Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Textual criticism made amazingly easy

Critics often attack Christianity by attacking the integrity of the Bible. As is the case with any written work from antiquity, we no longer have the original writings of biblical authors. Critics point out that all we have are copies of copies transcribed over centuries and not all the copies agree with each other. They say the Bible has been copied, translated, and edited until we can no longer have any certainty about what it originally said. Have you heard any of this before? Well, I'm going to explain why we can have confidence in the integrity of the Bible in amazingly easy terms.

Trying to determine the original wording of a document is called, textual criticism. Here's a reading exercise. Below are five sentences that were copied from a single sentence. (OK, they weren't really copied, but let's pretend they were.) Each one contains an error.

The book si heavy
A book is heavy
The Bible is heavy
The book is hard
The book is not heavy

My question is this: if you only had these five sentences as a reference, do you think you could reconstruct what the original sentence was? Let's look at it word by word.

Four of the sentences say, “the” but only one says, “a.” Therefore, I would guess the first word in the original sentence was, “the.”

Four sentences say, “book” and one says, “Bible.” I happen to know that “Bible” is the Greek word for “book” so the person who copied that might have thought “Bible” when he saw the word, “book.” The second word in the original sentence was probably book.

Four of the sentences say, “is.” The fifth sentence says, “si” which is not an English word. It probably is simply a misspelling of the word “is” so the third word is probably, “is.”

One sentence says, “not” but none of the other ones do so I suspect “not” wasn't in the original sentence.

Finally, the last word in four of the sentences is “heavy.” One sentence says, “hard.” Both words start with “h” so it's possible the transcriber misread the original word “heavy” and wrote, “hard.” I think the fourth word in the original sentence was, “heavy.”

So, having compared every sentence and considered the differences, I believe the original sentence was, “The book is heavy.” Wouldn't you agree? I would be confident in that conclusion even though none of the sentences above actually say, “The book is heavy,” because there are enough similarities in just these five to justify that conclusion. Of course, if I had 10 sentences to compare, I would have even more confidence. If I had 100 or 1000 sentences to compare, there would no longer be any room for doubt. In this same way, we can have confidence in the integrity of the Bible – by comparing the manuscripts.

Now, suppose I'm a scribe and it's my job to make copies of the sentences above. But, for the sake of argument, I'm not a very dutiful scribe and I take it upon myself to change what the text originally said to what I think it should have said. I think it should say, “Reading the Bible is not hard.” That could be a problem. How would anyone reading my copy know I copied it faithfully? Well, there are still the 5 sentences above that could be compared against my copy. My edit is different enough from earlier copies that it would be easily identified as a fake. None of the earlier sentences even have the word, “reading,” for example. Of course, if I were especially nefarious, I could make 5 or 10 copies, hoping that the number of edited copies would overwhelm earlier copies. That might work if there were only 5 earlier copies. However, as was the case before, the more copies that exist, the harder it becomes to add intentional edits later. If there were 100 or 1000 earlier copies that did not resemble my edited copy, they would bear more weight than all of my later copies.

So you can see, the integrity of the Bible hinges upon the number of early manuscripts we have. The more manuscripts that we have to compare, the greater confidence we can have in determining what the originals said and the harder it becomes for forgers to edit the text later. How many manuscripts do we have of the New Testament, then? Greek scholar, Daniel Wallace, tells us the following:

As far as Greek manuscripts, over 5800 have been catalogued. The New Testament was translated early on into several other languages as well, such as Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, etc. The total number of these versional witnesses has not been counted yet, but it certainly numbers in the tens of thousands. At the same time, it should be pointed out that most of our manuscripts come from the second millennium AD, and most of our manuscripts do not include the whole New Testament. A fragment of just a verse or two still counts as a manuscript. And yet, the average size for a NT manuscript is more than 450 pages. At the other end of the data pool are the quotations of the NT by church fathers. To date, more than one million quotations of the NT by the church fathers have been tabulated. These fathers come from as early as the late first century all the way to the middle ages.... NT scholars face an embarrassment of riches compared to the data the classical Greek and Latin scholars have to contend with. The average classical author’s literary remains number no more than twenty copies. We have more than 1,000 times the manuscript data for the NT than we do for the average Greco-Roman author. Not only this, but the extant manuscripts of the average classical author are no earlier than 500 years after the time he wrote. For the NT, we are waiting mere decades for surviving copies.

I've written before that we have more evidence for the historicity of Jesus than any other person of antiquity. All we know about ancient people is what has been written down about them. The number of New Testament manuscripts dwarfs any other ancient writing. If we know anything at all about history, then we can be as certain of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as any other event in history.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Climate change is now an interstellar problem!

It's sad but true. Alarmists blame nearly every disaster on climate change. Hurricane Matthew? Climate change! A drought in California? Climate change! Steve Erwin getting stabbed in the heart by a sting ray? Climate change! (Yes, I really heard someone say that). But even I didn't know climate change had become a problem of galactic proportions. First, some back story.

A few years ago, I wrote about the Drake Equation. Introduced in 1961, the Drake Equation is a formula secular scientists have used to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations that might exist in our galaxy. Starting with a couple of assumptions, all grounded in evolutionary ideas about the age of the universe and the origin of life, some scientists speculate that our galaxy teems with extraterrestrial life – as many as 100,000,000 civilizations! Convinced that there is life out there, groups like SETI have spent 3 decades and millions of dollars trying to find evidence for it. So far, they've found nothing.

The reason we haven't found life beyond earth was the subject of a DailyMail.com article, recently. They described the problem this way:

It is one of astronomy’s great mysteries: Why, given the estimated 200bn-400bn stars and at least 100bn planets in our galaxy, are there no signs of alien intelligence?.... [A]ny life form with rocket technology could colonise the galaxy in a few million years, so why wasn’t there any evidence already?

If you start with the assumption that life will evolve on any planet that has liquid water; if you assume simple, reproducing cells will evolve over time to become more complex; if you assume there has been billions of years of time for life to evolve; then, yes, I can see why secular scientists are scratching their heads. There would have to be millions of intelligent civilizations out there. And given that our technology has virtually exploded in the last 100 years, it's hard to imagine what we will be able to do in the next 100 years. An intelligent life form that harnessed electricity 1,000,000 years ago could very possibly fly across the galaxy by now.

British physicist, Brian Cox, believes he knows why we haven't found any extraterrestrial life, and even says it's unlikely we ever will.

Professor Cox’s suggestion is that the rate of advances in science and engineering in any type of alien civilisation may outstrip the development of political institutions able to manage them, leading to a self-destruction model. So technology that allows the generation of power but produces greenhouse gases, or nuclear weapons, may destroy civilizations within a few thousand years of being developed, which could threaten ours too....

‘One solution to the Fermi paradox is that it is not possible to run a world that has the power to destroy itself and that needs global collaborative solutions to prevent that. It may be that the growth of science and engineering inevitably outstrips the development of political expertise, leading to disaster.’

There you have it! There are no aliens out there because they've all fallen victim to climate change. Burning fossil fuels and having nuclear weapons inevitably leads to self annihilation. It's already happened across the galaxy! It's just too bad the aliens didn't have the Democrat Party forcing them to lay down their guns and start using “green technology.”

I can't make this stuff up, folks! And they say creationists are science deniers? Please! From the same article, co-conspirator, Prof. Forshaw commented, “These seem outlandish ideas but they are based on solid evidence and reasoning.” Outlandish? Yes. Solid evidence and reasoning? Please, Dr. Forshaw, share this “evidence” with me. Have you found the ruins of an advance civilization somewhere? Have you intercepted radio signals of planets calling for help because they're on the verge of destruction? Have you found the escape pod Jor-El used to launch his son into space just before Krypton exploded? Come on, people! This isn't science; it's science fiction!

By the way, I believe there is no sign of life beyond our planet because there hasn't been millions of years, life hasn't formed on other planets, and so there's no chance that life evolved anywhere.

Now, please excuse me while I laugh my head off.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rejecting a straw god

I've been blogging for a while now; this month makes nine years. My online discussions with critics, however, go back over 20 years to the old, AOL chat rooms. I've been on FaceBook and many online forums like CARM where I've engaged atheists head to head – not just answering the comments left on my blog. I read other people's blogs, watch their videos, and listen to their arguments. Suffice it to say, I've heard about every reason there is that people use to reject God. Yet in all that time, all the different arguments I've heard can be grouped into just a few different categories.

Before I get into the categories, let me just say that I have my doubts that these are the real reasons why people reject God; they are merely the excuses they give. I think, deep down, they ultimately reject God because of their sinful, prideful, rebellious nature. They would prefer to continue in their sin rather than submit to God. They want to live life how they please and simply are trying to convince themselves there will be no judgment at the end of it. But since these are the excuses they give, they are what I will use.

Keep in mind that critics will seldom limit themselves to just one of these categories. Usually, it's only one of these things that will first cause someone to doubt, but once he has rejected the idea of God completely, he always embrace the other things as well. Here are the categories I've seen.

Some people claim to reject God because of the “bad things” they see in the world. It's common for people to say things like, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” This includes not only people doing bad things but also natural disasters like earthquakes, plagues, famines, or tsunamis. Sometimes, there will have been a personal tragedy in the persons life, like the loss of a loved one or maybe a divorce or abuse. They believe that God doesn't act at these times because there is no God.

Other people claim to reject God because they reject the biblical standards of morality. They will point to passages like 1 Samuel 15:3, where God commanded Saul to destroy the city of Amalek and describe it as genocide. They say a loving God wouldn't condemn things like homosexuality. Dan Savage once said that the Bible was “wrong” on slavery so how can we trust it on things like sexuality? They also question the “fairness” of God forgiving really bad people or condemning “good” people who reject Him. They aren't just questioning why God let's bad things happen, but claim God Himself is bad. Critics believe if there were a God, He wouldn't act like this.

People also claim to reject God because they see no evidence that He exists. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people ask, “If there is a God, why doesn't He just show Himself?” These critics see the universe operating according to fixed, physical laws and we don't really need to invoke a god to understand them. Just a few months ago, I blogged this quote: Why is God so stingy with direct evidence?... [T]he supposed miracles that attest to a supernatural power all happened in ancient, pre scientific, times, in which there existed no means of reliable verification. These supposed miracles are not being duplicated today so that we could see that such things are possible.... A loving God would not erect such high barriers to belief and then further compound the difficulty in believing by providing us with such strong evidential circumstances against the supernatural, such as the inviolability of the laws of nature. These critics believe if there were a God, He would make Himself known in an obvious way.

I could include people who reject the Bible on the grounds that they claim it contains contradictions and so can't be divinely inspired. This is more of an argument for agnosticism than atheism. That is, they may still think there could be a god, they just don't believe it's necessarily the Christian God of the Bible. This category isn't really relevant to my point today. I just raise it in case people later try to claim I didn't think of it.

As we review this short (but nearly exhaustive) list of reasons, we see a theme begin to develop. These people aren't merely searching for God and not finding Him. Instead, they've imagined how they think God should act but they can't find a god that acts like that! In other words, they aren't really rejecting God, they're rejecting a straw god, one they've created in their own imagination.

If we look at these reasons objectively, we can see they're non sequitur. Take the first excuse, for example: bad things happen so there can't be a god? How exactly does that follow? It's sort of like saying, “doctors are supposed to heal sick people but, since there are still sick people, doctors must be imaginary.” You can see how that doesn't work. The second point suffers the same way. It makes no sense to say, “I don't think homosexuality is a sin so if God thinks so He must not be real.” Finally, no one can seriously claim that God can't be real because He won't appear on the evening news and tell us He's real. OK, maybe they do claim that but it still doesn't make sense.

There is a God. He is loving but He is also just. The bad things that happen in the world are His judgment for our sins but He has made salvation available to all who believe. He has redeemed His people by shedding His own blood and He will restore His creation where there will be no more death. He also has made Himself known through His prophets, through His word, and through His Son, who became flesh and dwelt among us.

It's no wonder some people can't find God. They're looking for a capricious god who loves sin. They're not rejecting God; they're rejecting an imaginary god who doesn't exist.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ten Lies Evolutionists Tell: Part 5, Conclusion

9) Natural Selection is another word for Evolution

OK, to be perfectly honest, I can't recall hearing an evolutionist actually say, “Natural selection is another word for evolution.” Instead, what I hear are evolutionists who constantly use the two words interchangeably. Here's are some excerpts from a PBS.org article titled, Natural Selection in Real Time:

Darwin thought that evolution took place over hundreds or thousands of years and was impossible to witness in a human lifetime. Peter and Rosemary Grant have seen evolution happen over the course of just two years.

Do you see? The title says, Natural Selection in real time but the opening paragraph says the Grants “have seen evolution happen over the course of just two years.” PBS is immediately beginning to confuse the terms. The article goes on to describe a long drought in the Galapagos Islands and how finches with bigger beaks could break open seeds while the birds with smaller beaks starved. The article climaxes to say:

In 1978 the Grants returned to Daphne Major to document the effect of the drought on the next generation of medium ground finches. They measured the offspring and compared their beak size to that of the previous (pre-drought) generations. They found the offsprings' beaks to be 3 to 4% larger than their grandparents'. The Grants had documented natural selection in action. [bold added]

What we see in this PBS article is typical of what I read from mainstream, pop-science articles all the time. They shamelessly conflate natural selection and evolution as though an example of one is evidence for the other.

Here's another example from ScienceDaily that I've used on my blog before.

Countering the widespread view of evolution as a process played out over the course of eons, evolutionary biologists have shown that natural selection can turn on a dime -- within months -- as a population's needs change.

Look how they changed from saying evolution to natural selection in the same sentence. Have they no shame? Here's a still more brazen example where this is done in an article aimed at educating children!

Natural selection is the term that's used to refer to the natural evolution over time of a species in which only the genes that help it adapt and survive are present.

Tsk, tsk. Natural selection is the opposite of evolution. I dare say many evolutionists don't even understand their own theory. I can't blame all evolutionists, though, because I think the laymen have been intentionally misled by the so-called elite. Scientists, and those who publish the articles consumed by the general public, should be more careful about how they use these words. They're not careful, though. I think they're happy for the confusion because they can use examples of what we do observe (natural selection) as evidence for what we don't observe (evolution). They lie.

10) Evolution is compatible with the Bible

From a Nature.com article, we read the following:

Scientists would do better to offer some constructive thoughts of their own. For religious scientists, this may involve taking the time to talk to students about how they personally reconcile their beliefs with their research. Secular researchers should talk to others in order to understand how faiths have come to terms with science. All scientists whose classes are faced with such concerns should familiarize themselves with some basic arguments as to why evolution, cosmology and geology are not competing with religion. When they walk into the lecture hall, they should be prepared to talk about what science can and cannot do, and how it fits in with different religious beliefs.

That's curious. When I think about what the Bible says and about what evolution or the Big Bang theories say, I see some immediate difficulties:

BIBLE : Earth before the sun (Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:14-15)
EVOLUTION: Sun before the earth
BIBLE: Plants before marine life (Genesis 1:20, Genesis 1:24)
EVOLUTION: Marine life before plants
BIBLE: Birds before land animals (Genesis 1:20, Genesis 1:24-25)
EVOLUTION: Land animals before birds
BIBLE: Man created at the beginning of creation (Mark 10:6)
EVOLUTION: Man appears near the end of creation
BIBLE: Sin before death (Romans 5:12)
EVOLUTION: Death before sin

The plain words of the Bible are the opposite of some scientific theories in many areas. It's not debatable. So how do scientists make their theories “fit” with the Bible? Do they tweak their theories? Of course not. In order to make the Bible compatible with evolution, we must compromise on what the Bible says. That's exactly what too many Christians do. There have been a plethora of theories invented by Christians for the sole reason of making the Bible seem to agree with scientific fads – things like theistic evolution, progressive creationism, the Gap theory, the day-age theory, etc. These questionable hermeneutics not only make a mockery of a straightforward reading of the Bible, they seldom accomplish the intended goal of making Scripture fit with evolution.

Look, scientists teach science. I get it. The prevailing scientific theories regarding origins are evolution and the Big Bang so these are what are being taught in science classrooms. Again, I get it. But their scientific credentials do not qualify them to tell me how to interpret Scripture! Why do they feel the need to say this? I'll tell you: it's not because they really care how well their theory comports with the Bible but, rather, they say it in order to trick hesitant, creationist students into compromising on their beliefs. Shame on them.