(un)Biblical Archaeology

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Red Sea: Archaeologists Discover Remains of Egyptian Army From the Biblical Exodus

Recently I have seen this article popping up on numerous social sites from a variety of sources. At first I was disappointed in the gullibility of my fellow Christians to accept this whole-cloth without taking the time to research it. I can understand the excitement of apparently finding more hard evidence of events described in the Bible, but I was shocked at the eagerness to accept something so fantastic without a hint of skepticism. This website doesn’t try to hide that it is a satire site. A few minutes examination of the site will lead you to their disclaimer.

Every time I saw this pop up I became more and more saddened, until I started noticing something. Inevitably, within a few comments, this article was revealed to be fictitious. Even if the poster did not realize this the other Christians reading the post were quick to point this out. Instead of starting a fight this lead to a realization of the truth for the poster. Instead of dogmatically sticking to an untruth because they liked the way it sounded, they accepted correction and thanked the commenter for setting them straight. This actually renewed my faith in my fellow Christians, that they would be excited about a new find, but willing to accept correction.

This is in stark contrast to many anti-theist articles I have seen posted that celebrate myths like the un-historicity of Jesus, that the Bible is the umpteenth interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation, Alexander’s Nicean canonization of the books of the Bible, or the ever-popular Mithra comparison. These people seem to revel in their ignorance and flatly refuse to accept any refutation, even ones offered by secular scholars. They seem to trust the Da Vinci Code more than any Princeton history professor. These are suppose to be the “enlightened” ones, the “brights”, the skeptical ones that refuse to accept anything that science can’t prove, yet they dogmatically repeat these myths that have been refuted time and time again, without bothering to research the claims themselves.

To all the Christians out there, embrace your skepticism! Don’t be afraid to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thes 5:21).

To all the skeptics out there, be skeptical of your skepticism! Don’t’ automatically accept something as fact just because someone you may admire or trust tells you it’s true. The Bible says of those who suppress the truth, “claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom 1:22).

The truth is out there.

It will set you free.

Rules of Engagement

man-390339_640In the last year or so I have been involved in quite a few theistic/atheistic debates on social network sites, and have followed the back-and-forth on many more. One thing that has never failed to shock me is the ridicule, belittling and all-out hatred expressed during these exchanges. I see complete disregard for any respectful discourse. I see contempt and condescension towards people that do not hold the same views. I see ganging-up on people who are asking legitimate questions.

You might assume that I am talking about anti-theists or militant atheists. I’m not.

I’m talking about Christians.

In a certain sense an atheist has no compunction to abide by any rules of engagement. They are not governed by any body or required to subscribe to any code of conduct or objective moral guidelines. Even though it is hard to accept this, it is part of the price for interacting with a militant atheist, or anti-theist. They are free to make up their own rules. There is no reason to expect them to abide by yours. This is one of the few benefits that their world-view offers them, and you cannot blame them for taking full advantage of it.

I’m not accusing all atheists of being rude or of not following assumed social contracts. I have had very enjoyable and informative dialogs with people who are completely opposed to my point of view. As long as there is mutual respect two people can talk about anything, while still not coming to an agreement. What I am talking about is the ridicule and abuse tactics advocated by atheist leaders like Richard Dawkins or Peter Boghossian. There is a mind-set out there that considers this a completely legitimate way of treating those with alternate views of the world. The tenacity of the Internet troll is seen as an end in itself. If they can get you to loose your cool, or to just throw you hands up and walk away, they have “won”.

A Christian, on the other hand, does have a set of rules they are expected to recognize, and instructed to observe. I don’t know how many times I have heard 1st Peter 3:15 quoted as the Apologist’s key verse, but normally it is only the first half of the verse that you hear. You do not hear the part about doing it with “gentleness and respect” quoted nearly as frequently.

I freely admit that I am as guilty of this as anyone else. I have done my share of flaming. I have also seen the opportunity for a snide remark designed to cut, and have often taken it, but I am trying to change. My current favorite verse to guide my apologetic approach is, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV). This is in the middle of a passage where Jesus instructs the Apostles to spread the Gospel, and warns them about how they are going to be mistreated. He does not tell them to take on the attributes of the wolves, to beat them at their own game, but to present the Truth boldly and unselfishly. They were told to heal the sick. They were instructed to endure in the midst of beatings, torture and being run out of town. If they were called to withstand all of that for the sake of the Message, how can I dare to claim offence against a name-caller, and lash out in some sort of self-serving “righteous anger”?

I am not advocating some sort of wishy-washy, I’m OK you’re OK type of approach. We need to stick to our convictions and state the truth, but we also need to present that truth in an attractive manner. It is possible to either wield it as a sledgehammer to beat them into submission, or as a cool glass of water to offer them refreshment. Recently I have been trying to ignore any insulting rhetoric and only respond to the actual talking points. I rarely feel that I am getting through to the person I am in a direct conversation with, but I am a strong believer in “ricochet witnessing”. I feel that if I can get the opportunity to present my point in the most Christ-like way possible, I have accomplished my goal, whether or not the point is acknowledged in the exchange.

What I don’t understand is the downright vicious remarks that are sometimes posted by my “fellow Christians”. I have lost count of the times I have seen things like “All atheists must die!” and “Go to hell and good riddance!” What are they trying to accomplish? They not only are loosing that particular battle, but are also reinforcing their opponent’s appraisal of Christians in general as bigoted and hateful, causing any future efforts of believers to fall on deafened ears.

Sometime you can tell very quickly that the person you are debating is not interested in rational discourse. If you find you are caught up with a troll, forget about trying to win the argument, you never will. The only win/loss option you have left is how you represent Christ. Are you going to win by displaying Christ’s nature, or will you loose by allowing the other person to goad you into displaying your own human nature? The way you behave is the only thing you have any control over, and in many circumstances it is quite possibly the most important thing. The final instruction Paul gives the Colossians, in a letter he writes from prison, is to “Walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6, ESV) This specifically says to not waste your time. It implies that sometimes the best thing you can do is to politely bow out. Remember that if you decide to stay and engage you are acting as an ambassador for Christ. You need to represent Him in an attractive, intelligent, honest manner. Though anger has its place, its place is usually not during an online dialog with a stranger.

I once heard an axiom that said, “What you call a person with is what you call them to”. Are we calling them to Christ, or to Westboro Baptist Church?

Knowing What You Don’t Know

africa-165019_640I have often heard atheists claim that theists are dogmatically sure of everything, and that they have a closed mind to anything in opposition to their closely held beliefs. They say that science is a process, not an end in itself, that no scientist should continue to hold to a theory if it is demonstrated to be false. Like Laurence Krause, during the debates he had with William Lane Craig in Australia, they celebrate the statement of “I don’t know”. They say that the only way to advance in any discipline is to maintain an open mind, to be receptive to new ideas and new interpretations of the data.

I agree.

Then why do they refuse to accept it when a theologian, armature or professional, presents an interpretation of scripture that does not follow long established traditions? I am not talking some heretical redefining of a primary doctrine, or a Joseph Smithian “new revelation”. I am talking about the, not trivial, but secondary issues that the Scriptures refuse to spell out for us in no uncertain terms. Why is it considered somehow dishonest if a theist offers an alternate explanation for a certain interpretation of a vaguely worded Biblical passage that the atheist is attempting to use against him? Are they disappointed because their straw man is being torn down, or are they insisting we play by some fundamentalist rule that they themselves do not believe in?

The Bible often talks about how creation tells us about the Creator. Psalms 19:1-2 says,

The heavens declare he glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  -ESV

This would seem to say that we can trust what we see in nature, so if what we see and what we read do not match, our perception of one or the other must be flawed. This is what led me to doubt some of the traditional teachings I heard as I was growing up. There is something wrong if Special Revelation (the Bible) and General Revelation (nature) do not agree. Not that the Bible speaks about everything we can observe in nature, but there should not be contradictions in the things that is does speak about.

A Scientist understands that new data can give better insights into old data. Just because they see that old data in a different light does not mean that the old data was unsound. It just means that given what they knew at the time they were not able to see all of the implications. Why do some people have such a hard time accepting the validity of using those same criteria on Biblical texts? There are things that theologians have been fighting over for centuries. Does that mean they are unimportant? No. Does that mean they are not at the core of salvation doctrine? Yes.

There is a famous quote by Steven Covey that says

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

That is good advise for anyone giving an argument for, or against, a Bible passage. There are main things that are crystal clear, repeated over and over for clarification. These are the things that have been recognized as essential and set in the creeds as fundamental truths of God. Then there are other things that are open to interpretation, seemingly on purpose. Who know? Maybe that’s the point. It seems like we are designed to enjoy a good fight. Maybe these things are to teach us the value of that, or to expose our character flaws as we engage. I know that I enjoy thinking about these things, and the more I mature the less I am offended when someone’s opinion differs from my own.

I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it.

Why Do Atheists Still Believe in a Flat Earth?

Why Do Atheists Still Believe in a Flat Earth?

Last week I had an online exchange with a very contrary atheist that kept changing the subject every time I tried to get him to back up his assertions. One of the things that he brought up was the “fact” that the Bible said the earth was flat. He claimed several times that the Bible didn’t know the earth was round because we didn’t discover it until the 1600s, therefore the Bible was written by man.

Really.

I always find it amusing when the very people who say that they do not believe in God because “there is no evidence” neglect to check the evidence of their own claims. They are not only denying the vast amount of evidence for God, but they base their arguments on myths and atheistic memes that a simple Google search would dispel. Which one of us is really working from “blind faith”?

Here is a James Hannam quote from a Wikipedia article that was at the top of the list on a Google search for “flat earth”;

The myth that people in the Middle Ages thought the earth is flat appears to date from the 17th century as part of the campaign by Protestants against Catholic teaching. But it gained currency in the 19th century, thanks to inaccurate histories such as John William Draper’s History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). Atheists and agnostics championed the conflict thesis for their own purposes, but historical research gradually demonstrated that Draper and White had propagated more fantasy than fact in their efforts to prove that science and religion are locked in eternal conflict.[9]

And another quote from the same article;

According to Stephen Jay Gould, “there never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how the public at large may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the Earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”[3] Historians of science David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers point out that “there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth’s] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference”.[4]

So you see, this historical myth is widely known to be false and easy to debunk with only a few moments’ research. In the past, with the widespread illiteracy and lack of education, it is understandable if the common man had some misconceptions, but anyone spreading such falsehoods about history in the present day is either willfully ignorant, or intentionally malicious. This is not to say that some primitive or eastern cultures did not adhere to this belief, but this was far from universal. This looks like another one of those things, that when repeated often enough, takes on a life of its’ own. It doesn’t matter that it has been thoroughly refuted, it is a standard part of their toolbox and they refuse to give it up.

Later I may address the Bible verses that critics use to claim a Judeo-Christian flat earth tradition. I suspect that it will be a lengthy post as there are many ways to twist the scriptures, and many scriptures to twist. The atheist I was dealing with refused to point to a specific passage to support his declaration, preferring to accuse me of not knowing my Bible. I guess he was expecting me to make his case for him. The closest thing to a reference I got from him was “look it up in Deuteronomy and Job”. When I started researching what verses are popularly used to support such accusations I found none listed for either of those books. Hmm, methinks he was just blowing smoke and had no idea what he was talking about, just passing along something he had heard, again.

I have had some very interesting debates with atheists. Thoughtful people who have had a case to make and have had support for their claims. We have had polite arguments that ended without hard feelings and with agreements to disagree. Unfortunately these are the exceptions, not the rule. Most internet atheists (at least the most vocal ones) seem to prefer to shout about lack of proof on your part, while expecting you to accept their unsubstantiated assertions. They deny any evidence you present while expecting you to accept their bald proclamations as fact, proclamations that they themselves have never bothered to research. Why do they bother?

OK, I’m done with my rant now. I was feeling very frustrated over this and it feels better to get it off of my chest. I see it as an instance of casting pearls before swine, and realize that I should expect this once in awhile.

 

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