February 25, 2011
Tonight I had the opportunity to preview Vic Stenger’s contribution [PDF 220KB] to the upcoming Prometheus title, The End of Christianity, edited by John W. Loftus. After reading, I felt compelled to respond, so I figured I’d go ahead and kick off my review now. Amazon lists July 26 of this year as the expected release date.
Though Stenger’s contribution is titled, Life After Death: Examining the Evidence, over half the article clashed with Dinesh D’Souza’s philosophical arguments for God’s existence. For those expecting in an in-depth discussion of NDE’s as I was, you will probably be disappointed. Since I’m working on a series of posts addressing NDE’s, rather than reply to anything Stenger said about them, tonight I’d like to focus on a single claim:
None of the claimed prophetic revelations of the Bible have been confirmed and many have been disconfirmed. [Stenger]
I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly a fan of precision with language and firmly cemented goalposts. Fortunately, Vic gave us both in his two-pronged claim: he wrote that none of the Bible’s prophetic revelations have been confirmed. It doesn’t take an English major to realize that “none” means zip, zero, zilch, and it doesn’t take a professional logician to realize that a single instance of a confirmed revelation falsifies Stenger’s claim. While it would be easy to provide one and call it a day, why be lazy? I’ll give you four: two from science, and two from history.
Before we begin, I’d like to preemptively address those who would cry “cherrypicking” with a tacit confession: I fully acknowledge the fact that some biblical revelations are at odds with today’s conventional wisdom. For anyone who’s interested, we can talk about that in the thread. For now, I simply wish to address the first prong of Stenger’s claim.
1) Truth be told, we need look no further than the first verse of the Bible to falsify Stenger’s claim:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. [Genesis 1:1, ESV]
That there was a “beginning” is currently confirmed by science. Of course, one could simply maintain that Genesis should be read metaphorically and not literally. That’s fine, but if that’s your reply, be consistent: don’t let me catch you saying evolution falsifies the rest of the chapter.
2) How about a revelation that cannot be relegated to metaphor? In the specific context of the creation of the universe, the writer of Hebrews tells us:
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. [Hebrews 11:3, ESV]
Here we find another revelation that is currently confirmed by science: everything that we see is apparently made out of things that are not visible, i.e., atoms, and further down that that, quantum vacuum fluctuations.
3) At the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege on Jerusalem, the prophet Ezekiel wrote:
And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. [Ezekiel 37:18-23, ESV]
This revelation was officially confirmed May 14th, 1948, with Israel’s recognition as a single, sovereign nation.
4) In the post-exilic period, expanding on Ezekiel’s prophecy with more precision, Zechariah wrote:
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness. [Zechariah 8:1-8, ESV]
This prophecy–that the Jews would reoccupy Jerusalem–was confirmed on the third day of the Six-Day War: June 7, 1967.
The uniqueness of the Jewish state is a well-known fact. In The Weekly Standard, May 11, 1998, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote:
Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store.
So there you have it: four confirmed biblical revelations, when Stenger told us there were none.
Shooting fish in a barrel? Perhaps, but unfortunately, this is exactly what I would expect in a book edited by John W. Loftus. It is the editor’s duty to scrutinize his project for factual errors, and Loftus is arguably as biased an editor as a publisher could possibly find. I am not joking when I say that Loftus editing a book titled The End of Christianity is tantamount to Fred Phelps editing The End of Homosexuality. What critical thinker would take the latter seriously? Personally, I’d be impressed if Loftus delegated the editing to a committee of atheists and Christians, but I have a nagging feeling that this false claim and others like it are going to make their way to press unchallenged.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not hating on Stenger. Sure, he makes a few patently false claims in his article, but he also makes others I endorse, and on more than one occasion I’m inclined to side with him over D’Souza. For example, I agree with Vic regarding the “existence” [evidence?] for free will [p.21], and I commend him for being open to the possibility of the noumenal [p.30]. Still, neither of those departures from hardline atheism justify the sort of nonsense we just easily debunked.
Impressionable minds are going to read this book, and we ought to tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God–or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, if you prefer–and in my honest opinion, John W. Loftus is the wrong man for the job.