NSW
(Investigator 73, 2000 July)
I tend to agree with John H Williams' on page 22 of Investigator 72. I have had the debilitating experience of locking horns with the tenacious Mr. A, some time back in several Investigator issues, over the topic of Jonah being swallowed by a whale which Mr A had maintained could have been a factual account!
The persistence of Mr A in maintaining his stance in face of overwhelming evidence/arguments to the contrary could be described as "unbelievable"! I have also observed that Mr A seems to get more space in Investigator than other writers do and I have complained about this to the editor(s).
REPLY TO MR WILLIAMS (#72)
(Investigator 73, 2000 July)
Mr Williams threw up more irrelevant objections without answering my evidence – which in summary was:
1. The Bible includes hundreds of points that commentators and critics claimed were false but which later research proved correct.
2. I've demonstrated this in Investigator using examples from many areas of research such as archaeology, astronomy, biology, history, medicine, etc.
3. This trend – of alleged false statements being proved true by subsequent discoveries – has gone on for centuries.
4. By applying inductive reasoning – this being the reasoning by which we generalize our experiences and observations – we can predict that the trend will continue and that many more Bible statements currently considered false will turn out true. The prediction is testable and is therefore a scientific hypothesis.
An early example I encountered was the ant. The Bible implies that "the ant" stores food during harvest for future consumption, but this was contradicted by 19th-century European naturalists:Ant (Hebrew. nemalah). This insect is mentioned twice in the O. T.: in Prov. VI. 6, XXX. 25. In the former of these passages the diligence of this insect is instanced by the wise man as an example worthy of imitation… It is well known that the ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the ant stored up food, which it collected in the summer, ready for the winter's consumption; but this is an error. The European species of ants are all dormant in the winter, and consequently require no food; and the observations of modern naturalists seem almost conclusive that no ants lay up for future consumption. (Smith's Bible Dictionary)Examples of Bible accuracy are not all as insignificant as a claim about ants.
The ancient writers lived around the Mediterranean where harvesting ants are common. Probably they considered all ants as harvesters. Many centuries later, the beginning of modern science blossomed forth in more northern temperate countries, where harvesters are unknown. And so it was that these northern scientists by the eighteenth century began first to question, then to refute, the existence of any such creatures. The pendulum of scientific thought had swung in the opposite direction, despite the fierce opposition met in defying the word of the Bible.
In the nineteenth century, as ants were studied more carefully and in additional parts of the world, it was gradually learned that some ants, although not all, are harvesters. Thus was removed the tarnish that in some scientific circles had dulled the veracity of Solomon.
(Larson & Larson, 1976)
In Investigator 62 I explained how I realized from the Bible that rocks from space – asteroids – could cause widespread destruction and even worldwide fire. Scientists arrived at the same conclusion years after me:Twenty five years ago such concepts would have seemed absurd to most geologists, and even a decade ago their implications were only beginning to diffuse into the scientific world… And future catastrophes, which dwarf even nuclear holocaust are inevitable…Technology may soon be able to deflect asteroids on a collision course with Earth if there was forewarning. Nevertheless, Australia cut funding for its asteroid discovery/tracking program in 1996. Australia is best prepared for observing the southern sky and suspending its search removed an important part of the worldwide effort. It was a case of risking wide destruction to save 5 cents per Australian per year.
(Chapman & Morrison 1990)
The book The Tragedy of Childhood Fever is about 19th-century hospital care. In reviewing the book Ray Porter (2000) writes:Ignorance and arrogance killed millions in childbirth.18th and early 19th century maternity hospitals – before Pasteur proposed his germ theory of disease – had scandalous deaths rates. Sometimes whole wards of patients died. In a future article I hope to show that the Law of Moses had health regulations that could have prevented the deaths of "millions".
HOW MR WILLIAMS FAILED
Mr Williams failed to answer:
(1) Why is the Bible so often correct and contrary opinion wrong?
(2) Is this observation "projectible" – i.e. can we validly predict that the trend will continue?
Claiming that he "tried to have a rational debate" and then use words like "silly" while ignoring scientific points made is not an intelligent response. Mr Williams says he is: "fed up with sweeping generalisations like 'science establishes the reliability of the Bible.'" Well, in Investigator 68 p.16 I gave an estimated breakdown of the number of Bible statements that can be proved in 16 scientific/academic disciplines – it approaches 1,000. Being "fed up" does not change the facts or answer whether the trend will continue.
Mr Williams makes irrelevant personal accusations such as: "he had the effrontery to compare his speculation with Paul Davies."
What I did was cite Paul Davies speculating on the origin of life – not to "compare" myself, but to show that speculation is common in science when answers are unknown. There are thousands of speculations in recent scientific journals. If a speculation is invalid because a discovery has already answered it, the proper procedure is not to insult or accuse but to cite the discovery that refutes the speculation.
Regarding Barbara Thiering. The critic I quoted, who called her theory a "bad joke", did not just deliver a "gross put down" but also gave reasons – and Mr Williams should check them up.
What I did (in No. 71 p. 25) was show that the trend of more and more Bible statements being proved correct applies also to statements in the areas of theology and history. I listed four who like Thiering were "scholars" and who worked for years on their theories but whom later scholars proved wrong.
Mr Williams thinks Thiering will be the exception. We therefore have my prediction, based on a trend, that Thiering's hypothesis will fail, and Mr Williams' denial. Time will tell which is correct – and this won't be affected by Mr Williams getting upset.
A MORE RATIONAL APPROACH
To accuse me of "twaddle" and "nonsense" without answering evidence supplied, resembles the Jehovah's Witnesses (Investigator 72 p. 15) calling people "dumb dogs", "blind" and "ignorant" while failing to refute them.
There are more-rational ways to respond:
One philosopher, for example, once replied that I use my knowledge of science to select for consideration those Bible statements that I know in advance will agree with science and ignore the rest.
However, in several debates (in Investigator) with Kirk Straughen, it was Mr Straughen who selected the Bible statements to be discussed.
Another philosopher argued for a distinction between empirical statements and religious statements. To generalise from accurate testable scientific statements in the Bible to accuracy in untestable religious statements (such as "There is life after death") would then be an invalid inductive argument.
However, for this philosopher to be correct, we need permanent criteria to distinguish science from non-science, but we don't have them. One theory is that our entire 4-dimensional universe is embedded in some greater 5-dimensional reality. (Chown 1999) We simply do not know what will be testable/discoverable by future science even in the four dimensions of our experience – let alone in five dimensions. Therefore we cannot define any final distinction between science and non-science that allows for future discovery.
In Investigator 50 I demonstrated two trends:1 More and more geographical locations mentioned in the Old Testament are being found.
2 More and more people mentioned in the Old Testament are being confirmed.
I predicted that the two trends will continue perhaps until all the names are confirmed. Rational replies I received were:Most people in the pre-Exile period were not highly literate. They would live their lives and go and not leave written records. Without written records we rely on archaeological records such as pottery, stone tablets, door posts and coins – unless more scrolls turn up. With the Dead Sea Scrolls we were lucky they hadn't rotted away.
(Dr Roffey, lecturer in Theology, Flinders University – Investigator No. 52 p. 24)
Induction is so sensitive to background information that we'd need to be very careful. We'd need to know what's been done so far and what are the trends. Without knowing a great deal more about it your prediction is a big inductive leap… It strikes me as unlikely that all 2,900 [people] will be confirmed.
(Dr Chris Mortensen, lecturer in Logic, Adelaide University – Investigator No. 50 p. 21)
My inductive evidence is the nearest we can currently get to "proof of the Bible". "Faith" is something else again – since it's possible to believe the entire Bible but do nothing that demonstrates "faith".
I haven't answered all Mr Williams' points as he'd complain of "voluminous explanations". He should note that any fool can say in seven words "Geology is bunk, its claims are false"– but to answer the fool's objection and give the proof that proves otherwise takes many more words.
The purpose of debate is to establish the facts – and not to establish who is more eloquent at insults.
Mr Williams should read Kirk Straughen's effort at Bible refutation in past Investigator editions. Mr Straughen consulted writings of Bible critics (e.g. Prometheus Press), listed purported Bible errors, and avoided emotive language and personal accusations. His effort is a good example for other skeptics.
Anonymous 1998 Investigator 62 Sep. pp 34-56
1996 Investigator 50 Sept. pp 14-21
1997 Investigator 52 Jan. pp 22-25
2000 Investigator 70 Jan. pp 37-39
Chapman, C R & Morrison, D 1990 Cosmic Impacts and Cosmic Catastrophes, Mercury January/February pp. 21, 25
Chown, M 1999 The Great Beyond, New Scientist December 18 p. 8
Larson, P P & Larson, M W 1976 All About Ants, Apollo, USA, p. 64
Porter, R 2000 Delivering Death, New Scientist February 26 pp. 52-53
Smith, W 1967 Smith's Bible Dictionary, Spire Books, USA, p. 38
Hundreds of articles about the Bible and many debates: