Yes, Tall el-Hammam is Sodom

Estimated Reading Time: 15 Minutes

Recently, The Bible Skeptic (from here on out known as TBS) decided to post a video claiming the biblical site of Sodom cannot correlate with the Tall el-Hammam site. He didn’t mention my video, but he did reference several arguments I utilized, used oddly similar graphics, and gave his video a similar title to the text of the thumbnail of my video. On top of this, he claimed that apologists are dishonest and bend the facts to suit their needs to get Tall el-Hammam to be Sodom. Well, as you will see, there is a lot of projection in his statements. There are many arguments in favor of Tall el-Hammam that he takes out of context, and Biblical verses he bends to suit his needs. I’ll respond to his arguments in sections by his chapter markers. 

The first argument is an unnecessary series of personal attacks against Steven Collins who has been leading excavations at Tall el-Hammam. All of this does nothing to discredit the Tall el-Hammam site and really only says more about the level TBS is willing to stoop to. There is not much more to say about this and I will move on to his actual arguments. Just remember that atheist apologists, like TBS, love to attack the integrity of apologists while employing low-level personal attacks like this.

NOT A More Northern Location

TBS says the Bible doesn’t necessarily support a northern location because some of the evidence used to support a northern location can also correlate with other potential areas. This is true, but TBS fails to show how a proponent of the Tall el-Hammam has ever said otherwise.

For example, TBS agrees the region north of the Dead Sea is a kikar, meaning round or oval-shaped, but he says other areas around the Dead Sea can be described as a kikar as well. No one would disagree with this. When Collins and myself note this correlation, we are not claiming this is the only area that matches this description.

This is the first place we see TBS’s projection of dishonesty. At 16:55 he says it is the apologists who are “dishonest and self-serving” for claiming it can “only” be north of the Dead Sea. Most proponents of the Tall el-Hammam have not said such a thing, and I did not say it could only be north of the Dead Sea because it is the only kikar in the region.

We obviously need actual geographic correlations that align with the biblical description, regardless of if one could find those elsewhere. The real evidence is the site itself, which does show evidence of destruction by a meteoritic airburst, which would result in fire raining down. If those other potential ‘kikar’ locations around the Dead Sea do not have evidence of a massive site destroyed by fire, then that hardly matters. The initial correlations, like looking for a place in a kikar, only helped Collins find the site. If there was no Tall el-Hammam north of the Dead Sea, the initial correlations would not amount to much. 

TBS’s next argument is to claim that Genesis 13 only says Lot traveled east and moved “as far as Sodom.” Proponents of the southern location have used this very reasoning to say that Genesis 13 does not necessarily mean Sodom was east of Bethel and Ai. At 17:36 of TBS’s video, we hear:

“One can begin one’s journey to the east and then move off in any direction. One does not of necessity have to remain traveling east. The biblical text is not a detailed itinerary of Lot’s journey.”

Right, but this is an odd interpretation of Genesis 13:11-13, which does list one important part of Lot’s jounrey. The text implies Sodom was east of Bethel and Ai because Lot started around Bethel and Ai and then moved East, which is where Sodom is. If I were to tell you I was in Los Angeles and was moving east as far as Dallas, you would not get the impression I moved east and then randomly went off in some other direction, and therefore, have no clue where Dallas was in relation to Los Angeles. You would think I was moving east until I got to Dallas. 

Likewise, Genesis 13 strongly implies Sodom was off to the east of Bethel and Ai. Lot headed east and kept going as far as Sodom. Nothing in this passage suggests he changed direction to get to Sodom. TBS is really stretching things to make it sound like Sodom does not necessarily have to be in the east. Now it is possible that Lot continued to move around the area after that to keep his flocks fed, but Genesis 13:11-12 doesn’t suggest he broke off the eastward route until he got to Sodom. TBS’s reading of this passage does not make sense and he has to stretch the meaning of the passage to make it sound like something it does not say.

Ezekiel 16:46

TBS tries to argue Ez. 16:46 really must mean Sodom is south of Jerusalem. The verse reads as:

“And your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters.”

One thing I noted in my video is that the Hebrew word for south (יָמִין) actually means ‘to the right of.’ See verses like Genesis 13:9; 24:49; 48:13-18; Ezekiel 1:10; 21:22; 39:3. In no place when the word ‘יָמִין’ shows up in Ezekiel does it necessarily means ‘south’. In fact, in other places throughout Ezekiel we see other words used that more definitively mean south (Ez. 20:46-48; 21:4; 40:2, 24-28, 40, 41; 41:10-13, 18; 46:9; 47:1-2, 19; 48:10). Now, the word ‘יָמִין’ can mean south if the direction of south is off to the right of the speaker, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that. So when Ez. 16:46 says Sodom was ‘יָמִין’ of Jerusalem, it could mean to the east, southeast, or south. There is a wide area that could mean off to the right.

TBS notes the word for north (שְׂמֹאול) in the verse means ‘to the left.’ But Samaria is indisputably north of Jerusalem. So when the verse says Samaria if off to the left, it must mean north, which means ‘off to the right’ must mean south:

Once again, TBS is forcing the verse to say something it does not say. Here is another analogy. If I am giving directions from Houston and looking north, I could say you would get to Dallas if you headed left and get to New Orleans if you headed right:

TBS wants us to believe that if someone says something is to the left, then whatever is to the right can only be 180 degrees in the opposite direction. But Dallas is north of Houston and New Orleans is east of Houston, not south of Houston. Yet there is nothing intuitively wrong with saying Dallas is to the right of Houston and New Orleans is to the left (if I was facing north). Why, in TBS’s view, can something only be 180 degrees in the opposite direction for it to be left and right? Can I not point to two things with an angle of 90 or 60 degrees apart and say they are to the right and left of me? TBS is not being charitable in his interpretation of the text. Sodom can be east and off the right, while Samaria can be off to the left and be north.

When I published my video, I didn’t mention that the word for ‘north’ in Ez. 16:46 means ‘off to the left’ because I thought once we understand the verse is not saying literally the direction of south, but ‘off to the right’, most people’s intuition would take over. They would understand these are not concrete directions of north, east, west, and south, but simply left and right. Apparently this was not the case for everyone.

Where Was Zoar?

I didn’t mention the location of Zoar in my video because we are not sure where Zoar was. TBS notes that Zoar has to be close to Sodom because Genesis 19:30 says Lot and his daughters got there by the morning after the destruction, so it would have to be less than a half day’s walk. TBS then cites Deuteronomy 34:1-3, which describes the geographic makers for the land that God was going to give Israel: 

“Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.

TBS highlights that the passage only mentions 3 cities, Dan, Jericho, and Zoar. TBS says:

“Dan is near the extreme north of the land promised to the Israelites, while Jericho sits near its center Zoar. Therefore, it is most likely to be associated with the extreme south of the land.”

TBS then places Zoar at the southern end of the Dead Sea, as it must represent the area of the extreme south of Israel’s territory. But the problem is if Zoar was all the way at the other end of the Dead Sea, that would take roughly a 28-hour walk, not enough time for Lot and his daughter to walk there overnight. 

So according to TBS the three cities of Deut. 34:1-3 are meant to represent the extent of Israel’s land from north to south. Zoar is implied to be in the south, at the other end of the Dead Sea, since it is less than a day’s journey from Sodom (Gen. 19:30), so Sodom must be in that area as well.

The problem is that TBS is reading too much into Deut. 34:1-3. This passage does not claim to be giving the city associated with the furthest northern extent of Israel’s territory. Nor does the passage claim to be listing the city associated with the area furthest to the south. If that was the case, it would list Sidon in the north, not Dan (Joshua 11:8). For the southern boundary, it would list Kadesh (Joshua 15:3). Moreover, if Zoar was at the southern end of the dead sea it makes no sense to list it a boundary marker for Israel. The area was in the region of Edom and not part of Israel’s territorial boundries. Israel’s territorial boundaries were supposed to extend further southwest and did not include the southern end of the Dead Sea. So this is probably not what Deut. 34:1-3 is aiming to do. See this map:

Also, remember Moses is on Mount Nebo, which is on the eastern side of the Jordan. If this was about territorial boundaries, then the text is more likely stating the territorial boundary markers on the eastern side of Israel’s land. Looking to the north that would be Dan, but to the south, the territorial boundaries of Israel on the eastern side of the Dead Sea do not extend all the way to the southern end of the Dead Sea. They only go so far and then you enter the land of Moab. If Zoar was a geographical marker for Israel’s territory (which Deut. 34:1-3 does not necessarily say), then you would not expect it to be found at the southern end of the Dead Sea, but rather where the territory of Rueben ends. But again, Deut. 34:1-3 is not necessarily saying this. TBS has read this into the text.

Also, there is no evidence that Zoar was at the southern end of the Dead Sea. Steven Collins has written an article noting it makes more sense to place Zoar at the eastern side of the Dead Sea at “the southeast corner of the deep north basin.”

This is only speculation. We still do not know for sure, but TBS’s claim that it must be at the southern end of the Dead Sea because of Deut 34:1-3 is not a convincing argument. It does not appear he put a lot of thought into section of his video.

Altering Biblical Chronology 

This is the longest section of TBS’s video and is more of a rant than a scholarly response. TBS notes that Christians, like myself and Collins, do not believe the biblical ages are literal. So he accuses us of changing what the Bible records. He says:

“Apologists pick and choose when the Bible is making a literal recording and when it is speaking metaphorically… The apologist must assert that the plain ages given in the biblical text for the patriarchs are not plain at all but are mythological ages, not meant to be taken literally.”

Wow, where to begin…

TBS really displays a lack of knowledge of the scholarship on this issue. Apologists are not “picking and choosing” when something is literal. There are good reasons from the ancient cultural context that suggest ancient authors were not attempting to establish a chronology with personal ages or dates, I cited several scholarly sources in my video on Genesis 5, and will add a hyperlink to that video so I don’t have to repeat myself. It is not apologists claiming the ages were never meant to be literal, it is scholars, like Lloyd Bailey, Richard Hess, Craig Olson, Nahum Sarna, Kenneth Kitchen, and Meir Bar-Ilan. TBS seems to be totally unaware of the scholarly research on this issue (sources are given through the video on Genesis 5). Dr. David Falk also has a good video explaining how this is a flawed and fundamentalist reading of the Bible and is thrusting modern views of chronology onto the Bible.

If TBS did some scholarly work on this issue, he might have uncovered this is not an apologist tactic, but a scholarly argument that the ages of Genesis are not literal. We are not picking and choosing when something is literal or not. The text of Genesis records events in a historical manner, so we take things like the destruction of Sodom as a historical event because a proper exegesis of the text indicates that. However, a study of the cultural context and an evaluation of the internal evidence of the ages listed in Genesis indicate the ages are not meant to be literal. 

Finally, long before Tall el-Hammam was discovered, Kenneth Kitchen was already claiming that Abraham lived in the Middle Bronze Age II (sometime between 1850–1700 BC). Apologists didn’t scramble and frantically re-date Abraham after Tall el-Hammam was discovered. Kitchen, in “On The Reliaiblity of the Old Testament,” had already placed Abraham in this exact time period (Kitchen 2003: 313-72). Interestingly, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam coincidentally aligned with this period of time. This section of TBS’ video does more harm for his overall argument, as it shows how poor his research was for his video. He is obviosuly not aware of the scholarly dates for Abraham.

Never To Be Inhabited Again

TBS claims Tall el-Hammam cannot be Sodom because the Bible says Sodom was never supposed to be inhabited again, but archaeological evidence indicates the area was habited again during the Iron age. He cites places like Isaiah 13:19-20, Jeremiah 49:17-18, 50:39-40, and Zephaniah 2:9. 

First, this is easily addressed by noting that the prophets often use hyperbole; such prophetic statements were never meant to be taken literally. Take Isaiah 60:19-20:

The sun shall be no more

    your light by day,

nor for brightness shall the moon

    give you light;

but the Lord will be your everlasting light,

    and your God will be your glory.

Your sun shall no more go down,

    nor your moon withdraw itself;

for the Lord will be your everlasting light,

    and your days of mourning shall be ended.

Jeremiah 4:27-28:

For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

For this the earth shall mourn,

    and the heavens above be dark;

for I have spoken; I have purposed;

    I have not relented, nor will I turn back.”

Second, let’s just give TBS what he wants and say the prophets were being literal when they spoke of no one living in Sodom anymore. If we want to be hyper-literal, these verses are technically talking about the actual cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, not the whole region where Sodom was. No one ever lived in the city of Sodom because it was utterly destroyed. People could live in the general region of Sodom, but technically no one has ever lived in the cities again because they were destroyed. Some people, merely inhabiting the region, is not the same as living in the actual cities. TBS wants us to take passages like Isaiah 13:19-20 literally, but not too literal, as that would undermine his argument. 

As for Matthew 11:23, nothing in the verse suggests what TBS thinks he sees. It reads:

“And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”

TBS then says about this verse:

“Clearly, in Jesus’ day Sodom did not remain, Tall el-Hammam, however, did.”

So if ruins remain that means the city has remained? TBS has an odd definition of what constitutes a city. I wonder if TBS cites the city of Uruk is still around because we have ruins. Are dinosaurs still around because we find their fossils, and technically, all the organic matter that made dinosaurs is still around? The truth is the verse is speaking of how Sodom was destroyed and did not remain. Ruins remaining after a city’s destruction is not the same as the city remaining. 

Conclusion

TBS then ends with a rant generalizing about how all apologists think, which is ripe with insults and character attacks. But a simple examination of his arguments shows how uncharitable and dishonest his arguments actually are. His attempts to discredit the Tall el-Hammam site as the location of the destruction of the Biblical Sodom are not successful. 

I am dumbfounded as to why some atheists, like TBS, are so uncharitable with the Bible that they cannot even allow it to obtain any accurate information. Why does TBS care so much to argue that Tall el-Hammam cannot correlate to the Biblical destruction of Sodom? If an ancient city mentioned in the Avesta was found and Zoroastrian followers became excited about it, I would hardly care. Archaeological sites can only strengthen the reliability of a religious text, not prove the truth of the religion. TBS also says little about the Tall el-Hammam and how it was suddenly destroyed by fire and extreme heat, which correlates well with the Genesis account. It amazes me how much energy some atheists put into attempting to argue the Bible cannot get anything right. Why are they bothered by the Bible recording accurate historical details?

How James Fodor Misrepresents Inspiring Philosophy (and Sometimes Science)

Recently I debated James Fodor on the digital physics argument. In my view, we had a great conversation and I thought that hopefully, we had mutual respect for each other even though we disagreed on a number of issues. However, a few days after the debate James uploaded a video titled, “How Inspiring Philosophy Misrepresents Science. The title is not very respectful, but I wanted to see what he had to say. When you watch the video it is not a list of how I misrepresent science. Instead, it is just a video of how James disagrees with my philosophical interpretations. An example of misrepresenting science would be if I said the Schrödinger equation included a symbol for consciousness in its formalism. I never said something like that or am I ever really explaining how to calculate something like the Schrödinger equation. Most of my videos are explaining the philosophical implications of scientific findings, not discussing experimental setups or how to calculate certain equations. 

So his video has a misleading title. He may disagree with my arguments, but that is not the same as misrepresenting the science. Most of what I do is philosophy. He even states this in the video description, “In this video I provide further analysis of the claims that Inspiring Philosophy has made concerning the theological implications of various results from quantum mechanics and cosmology.” So why give the video a misleading title and why state in the video I am misrepresenting the science? That is not what is going on, because we merely have different interpretations of what the data implies. You cannot just go around accusing anyone who has a philosophical disagreement with you of misrepresenting the science.

Ironically, James is the one who has made some scientific errors in his attempt to respond, like confusing the Leggett Inequality with the Leggett-Garg Inequality, which we get to later. I’ll go through his video and point out the issues.

The Holographic Principle:

James spends several minutes explaining the holographic principle, never once does he argue I misrepresented the science or the mathematics of the holographic principle. At about 16:00 in, James gets to the actual disagreement we have, which is the philosophical implications. He says, “it is not even clear like what ontologically this means,” and, “to say this has any particular philosophical implications is grossly premature.” Once again, you can see James is talking about philosophical disagreements, not places where I misrepresent the science.

Now, James is not just accusing me of premature philosophical implications, but several leading physicists that work on quantum gravity. Leonard Susskind says,

“…the three-dimensional world of ordinary experience––the universe filled with galaxies, stars, planets, houses, boulders, and people––is a hologram, an image of reality cited on a distant two-dimensional (2D) surface” (Susskind 2008: 298).

Herman Verlinde said at the World Science Fair when speaking about the holographic principle,

“…at least this development; will be that we start actually with information. So information is going to be our starting point and space-time is not something we start with. We forget about what space is and what time. And then somehow the information by thinking about; how much information is; what information is doing then the space-time; what we call be emergent, it will come out of just a bunch of zeros and ones” (Hockenberry 2014).

Also, I included a video of physicists in my original video talking about the holographic principle, where they point out the philosophical implications as well. James is not just attacking me when says any philosophical implications are grossly premature, he is attacking the physicists I am relying on. 

He also might be implying through his explanation of the holographic principle that it is a component of string theory (M-theory) only. This has been shown to be incorrect. As Sabine Hossenfelder has demonstrated the holographic principle is consistent with Loop Quantum Gravity as well:

“[A]fter having read the paper I did contact the authors and explained that their statement that the LQG [loop quantum gravity] violates the Holographic Principle is wrong and does not follow from their calculation. After some back and forth, they agreed with me, but refused to change anything about their paper, claiming that it’s a matter of phrasing and in their opinion it’s all okay even though it might confuse some people” (Hassenfelder 2015).

James also makes a note that it cannot apply to our universe given we do not live in anti-de Sitter space. This is true, but by that logic, we should throw out general relativity because it doesn’t apply to every aspect of our reality. It cannot be rectified with quantum mechanics (QM). Obviously we are not sure of how general relativity will fit into our final theory of quantum gravity, but that doesn’t mean we should throw it out for now because it cannot be applied to every aspect of reality. Likewise, just because not every issue with the holographic principle has been sorted out does not mean it is not useful or has no explanatory power. In any path forward quantum gravity researchers recognize the holographic principle will be included. When Leonard Susskind says the holographic principle is not going away he is probably right. So I stick with what the leading physicists are saying.

To quote Jacob Bekenstein:

Holography may be a guide to a better theory. What is the fundamental theory like? The chain of reasoning involving holography suggests to some, notably Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, that such a final theory must be concerned not with fields, not even with spacetime, but rather with information exchange among physical processes. If so, the vision of information as the stuff the world is made of will have found a worthy embodiment” (Bekenstein 2007).

Tests of the Holographic Principle:

In the next section James takes issue with a 2017 study I relied on that shows the holographic principle is consistent with cosmological observations in the microwave background radiation. James once again never points to a place where I misrepresented the science, but he does accuse me of overstating what the study says. But in reality, James is just getting nit-picky over terminology and has to stretch his interpretation of my words to make it sound like I am over-emphasizing this study. 

Here is what I said in my video:

“The holographic principle only worked in theory at first, with no observable evidence to back it. But all that changed in 2017 when a peer-reviewed study published observable evidence for the holographic principle. They tested the model against cosmological observations of the early universe and found that the holographic model is compatible with the data found in the cosmic microwave background radiation. From looking at irregularities in the background radiation their team found that simple equations of quantum field theory could explain almost all cosmological observations, is marginally a better fit than the standard model (where the QFT becomes nonperturbative), and can potentially explain apparent anomalies.”

Notice I never said what James accuses me of. I never said the paper shows the holographic model is better than standard models. I only note in aspect there was a “marginally a better fit” as the paper says as well. I never said the paper argued for any of the metaphysical claims I make. I am noting, as the paper says, the holographic model is “compatible with the data found in the cosmic microwave background radiation.” James wants to quote-mine the phrase “observable evidence” out of my video and not interpret it in this context. This is not an example of extending the principle of charity.

Also, I did not argue for emergent space-time from this paper alone. This is only one piece of the puzzle. If the paper was as powerful as James assumes I am stating it is, there would have been no need to argue for emergent space-time beyond this, but notice in my original video I felt the need to present more data from other aspects as well. Even without this paper, it would not change much. Theoretical physicists, like Susskind, note the holographic principle is here to stay and are fully willing to discuss the philosophical implications of it. 

Emergence of Space:

In this section, James takes issue over one point of agreement I share with Sean Carroll, which is that space is not fundamental. James admits Carroll doesn’t think space is not fundamental but then appears to be bothered because the context of the quote in my video is of Carroll talking about space in terms of the Schrödinger Equation. James says this is different than cosmology so I must be taking Carrol out of context. But notice in my video I was talking about quantum mechanics (QM) in this section and how space emerges from entanglement. At this point in my video, I’ve moved past the data point of the holographic principle and I’m now arguing for the same philosophical implication from another data point in QM. So ironically, James is taking things out of context. 

Carroll agrees space is not fundamental and emerges from quantum mechanics in some sense, as even James acknowledges. On that point, Carroll and I agree and that is all I did when I included his quote. Again, the video argues for emergent space-time from multiple areas, not just cosmology. What I found odd is about 36:00 into James’ video, he admits that what I am describing is similar to what Carroll was saying. So what is the issue?

Emergence of Time:

In this section James takes issue with a paper I cited from which I said, “…in 2013 an experiment seemed to confirm this idea that time, along with space, is an emergent phenomenon.” Notice the language I used, because James takes most issue with this and keeps implying I exaggerated the power of the evidence. James says this experiment doesn’t prove time is emergent and, of course, I agree. Luckily, I never said that. I only said it “seemed to confirm this idea” that time is not fundamental. Noting a study supports the overall case is not claiming the entire case rests on one data point. I noted it only aids my overall case. Also, this is, once again, not an example of misrepresenting the science because I never said, as James implies, this proves time is emergent.

Remember, my overall case up until this point relied on the holographic principle, the fact that space and time and one thing in the relativity, and our space appears to be emergent. I then pointed out the Wheeler-Dewitt equation supports this notion, and the experiment also shows how this could work, thus, supporting the overall conclusion. James is misrepresenting the emphasis placed on one study I briefly mentioned.

James also takes issue with me including a video of Fotini Markopoulou-Kalamara talking about how space and time are probably not fundamental. He notes she has a different model and doesn’t agree with my metaphysical worldview, which is true, but I never said otherwise. Once again, like with the clip of Sean Carroll, I am only quoting a point of agreement, not claiming she agrees with my overall case.

Also, James says repeatedly that this research doesn’t show space and time are not real, just that they are not fundamental. This is a game of semantics. I agree space is real, but what I mean is defined in the context of my video as meaning space is not real like a naive realist would think of space and time. Physicists talk about gravity being an illusion and this is the same understanding they are trying to get at if you read their work in context. James doesn’t agree with the use of terminology, but as I said to him in our debate it is not as if we are just saying space and time are not real without explaining what that means. James is not extending charity here or allowing the words we use to be defined in context. Throughout the rest of this reply, I am not going to respond to James when he doesn’t think I am using the right words. If he cannot interpret words in their context there is nothing to engage with on this issue.

If you would like more, a physicist recently gave a talk explaining how it could theoretically be possible for time to emerge from QM.

Reality of the Wavefunction:

James then moves to a paper that talks about the reality of the wave function titled, “Measurements on the reality of the wavefunction.” He seems to think my interpretation here contradicts my adherents to Ontic Structural Realism, which is the idea the structure of physical reality is genuinely relational and doesn’t need to include reference to underlying objects like particles are fields (Berghofer 2018:176). This is not the case if you do not add meaning to anything I said. In my video, I said, “A recent experiment gave strong evidence ‘the wave function should directly correspond to this reality.’ So the wave function (a mathematical probability of multiple possible states in Hilbert Space) does correspond to the fundamental nature of reality.” That is not claiming the wavefunction is a real object, just that it corresponds to our reality. My view would be that it reduces to information (Kuttner and Rosenblum 2011).

James asks, “does this paper prove the wave function is real?” Well, I never said it “proved” anything. Here is another good example of James over-emphasizing my words and making me say something I never said. James says repeatedly this doesn’t prove the reality of the wavefunction, and it is wrong for me to say this proves the reality of the wave function, which once again is misrepresenting what I said. 

Most importantly, James is not presenting his audience the full picture. I do not think he is doing it on purpose though. What he is saying is that epistemic views of the wavefunction would just deny the objective reality of the underlying quantum state so the paper I cited does not apply to them since the paper assumes an “underlying reality exists.” So in that view, it sounds like James is saying the paper is useless and doesn’t add much to the debate. But one should be asking themselves if this is true why did the physicists even write the paper? Surely, they must know their conclusions are useless and epistemic proponents would not accept their assumptions about the reality of the quantum state? The problem is James has presented only half the truth. There are epistemic views of the wave function that still try to hold to an objective reality of the underlying quantum state. 

Instead of me telling you this I will just quote from the paper, “On the reality of the quantum state

“Many others have suggested that the quantum state is something less than real [1–8]. In particular, it is often argued that the quantum state does not correspond directly to reality, but represents an experimenter’s knowledge or information about some aspect of reality. This view is motivated by, amongst other things, the collapse of the quantum state on measurement. If the quantum state is a real physical state, then collapse is a mysterious physical process, whose precise time of occurrence is not well-defined. From the ‘state of knowledge’ view, the argument goes, collapse need be no more mysterious than the instantaneous Bayesian updating of a probability distribution upon obtaining new information. 

The importance of these questions was eloquently stated by Jaynes: 

‘But our present [quantum mechanical] formalism is not purely epistemological; it is a peculiar mixture describing in part realities of Nature, in part incomplete human information about Nature — all scrambled up by Heisenberg and Bohr into an omelette that nobody has seen how to unscramble. Yet we think that the unscrambling is a prerequisite for any further advance in basic physical theory. For, if we cannot separate the subjective and objective aspects of the formalism, we cannot know what we are talking about; it is just that simple.’ 

Here we present a no-go theorem: if the quantum state merely represents information about the real physical state of a system, then experimental predictions are obtained which contradict those of quantum theory. The argument depends on few assumptions. One is that a system has a “real physical state” – not necessarily completely described by quantum theory, but objective and independent of the observer. This assumption only needs to hold for systems that are isolated, and not entangled with other systems. Nonetheless, this assumption, or some part of it, would be denied by instrumentalist approaches to quantum theory, wherein the quantum state is merely a calculational tool for making predictions concerning macroscopic measurement outcomes. The other main assumption is that systems that are prepared independently have independent physical states” (Pusey et al. 2012: 475).

In this paper, I am quoting from they open by citing other papers that take this mixed view. However, they also note it doesn’t apply to purely instrumentalist views. Now, perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my video (which I can accept) because I didn’t note this doesn’t apply to instrumentalist interpretations. However, I was operating within this scientific realism framework. An instrumentalist wouldn’t find any of the scientific findings I cited in that video all that convincing. However, if one tries to say the wavefunction is just a mathematical tool but still holds to a scientific realist position then this study I cited creates problems. This is why the original paper I cited says in its abstract:

“The only alternative is to adopt more unorthodox concepts such as backwards-in-time causation, or to completely abandon any notion of objective reality” (Ringbauer et. al 2014).

Now one has to hold to backwards-in-time causation or hold to an instrumentalist view, but such a person would not even consider any scientific data relevant and would fall outside of the framework of my argument.

The world as virtual reality:

I don’t want to spend too much time on this section because I don’t use Whitworth’s paper as much as I used to back when I first start talking about the digital physics argument. At best, I can call upon it for secondary evidence. But unless many of the other data points I cited are still valid this argument would not amount to much. 

However, one of the problems is James believes this paper is meant to be like the other papers I cited. He seems to think it was meant to be a scientific paper. It is not and never claims to be. Whitworth is not doing physics in his paper, but making a philosophical inference by comparing philosophical worldviews. James is right when he says it is not an empirical paper, but Whitworth never claimed it was (as far as I am aware). The main point of the paper is the philosophical comparison between an objective reality and a virtual reality and if our world was an objective reality we should not see things like a beginning point, a lack of hidden variables, or emergent features. 

For one thing, I think some of James’ issues revolve around the way Whitworth worded certain things, and on that, I can agree with James. The wording in the paper is a bit messy and what he says can be interpreted in ways that do not get at what he is trying to say.

Quantum cognition:

James begins this section by suggesting my use of quantum cognition is inconsistent with another area of my research regarding the need for consciousness to collapse the wavefunction. This is not accurate because he is assuming reductionism and not idealist concepts. So in other words, I am not saying the mind reduces to quantum mechanical processes, but that minds manifest in quantum-like ways when in a physicals reality. For example, in the video James is responding to I say, “…the inner world of the mind should be modeled with the properties of quantum mechanics,” and “under idealism, the brain is simply the physical manifestation.” I specifically said these things this way to avoid the objection I am claiming the mind reduces to quantum mechanical processes. I never say consciousness reduces to quantum mechanics, but that minds act or behave in the fashion of the rules of quantum mechanics. This is something I explained extensively in “Quantum biology: Irreducible Mind (Part 4)”. 

At the end of Hameroff’s full talk, physicist Henry Stapp asks a question and Hameroff points out a distinction between their two views. Hameroff believes collapse in QM creates consciousness, but Stapp believes consciousness causes collapse and I am more in line with Stapp’s view. So there is no contradiction as James suggests.

Next, James moves onto the field of quantum cognition, which is a mathematical approach to model mental and cognitive phenomena using the formalism of quantum mechanics. James says, “Just because two things are describable using the same types of formalisms it doesn’t mean they are the same thing or related.” James provides an example by noting that notions of the concept of equilibrium used chemistry were borrowed and used to model aspects of the economy. 

Now, equilibrium is a vague concept that can apply to a lot of areas, because all it refers to is a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces. I could say my mind is at ease and reached equilibrium or I could use it to refer to traffic flow, or talk about the movie from 2002. This is not a good comparison to correlations we are finding in quantum cognition (QC). If all that was going on in quantum cognition was merely applying a general concept like equilibrium James would be correct. But QC is using the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics in multiple ways to model numerous cognitive processes, is finding remarkable success, and solving puzzles that traditional models have failed to explain (more on this below). Additionally, what other aspects of the macro-world can we model using the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics and have as much success as QC? As far as I am aware this is a unique correlation. Quantum mechanics is very counter-intuitive because the behavior of the quantum realm doesn’t match anything we see in our macro-reality. The only exception is cognitive processes. This is why when I emailed physicist Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi, who works on these issues he could say, 

“It is of course possible that the efficacy of the quantum formalism in modeling human cognitive processes is just a coincidence. But if someone digs deep enough into the subject, this coincidence will start to look quite amazing, hence, the suspect that it is not just a coincidence will start gradually to grow.“

“[The] correlations, i.e., the similarity in behavior, between human concepts interacting with human minds and quantum entities interacting with fermionic matter, could be caused by the fact that both entities share the same conceptual nature” (personal communication, May 12, 2021).

In other words, there is more here than merely applying general concepts like equilibrium. We are finding remarkable matches, which supports the inference both minds and the underlying quantum realm share the same conceptual nature. 

Now James also cites a paper on quantum cognition from 2009 which argues the only relevant aspects of quantum mechanics that can apply to cognition would be contextually. They note contextuality is also used in classical models classical systems could be used to reproduce the quantum models instead. James says “All that these quantum’ models use is interference and that is wave phenomenon.”

Really, all of them? Does this one 2009 paper show all quantum cognition modeling is just about interference and nothing else? There have been no other papers since then presenting a different understanding? James is probably not aware, but I was anticipating this objection before our debate. In my post-debate review, I also brought up the problems with James’ argument here.  I don’t think James is intentionally cherry-picking but it certainly seems odd he only cites one paper and hasn’t presented data at all from the past decade. In my debate I had this slide on the screen:

This is a 2015 paper that has covered many successes of QC and shows many aspects of quantum mechanics have been applied to QC beyond contextually. To quote:

“Although quantum cognition is a new field, interest in it is growing rapidly. Recent new applications attack a diverse range of challenging problems in psychology, including bistable perception (Atmanspacher & Filk, 2010), overdistribution in episodic memory (Brainerd, Wang, & Reyna, 2013), entanglement in associative memory (Bruza, Kitto, Nelson, & McEvoy, 2009), violations of rational decision making (Pothos & Busemeyer, 2009; Yukalov & Sornette, 2011), probability judgment errors (Busemeyer et al., 2011), over-and under-extensions in conceptual combinations (Aerts, Gabora, & Sozzo, 2013), order effects on inference (Trueblood & Busemeyer, 2011) and causal reasoning (Trueblood & Busemeyer, 2012), asymmetric similarity judgments (Pothos et al., 2013), and vagueness (Blutner, Pothos, & Bruza, 2013)” (Busemeyer & Wang 2015: 167-8).

The paper is linked here if you want to see all these references. Atmanspacher & Filk’s paper specifically brings up nonlocality. A paper that James cites in his stream, “Quantum cognition: a new theoretical approach to psychology,” brings up modeling features beyond contextually (Bruza & Busemeyer 2015: 383-93). A 2009 paper notes that classical models cannot explain all the quantum-like effects researchers are using in QC (although it would be hard to experimentally show this), “The fact that entangled states do not occur in classical physical models, suggests that they would be very difficult to create in cognitive models of this variety” (Bruza et al. 2009:372). An analysis from 2020 found, “…human behaviour is not in conformity with local realism… According to the collected data in this experiment, subjects did not behave classically.” (Imannezhad et al. 2020: 5-6)

Now, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more that I could say on this issue. Typically, in my videos and debates, I only bring up Aerts’ one 2009 paper because this is new to most people and I don’t feel the need to overload them on this topic. But there is far more than what James has presented and many researchers do apply all sorts of quantum aspects to cognition beyond contextually. The 2009 paper James has cited is not the final word on this issue. We can see other researchers have been going beyond contextually and apply numerous other quantum aspects to cognition. Perhaps James will turn out to be right and the quantum modeling will be as powerful as the research is indicating, but the current data is not pointing in that direction.

Neurons and the cosmic web:

In this section, James goes after the research of Franco Vazza and Alberto Feletti (2020), who were able to show similarities between the cosmic web of galaxies and neural networks within the human cortex. James says, “I have no idea why you would expect the brain to look like the cosmos if idealism is true because they are just two different things existing in God’s mind. Why not trees or clouds or like anything else? I don’t know why you would connect those two.”

The reason is that clouds and trees are not representations of minds on idealism. They reduce to mere physical phenomena within a mind. This would be like asking an idealist why a single atom in the brain is not the representation of a mind, simply because you are not looking at the full picture. As Bernardo Kastrup says “…the inanimate universe as a whole must be, in a certain sense, akin to a brain” (Kastrup 2019: 240).

Second, James accuses Vazza and Feletti of cherry-picking their results because only the magnification of 40x  samples of the cortex matches the distribution of the cosmic web. But this is not cherry-picking because magnification is only about aligning the correct sizes (vertically and horizontally). This would be like saying it is wrong to say a tardigrade resembles a caterpillar because you can only see the similarities of the tardigrade through a microscope. If you were to use a basic magnifying glass I would probably only see a dot and not see the similarities in autonomy. Or it would be like saying a picture of me on a screen doesn’t resemble me because you zoomed into the size of one pixel. Obviously you need to adjust your parameters to align for a proper comparison. 

Now perhaps you could argue that you could make anything fit by adjusting the magnification or power spectrum scale. This is not true as Vazza and Felleti also compared their model against other phenomena:

“Lastly, we produced control power spectra for other randomly drawn samples of natural networks (sky clouds, tree branches, water turbulence, and magneto-hydrodynamic turbulence – all available at https://cosmosimfrazza.myfreesites.net/cosmic-web- and-brain-network-datasets), with the goal of double-checking that our method is not biased to produce similarity between truly different physical systems. As shown by the gray lines in the right panel of Figure 2, such systems display a more regular power-law spectral behavior, clearly at variance with what found in the main networks analyzed in this work – even if in the latter case we did not perform a full analysis across the entire dynamical range of such systems, looking for the emergence of possible spectral features as in the case of the brain and the cosmic samples” (Vazza & Feletti 2020: 5).

So it is not as arbitrary as James implies, otherwise, you would be able to see similar results with trees or clouds merely by adjusting scales. If anyone wants to know about what the scientific implications the authors think are for their study Felleti did an interview where he discusses this topic. At the end, he notes he doesn’t care to make any metaphysical implications regarding this study, which is fine. Mostly what I am doing in my video is focusing on the philosophical implications (like Kastrup does), and Felleti and Vazza do not have to focus on that. A good comparison is when Einstein first came up with relativity he rejected the philosophical implications of his work that pointed to a beginning point for time. It took others to make this inference for Einstein to eventually see it. Philosopher of Mind Bernado Kastrup is the one who talks more about the philosophical implications of their work.

 

The Leggett Inequality:

This section contains, by far, the biggest error in James’ response. James is attempting to show I do not understand the Leggett inequality, but instead, he confuses the Leggett Inequality with the Leggett-Garg Inequality. These are two separate inequalities that focus on entirely different issues. The paper he cites is on what the Leggett-Garg Inequality looks at, not what the implications of the Leggett Inequality are. Because of this, nothing James says here actually addresses my argument against realism in quantum mechanics.

In a nutshell, when Bell’s Inequality was violated it ruled out local realism in quantum mechanics. One could not hold to both locality and realism. However, the Leggett inequality, which was experimentally verified to have been violated twice (Gröblacher et al. 2007; Romero et al. 2010), goes one step further falsifying realism in quantum mechanics. The 2007 paper states,

“Our result suggests that giving up the concept of locality is not sufficient to be consistent with quantum experiments, unless certain intuitive features of realism are abandoned” (Gröblacher et al. 2007: 871).

The experiments focus on non-local hidden variables in quantum mechanics and rules out all falsifiable models (this would exclude versions like Bohmian Mechanics which currently cannot be falsified).

“[R]ealism claims that all measurement outcomes depend on pre-existing properties of objects that are independent of the measurement” (Gröblacher et al. 2007: 871).

Leggett inequality rules this out (at least any current falsifiable version), implying the final outcome is dependent on measurement. One cannot appeal to non-local hidden variables to fully account for the quantum state. I argue this philosophically (not scientifically) leads to Henry Stapp’s interpretation of quantum mechanics (or similar idealistic interpretations). However, I did not just rely on this alone. I relied on this inequality and other data points as well to argue it ultimately goes back to consciousness. 

The Leggett-Garg Inequality focuses more on the limits of macroscopic realism, which James discusses in his response. The inequality state you cannot have macroscopic realism and noninvasive measurability. Generally, what the implications are from this inequality is we probably have to give up the idea that macroscopic objects are in a definitive state or the concept of noninvasive measurability, as James explained nicely in his response.

Most of what James says in this section of the video is entirely missing the point because he mixed up the inequalities. Normally, I would merely move on at this point but remember James titled his video “How Inspiring Philosophy Misrepresents Science.” He also says throughout the video I need to be more careful in how I word things as to not mislead people in understanding the science. However, James isn’t really demonstrating how I am misrepresenting the science, instead, he is just pointing out he disagrees with my philosophical interpretations. Yet here, we see him making a scientific error by confusing these inequalities. This is also not the first time he has made this mistake. In an 8-hour response video on the Digital Gnosis channel from a few months ago he also confuses these two inequalities. If it only happened one time I would not make such a big deal about it. So this needs to point out because of James’ own standard on the importance of not misleading people on what the science says.

The Kochen-Specker Theorem:

This is a complicated section, so I’ll begin with a review. The Kochen-Specker (KS) theorem states one of the three assumptions must be abandoned:

  1. All observables defined for a [quantum mechanical] system have definite values at all times.
  2. If a [quantum mechanical] system possesses a property (value of an observable), then it does so independently of any measurement context, i.e. independently of how that value is eventually measured.
  3. There is a one-one correspondence between properties of a quantum system and projection operators on the system’s Hilbert space. 

The last one seems untenable to abandon. Physicist J. Glattfelder says, “The last assumption is, of course, the cornerstone of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics” (Glattfelder 2019: 373). So it appears we are left with rejecting (1) or (2) or both. 

Now, James is correct that this is very complicated. This is why I focus on the philosophical implications of what the formalism of this theorem implies. So one paper on the KS theorem states:

“The Kochen-Specker (KS) theorem states that non contextual theories (NCT) are incompatible with quantum mechanics. Non-contextuality means that the value for an observable predicted by such a theory does not depend on the experimental context, i.e. which other co-measurable observables are measured simultaneously. In quantum mechanics, observables have to commute in order to be co-measurable. Non-contextuality is a more stringent demand than locality because it requires mutual independence of the results for commuting observables even if there is no spacelike separation” (Simon et al. 2000: 1).

In other words, according to the KS theorem, we cannot watch nature play on a stage where we are just passive observers. How we decide to measure the system plays a role in the final result. 

Science writer Anil Ananthaswamy puts it like this:

“…the values that you obtain when you measure its properties depend on the context. So the value of property A, say, depends on whether you chose to measure it with property B, or with property C. In other words, there is no reality independent of the choice of measurement” (Ananthaswamy 2011).

In the clip I played in my video of Anton Zeilinger directly says the KS theorem shows that “what we perceive as reality now depends on our earlier decision of what to measure… we are not just passive observers.” 

Now, James’ response to my use of the KS theorem is confusing, but this is a complicated issue so I don’t fault him for that. Also, he cites a very interesting paper on the philosophical debate surrounding quantum mechanics, and thank him for bringing it to my attention. I rather enjoyed reading it (twice now).

However, I don’t think the paper is really helping James’ case, as it is not attacking anything I put forward. The paper is focusing on a debate between two camps. Since I am in Henry Stapp’s camp I wouldn’t fall into either of these (more on this later). The two camps the paper is discussing are ontic views and epistemic views of QM.

Epistemic views would hold to the idea QM is not stating anything objectively real about reality. The paper quotes Marchildon:

“In the epistemic view, the state vector (or wave function, or density matrix) does not represent the objective state of a microscopic system (like an atom, an electron, a photon), but rather our knowledge of the probabilities of outcomes of macroscopic measurements” (de Ronde 2020: 2).  

Ontic views claim QM is really describing reality independent of observers (namely us). The paper states:

“it is the conceptual representation provided by a theory that which expresses —in some way— what reality is about —completely independently of human choices and conscious beings” (de Ronde 2020: 3).

The main aim of the paper is to show the KS theorem shows epistemic views are “simply untenable” (de Ronde 2020: 12; I do not have time to explain why for the purposes of this blog post). However, separate from that, for traditional ontic views, the KS theorem also shows QM is describing reality and shows “define projection operators which cannot be interpreted as preexistent properties possessing definite values” (de Ronde 2020: 9).

In other words, the KS theorem points out noncontextuality is incompatible with QM. One cannot observe a quantum state as a passive observer. How we choose to measure determines the final outcome of what we observe.

The paper provides a good analogy from Diederik Aerts to explain this. Think of a piece of wood. It has both the properties of being burnable and floatable. But if you test to see if the wood burns then you cannot test to see if it floats because the wood has burned up. If you test to see if it floats the wood has become wet and will no longer burn. So both properties cannot be tests simultaneously, meaning the two experiments are epistemically incompatible,  but the piece of wood has both ontological properties (floating and burning). 

But when it comes to QM, “the KS theorem makes explicit the ontic incompatibility between properties. This important result is a consequence of the formalism itself” (de Ronde 2020: 12 – emphasis added).

So to summarize, the KS theorem, “makes explicit the deep metaphysical problem that any interpretation of QM must face in case it attempts to interpret the theory in terms of an objective state of affairs. This is why, an ‘epistemic reading’ of KS theorem is simply untenable.” But it also says, “the classical metaphysical presupposition according to which reality must be necessarily represented in terms of classical ontology, namely, as systems with definite valued preexistent properties” is untenable (de Ronde 2020: 12). 

I am not sure how James thinks this is a problem for me, because the metaphysical implications of this are exactly what I am getting at! The KS theorem makes an ontological claim about the nature of QM, demonstrating there is no reason to think there are preexistent properties for a quantum state prior to measurement, and on top of that, how we choose to measure determines what properties a system has.

Additionally, I am not in either group as the paper defines them. I do not hold to an epistemic view of QM, like an instrumentalist, and I am not a realist with the commitment to the idea QM is “completely independently of human choices and conscious beings.”

I agree with Henry Stapp, who is a scientific realist, so he believes QM is describing reality as it is, but he also does not claim QM can be or is “completely independently of human choices and conscious beings.” He argues for a mixing of these views (i.e. a scrambling) and claims an idealist view in terms of scientific realism. This is why I refer to myself as an objective idealist and not a subjective idealist. There is a real objective reality beyond the subject, that is a real objective mental reality we discover and participate in. Stapp explains it like this:

“I have stressed just now the idea-like character of the physical state of the universe, within vN/W quantum theory. This suggests that the theory may conform to the tenets of idealism. This is partially true. The quantum state undergoes, when a fact become fixed in a local region, a sudden jump that extends over vast reaches of space. This gives the physical state the character of a representation of knowledge rather than a representation of substantive matter. When not jumping the state represents potentialities or probabilities for actual events to occur. Potentialities and probabilities are normally conceived to be idea-like qualities, not material realities. So as regards the intuitive conception of the intrinsic nature of what is represented within the theory by the physical state it certainly is correct to say that it is idea-like. 

On the other hand, the physical state has a mathematical structure, and a behaviour that is governed by the mathematical properties. It evolves much of the time in accordance with local deterministic laws that are direct quantum counterparts of the local deterministic laws of classical mechanics. Thus as regards various structural and causal properties the physical state certainly has aspects that we normally associate with matter. 

So this vN/W quantum conception of nature ends up having both idea- like and matter-like qualities. The causal law involves two complementary modes of evolution that, at least at the present level theoretical development, are quite distinct. One of these modes involves a gradual change that is governed by local deterministic laws, and hence is matter-like in character. The other mode is abrupt, and is idea-like in two respects. This hybrid ontology can be called an information-based reality” (Stapp 1999: 26-27).

The philosophical implications of the KS theorem are directly in line with this. Now, perhaps you could get around this measurement problem by positing hidden variables. But this is why I also talk about the KS theorem after I present the experimental violations of the Leggett Inequality, which again, falsifies realism in quantum mechanics. Again, “realism claims that all measurement outcomes depend on pre-existing properties of objects that are independent of the measurement” (Gröblacher et al. 2007: 871). You can posit an unfalsifiable interpretation (e.g. GRW objective collapse, Everttian, or Bohmian) of QM but then I will argue such interpretations are not parsimonious, complete, and often are riddled with problems. 

Now James is right, that the KS theorem can never be fully tested. As the paper he cites says:

“In QM, to measure all properties of the same quantum system one requires necessarily mutually incompatible measurement setups. This imposes the necessity of a repeated series of measurements. But, is it possible to measure the same quantum system repeatedly? The answer is well known for quantum physicists: a simple NO” (de Ronde 2020: 12). 

In other words, if I choose to measure the momentum of a quantum system I could not also measure the position of the exact same quantum system. But experiments have been run to show, as far as the experiments will allow us to see, that there is no evidence of “noncontextual hidden variables” (Huang et al. 2003: 1). Another experiment has even closed compatibility loopholes (Lapkiewicz et al. 2011: 493). So although we can never fully test the theorem, some results do fall in line with the implications of the theorem, which suggest noncontextual hidden variables do not exist.

Now, James says:

“It’s just a formal result. You can’t define all of the properties of a quantum system with respect to certain types of measurements at the same time, because of interference between different aspects of the quantum system. It just doesn’t make sense to find them all at the same time. Quantum systems sort of have interference properties internally that the classical systems just don’t have, so that’s why it’s called contextuality. It’s contextual. The way you interact with a quantum system will determine whether you get this set of measurements or this other one, but that doesn’t that doesn’t depend on you actually making the measurements. The making the measurements is just a way of seeing that.”

But then the question becomes what evidence is there the properties of a quantum system were there prior to measurement? Any falsifiable hidden variable theory has been ruled out by the violation of the Leggett Inequality. The paper he is citing even concludes with:

“KS theorem in its complete formal-ontological form can be then understood as an ad absurdum proof of the untenability of the classical metaphysical presupposition according to which reality must be necessarily represented in terms of classical ontology, namely, as systems with definite valued preexistent properties, or in more general terms, as an actual state of affairs” (de Ronde 2020: 14).

So where are the preexistent properties we are just seeing in measurements? There is no evidence they exist prior to measurement. Sure, they could be there and we can just take a formal understanding of the KS theorem, but the metaphysical implications of this are more interesting. As Anton Zeilinger says, “we are not just passive observers.” If the formalism doesn’t allow for preexistent properties and non-local hidden variables are ruled out by the Leggett inequality then we have a pretty good case for an objective idealist understanding. Again, this is still a philosophical inference, but a good one, given the data we can use to support it.

Now, James also says this doesn’t mean we create reality. It is not my position we will reality into existence, but the emergence of the physical properties does depend on observation under idealism. It is not like we choose what to see, but how we measure determines what the physical outcome will be, and the evidence supports this conclusion. Of course, one can falsify this idea but just showing that a quantum system has those properties prior to measurement. But currently, the philosophical implications of the Leggett inequality and the Kochen-Specker theorem support the idealist interpretation. It is not like looking at a classical object and just seeing it from different angles. As the paper James cites notes, QM “the KS theorem makes explicit the ontic incompatibility between properties” (de Ronde 2020: 12). There is no evidence the properties are there and we are just able to see one aspect of them, as James suggests.

Delayed choice quantum eraser:

James opens this section by noting my interpretation is consistent when the results of the delayed choice quantum eraser experiment. He doesn’t show any place I misrepresent the actual science. Instead, what he actually shows is that he disagrees with my philosophical conclusions regarding what the experiment means. He says one is not required to hold to my view consciousness causes collapse. I agree, and I never said otherwise when arguing for my interpretation. I argued in my video my conclusions are the most parsimonious and plausible interpretation, given the combination of all the data I argue for.

James says my view is a minority position. I want to address this because James has made this remark in multiple hangouts I don’t think James is presenting the full picture to his audience. He has stated he holds to objective collapse interpretation, which is actually a very minor view and appears to be even more of a minority view than mine. See the results here. So he needs to stop implying this is a problem for my view because if being fringe means we should be suspicious of that view he should apply that same standard to his interpretation and note how much more fringe it is. 

Delayed choice quantum eraser experiment: 

Now, James does an excellent job explaining the experimental setup. He is right you never technically do not see an interference pattern at D0. In my video, I was trying to use simple terminology to explains what each particle will result as. However, if the entangled photon hits detector D1 or D2, the one that hits D0 will also be a wave result, not a localized particle result like what we see when a photon hits D3 or D4. In other words, the entangled particle that hits D0 will be the same if its twin hits D4 (particle result) or the same if it hits D2 (wave result). But a particle hit D0 before its twin hits one of the other four detectors, so as one paper on the experiment says:

“If one views the quantum state as a real physical object, one could get the seemingly paradoxical situation that future actions appear as having an influence on past and already irrevocably recorded events” (Ma et al. 2012: 484).

Why? Because an entangled photon hits D0 before it hits either D1, D2, D3, or D4. But if its twin hits D2 then a wave result would have hit D0 prior to this. If one hits D4 then we would see a particle result for the twin at D0 before its twin hits D4. But what is the difference between the D4 and the D2 detector? Nothing but the path information. Why would path information cause different results? The only difference between the two is our knowledge about the system (i.e. path information). Our knowledge of the system seems to be the reason there will be different results. 

James’ interpretation at 2:18:15, seems to be that when a photon hits D0 is randomly collapses to a wave or particle result then, in turn, it determines the path its twin would take (whether to D2 or say D4). The problem with this is the particles that hit D0 have the same path information every time, so there is no reason for the particle to randomly collapse to a wave or particle and thereby affect its twin’s later path.  For example, this would be inconsistent with the result from standard double-slit experiments, where depending on the experimental setup, we get the same result (e.g. ave or particle) every time. We do not get a switching between these two results in one experiment unless we modify how we measure the photons. So every particle that hits D0 should be the same result if that was all the experiment was. 

But in the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser Experiment, it is only the path information for its twin (idler), that goes to either D1, D2, D3, or D4 that is different. Why would the signal photon at D0 cause the entangled particle to go one way or the other? There is nothing in QM that would suggest this. The only difference is the path information for the idler photon and that seems to determine what the result will be for each twin photon that hits D0. As one paper puts it:

“Our realization of Wheeler’s delayed choice Gedanken Experiment demonstrates beyond any doubt that the behavior of the photon in the interferometer depends on the choice of the observable which is measured, even when that choice is made at a position and a time such that it is separated from the entrance of the photon in the interferometer by a space-like interval” (Jacques et al. 2007: 967).

John Wheeler said:

“…we have a strange inversion of the normal order of time. We, now, by moving the mirror in or out [of the setup] have an unavoidable effect on what we have a right to say about the already past history of that photon” (quoted in Jacques et al. 2007: 967).

James also says, “observation means detection by a physical apparatus.” How we observe is through an apparatus but that alone doesn’t tell us why the results are different. The ‘which path’ information does that, and that has nothing to do with merely interacting with a measuring apparatus. If it was just detection by a physical apparatus why is the path to that apparatus causing a different result? 

I think  Sir Rudolph Peierls said it best:

“[T]he moment at which you can throw away one possibility and keep only the other is when you finally become conscious of the fact that the experiment has given one result… You see, the quantum mechanical description is in terms of knowledge, and knowledge requires somebody who knows” (Davies & Brown 1993: 73-74).

In my view, this is a far more parsimonious understanding of what is going on. Now, remember, I never argue from this experiment alone but from multiple areas. My interpretation can explain a lot more with a lot less, making it more plausible. I can explain all these various data points with one idealistic interpretation, instead of different independent explanations for each issue. 

Conclusion:

I don’t think it is fair for James to title his video “How Inspiring Philosophy Misrepresents Science” when all he did was explain he has different philosophical interpretations. His own video description also implies this, so his title is misleading. More importantly, if you are going to accuse me of getting the science wrong, you better make sure you got the science right, and at times, James made scientific errors. Ultimately, I think his critique was riddled with problems and only makes me more confident in my idealistic worldview.

References: 

Ananthaswamy, A. (2011, June 22). Quantum magic trick shows reality is what you make it. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20600-quantum-magic-trick-shows-reality-is-what-you-make-it/?ignored=irrelevant.

Berghofer, P. (2018). Ontic structural realism and quantum field theory: Are there intrinsic properties at the most fundamental level of reality? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 62, 176–188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2017.09.003

Bekenstein, J. D. (2007, April 1). Information in the Holographic Universe. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/information-in-the-holographic-univ/.

Bruza, P., Kitto, K., Nelson, D., & McEvoy, C. (2009). Is there something quantum-like about the human mental lexicon?. Journal of mathematical psychology, 53(5), 363–377. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmp.2009.04.004

Bruza, P. D., Wang, Z., & Busemeyer, J. R. (2015). Quantum cognition: a new theoretical approach to psychology. Trends in cognitive sciences, 19(7), 383–393. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.05.001

Busemeyer, J. R., & Wang, Z. (2015). What Is Quantum Cognition, and How Is It Applied to Psychology? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(3), 163–169. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721414568663.

Davies, P. C. W., Brown, J. R. (1993). The Ghost in the Atom: A Discussion of the Mysteries of Quantum Physics. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

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Why I Took Down Exodus Rediscovered

It is never easy to admit you are wrong, but when it is necessary, it must be done. Most of all, I want to make sure my supporters are given accurate information to the best of my abilities. So if I feel I am wrong, then I feel like I am lying if I do not change my view and be open about it.

I am sure a lot of people enjoyed the documentary and found it convincing. I obviously did when I decided to make it, but after talking it over with Egyptologist David Falk I admit there were a lot of things I overlooked. On the surface, when I was reading the scholarly literature, things did seem to line up. Early date Exodus supporters and some who were unsure on the date, who reviewed my video also seemed to think it was a plausible case. However, after further research, I feel as though this is the wrong time period for the Exodus. I’m sorry if this upset anyone.

This doesn’t mean I think the Exodus never happened. The internal evidence that was presented in the documentary will appear again in an updated version. But the external evidence I presented is not evidence for an Exodus and I’ll explain why.

Abandonment of Avaris:

This is the most important issue. Whenever the Semites left Avaris (if at all) is the most likely time period to suggest an exodus took place. When you read Bietak’s work, on the surface it does appear Avaris was abandoned in the Thumoside period: 

“A strong case can be made out for the continuity of a part of the population of Avaris of the Hyksos after the political break caused by Ahmose’s conquest of Avaris and his destruction of the Hyksos kingdom. The comparative study of material culture of the late Hyksos Period and the Early New Kingdom at Tell el-Dabʻa and Tell Hebwa shows unbroken continuity right up to the Tuthmosid period” (Bietak 2011: 32).

“The pottery production with its specific blend of Middle Bronze Age and Egyptian typology continued nearly unbroken into the time of the Tuthmosides, which indicates that the population of the Hyksos Period was still around, perhaps to some extent also used for military service” (Bietak & Forstner-Müller 2011: 29).

The problem is these quotes are only talking about the royal palace complex. The whole site of Tell el-dab’a has unbroken continuity up until midway through the Rameside period (supporting the late date). The temple precinct was much bigger than the area of the Egyptian palace/administrative building, which continued on until the Amarna Period when it was briefly destroyed (most likely due to Akhenaten’s reforms). 

“After the conquest of Avaris by Ahmose the town was first abandoned, except for the precinct of the temple of Seth where an unbroken activity till the Amarna Period can be observed. This temple seems never to have been abandoned” (Bietak & Forstner-Müller 2011: 29).

However, shortly after the temple was reconstructed.

“We have palaces indicating at least part-time royal presence and we have the temple of Seth, which was obviously destroyed in the Amarna Period and rebuilt in the restoration period under Tutankhamun and Horemheb” (Bietak & Forstner-Müller 2011: 30).

Most importantly, the surrounding material culture does seem to continue on until the Rameside period. So the Semites who remained there after the Hyksos period were still there through the Thutmoside and Amarna period. But midway through the Rameside period, Tell el-dab’a (Avaris area) is left in ruins and replaced by cemeteries. 

Bietak says there was “a Western Semitic population living in the eastern Delta for quite a length of time, from the late 12th Dynasty (ca. 1830 BC) until the Ramesside Period” (Bietak 2015: 31).

“Traces of big enclosure walls, abutting the northern entrance tower of the Hyksos palace, show that the activity at the site did not cease after the Hyksos Period (Fig. 31). These walls were only preserved in their very lowest brick courses due to agricultural activity. They may date to the end of the Hyksos Period or to the New Kingdom. The fortress walls from the time of king Horemheb found at ‘Ezbet Helmy may be a hint that these walls could be part of this fortress. To this period may also belong a round well with a diameter of about 4 m (Fig. 29/Fig. 32). It cuts into the remains of the Hyksos palace and produced from its filling sherds of Marl D of the late 18th Dynasty/Ramesside Period. From the time afterwards, when everything was in ruins we have evidence of scattered Ramesside burials and burials of domestic animals such as dogs, sheep and goats which may have been connected with pastoral activity in this region” (Bietak, Math, Müller, & Jurman 2012: 45)

“The place was abandoned after the reign of Amenhotep II and resettled by Horemheb, who constructed a huge fortress with buttresses encompassing the harbor. He also reconstructed the temple of Seth, thereby laying the foundation for PI RAMESSE, which became the royal residence during the 19th Dynasty. From this period, only the enclosure wall, magazines, and tree pits of the temple of Seth are preserved. Major parts of Avaris served as a site for the cemeteries of Pi Ramesse during the Ramesside period. The tombs have been largely stripped bare and destroyed by agricultural activity of the last hundred years. After a long hiatus, the site shows traces of a large settlement of the Persian period, with remains of houses and a temple” (Bietak 2012: 8)

This data suggest the Semites of Avaris were around until the Rameside time, after which the area was left in ruins and large areas were replaced by cemeteries. Since the material culture of the whole site doesn’t break until the Rameside period, there could not have been an Exodus under Amenhotep II. The whole Avaris site would need to show evidence of abandonment, not just the Thutmoside palace. So in actuality, the data supports a Rameside Exodus, not an earlier date.

Grave of Lambs:

This was one issue that was immediately pointed out to me as soon as the documentary went public. Initially, I thought the lambs would have been roasted whole (Exodus 12:8-10) and then buried with care so as to not break any bones. Having myself been to a pig roast I have seen a whole pig roasted and then the meat was taken off. At the end of the night, all that was left was mostly a skeleton. But now I believe this is unlikely. 

First, the lamb graves were made after the Thutmoside palace was already abandoned (Bietak 2006: 123-136). Exodus 12:29-32 suggests the Pharoah would need to be at that palace (with his family) if this is when the Exodus took place. You cannot bury Passover lambs in an abandoned palace while the Pharaoh was supposed to be residing there. 

Second, the lambs would likely have not been buried as whole skeletons. It would have been very hard to burn all the flesh off the bones while the skeletons were whole (Exodus 12:10).

Third, the royal family of the 18th dynasty resided as Thebes, roughly 500 miles away from Avaris (Tyldesley 2001: 18-19). If the Pharoah awoke in the night to find his oldest son dead and could he call for Moses that night (Exodus 12:30-31), this would not suggest the Exodus took place during the 18th dynasty. Now it’s possible the Pharaoh was in the north at the Thutmoside palace of Avaris, but it is unlikely his son would be there with him. 

Fourth, Exodus 12:30 says there was a great cry in the city that night because of the tenth plague. During the 18th dynasty, the only Egyptian part of the city was the palace/administrative building.

So given that the Pharaoh was with his son, the whole city cried out, and the Pharaoh could call for Moses that night, the events of Exodus 12 actually do fit better with a Rameside date, when the capital of Egypt was at Pi-Ramesses, about two kilometers from the Avaris site. Moreover, the grave of lambs doesn’t really support a Passover. 

Amenhotep II’s slave raid:

In the documentary, I mentioned Amenhotep II brought back a massive amount of slaves in his ninth year. This seemed like good evidence for an Exodus in that it seemed odd Egypt needed a giant new slave workforce. However, there are issues with this.

First, an issue that bothered me before the documentary was published was how was Egypt going to transfer thousands of people back to Egypt? If Egypt had a sizeable portion of their army drown in the reed sea, that means you have fewer troops to fight in Canaan. If Egypt returned with thousands of prisoners of war, chariots, and weapons, that means there were sizeable fighting forces already in Canaan that Egypt was up against. If you have already been devastated by plagues and lost a sizable portion of your army, the odds are not in your favor.  

Exodus 14:7 says all the chariots of Egypt went after the Hebrews and v23 says all the horsemen drowned in the reed sea. If Egypt only had infantry left over it is unlikely they would have been able to take on chariot armies in Canaan. Even if you think Exodus 14:7 is hyperbolic and Egypt didn’t lose all their chariots, it still doesn’t make sense to go on a campaign immediately after losing a portion of your army.

But wait, you might say. Didn’t Egypt need slaves and urgently after Israel had left? Egypt had no choice, they had to campaign in Canaan. As stated above, Bietak shows the Semite material culture of Avaris didn’t end until the Rameside period. This is a key issue for me because whenever the site of Avaris was abandoned is the most likely time when the Hebrews left Egypt. 

Plus, it really was not unusual to campaign in Canaan despite Egypt already controlling this area at the time. Thutmose III’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th campaigns appear to only be moving through Canaan to collect tribute (Grimal 1994: 214).

Despite Pritchard and Vandersleyen saying the 9th year campaign was in November, Dr. Falk looked at the primary sources (he originally thought it would have been a March campaign) and realized it would have begun in September (Krauss 2006: 375). That meant the Egyptians were not campaigning through the winter months.

So Amenhotep II’s ninth-year campaign was not launched during an unusual season and it was not unusual to remain in Canaan during a campaign. Without these support facts, it doesn’t make Amenhotep II’s ninth-year campaign seem all that desperate, so it minimizes the case for the Exodus. Furthermore, if Egypt was really desperate they should have gone up to campaign in the summer right after the Exodus, not waited until the fall. However, the issue still remains that if your army was severely weakened you would not be campaigning.

Religious Turmoil:

Here is the issue with this section and why I was mistaken. If you research pharaohs destroying cult images you get a wealth of data on the heretic king Akhenaten, and then the one inscription from the reign of Amenhotep II. Beyond that there isn’t much. On the surface, it sounds like a similarity. Akhenaten tried to destroy the traditional religion of Egypt and Amenhotep II destroyed images of the gods. Therefore, Amenhotep’s reference to destroying idols sounds like another form of religious turmoil, similar to Akhenaten’s reforms. Additionally, if you read that only the devotees in the temples are the only ones who are only allowed to make new cult images you would find it odd that a pharaoh is destroying cult images. You then conclude it could not be that he was doing it to make new cult images.

Well, this is also not supported by the data when you dive deeper. We have inscriptions of King Tut and Ramesses III constructing new cult images:

“So his majesty deliberated plans with his heart, searching for any beneficial deed, seeking out acts of service for his father Amon, and fashioning his august image of genuine fine gold. He surpassed what had been done previously. He fashioned his father Amon upon thirteen carrying-poles, his holy image being of fine gold, lapis lazuli, [tur- quoise], and every august costly stone, whereas the majesty of this august god had formerly been upon eleven carrying-poles. He fashioned Ptah, South-of-His- Wall, Lord of Life of the Two Lands, his august image being of fine gold, [upon] eleven [carrying-poles], his holy image being of fine gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and every august costly stone…” (Pritchard 1992: 252).

“I fashioned thy great cult image which rests in it, (named) “Amon of Ramses-Ruler-of- Heliopolis—life, prosperity, health” ((Pritchard 1992: 216).

“I fashioned thy august cult image… I filled its house with male and female slaves whom I had carried off from the lands of the Asiatics” ((Pritchard 1992: 261).

Since a Pharaoh could be given the credit of making new cult images, he certainly could destroy older ones so new ones could be crafted. The inscription in Shaw’s book is highly fragmented (Shaw 2008: 132-133). Also, it ends with “It is he who fashioned…” This does seem to imply that Amenhotep II was not angry with the gods. So the fragmented inscription is more likely referring to Amenhotep fashioning new cult images, along with destroying old ones.

Peace Treaty:

The peace treaty between Egypt and Mitanni is still peculiar, but if all the other evidence I’ve already gone over doesn’t support an early date exodus, this alone cannot be sufficient to suggest one. Additionally, there are other reasons Amenhotep II would have agreed to the treaty Amanda Podany (one of my sources) has this to say:

“…some of the features of international diplomacy would have appealed to Amenhotep II. The Mittanian ambassador no doubt got the pharaoh’s attention when he told the pharaoh that, if he agreed to the alliance, he would marry daughters of each of his “brother” kings. This wouldn’t have sounded like a signal of equality to the pharaoh. His father Thutmose III had been married to three Canaanite princesses and perhaps to a Minoan princess as well; a harem of foreigners was a sign of strength. What better way to show his subjects that he was the lord of these supposed allies than to present a parade of women arriving from the foreign powers, like so much living tribute? And of course each of the women would arrive with a huge dowry. But Amenhotep II must have made one thing perfectly clear from the start: he would never reciprocate by sending his own daughters to marry his allies. A later pharaoh put it succinctly: “From time immemorial no daughter of the king of Egy[pt] is given to anyone” (Podany 2010: 177)

She also notes Mitanni would have provided lavish gifts in exchange for gold. War in Canaan was expensive. It would cost less to trade gold with Mitanni rather than continue to fight wars in the north. Podany continues, “The king could even present this new alliance to his own people as evidence of his greatness: Look at this! It’s never happened before! Even distant kings, ones who hadn’t even heard of Egypt before, send ambassadors who bow down before Amenhotep II and bring him gifts! Just the appearance of the gifts from the foreign land, carried in processions of boats up the Nile by emissaries of the king of Mittani, would seem to provide public evidence of the pharaoh’s upper hand in this relationship” (Podany 2010: 178-179).

Podany cannot be sure this the reason Amenhotep II agreed to peace, but it is a logical explanation given what she provides. Nonetheless, this is a reasonable explanation that can account for why peace broke out. Dr. Falk adds that if Mitanni was willing to agree to peace this would allow Egypt to rule over Canaan uncontested and extract tribute from the native Canaanites without interference. If the other facts stood, one could use this abductively to argue for an exodus, but without the other data points, the peace treaty is not too significant. 

Conclusion:

All additional data points from the external evidence I used in the documentary were minor, and so one cannot build an Exodus case on those alone. I definitely am not concluding there was no Exodus. Dr. Falk and I agree the internal evidence of the Pentateuch still presents strong indications the Exodus is historical. The main reason I initially posited an Exodus under Amenhotep II was that I thought the material culture at Avaris ended during the Thutmoside period, but the context in some of Bietak’s papers is vague. When you read other papers you can see he is saying the palatial area was abandoned during the Thumoside period. The Semitic material culture for the whole site continues on until midway through the Rameside period. After which the area is in ruins and all that remains is scattered cemeteries. Then roughly a generation later a distinct Israelite culture (lacking pig bones) appears in the hill country of Canaan (Mazar 2003: 87; Finklestein & Silberman 2002: 107; Dever 2006: 99).

One of the things I said in the documentary was “If there was more or better evidence for an exodus in another time period that should be our primary witness.” After speaking with Dr. Falk and checking his sources we do have better evidence in the Rameside period. If I am going to tell people to follow the evidence, I need to live up to my own standard, not dig my heels in when I am wrong. I will be making a different video on the Exodus based on the research for a Rameside date. Dr. Falk was able to answer all my objections and provide correlations that fit with a Rameside Exodus (some of which have been discussed here). 

I also want to be clear, I hold no grudges against early exodus date proponents (nor will I mention their names) who initially convinced me the Exodus best fits with the reign of Amenhotep II. It is very easy for people to hold resentment if they feel like they have been deceived. For example, many ex-Christians go around claiming all apologists are dishonest because, in their view, they feel apologists deceived them. I often encourage people to extend the principle of charity as much as possible and that is what I must do as well. I have no hard feelings for early date proponents who initially convinced me. It is better to believe they were advocating what they thought was true and right, not lying to me or themselves. 

Reference:

Bietak, M. (2006). “Nomads or mnmn.t-Shepherds in the Eastern Nile Delta,” in “I Will Speak the Riddles of Ancient Times”: Archaeological and Historical Studies in Honor of Amihai Mazar on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday. United States: Eisenbrauns. 123-136.

Bietak, M. (2011). “The Aftermath of the Hyksos in Avaris,” in Culture Contacts and Making of Cultures: Papers in Homage to Itamar Even-Zohar, Tel Aviv. 19-66.

Bietak, M. (2012). Avaris/Tell el‐Dab’a. In The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (eds R.S. Bagnall, K. Brodersen, C.B. Champion, A. Erskine, and S.R. Huebner). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah15052

Beitak M. (2015). “On the Historicity of the Exodus” in Israel’s Exodus in Transdisciplinary Perspective: Text, Archaeology, Culture, and Geoscience. Germany: Springer International Publishing.

Bietak, M. & Forstner-Müller, I. (2011). “The Topography of New Kingdom Avaris and Per-Ramesses,” In M. Collier and S. Snape (eds), Ramesside Studies in Honour of K. A. Kitchen. Bolton: Rutherford 23-50.

Bietak, M., Math, N., Müller, V., & Jurman, C. (2012). REPORT ON THE EXCAVATIONS OF A HYKSOS PALACE AT TELL EL-DAB c A/AVARIS: (23rd August-15th November 2011). Ägypten Und Levante / Egypt and the Levant, 22/23, 17-53. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43552807

Dever, W. G. (2006). Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?. United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Finkelstein, I., Silberman, N. A. (2002). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts. United Kingdom: Free Press.

Grimal, N., Grimal, N., Shaw, I. (1994). A History of Ancient Egypt. United Kingdom: Wiley.

Mazar, A. (2003). “Remarks on Biblical Traditions and Archaeological Evidence Concerning Early Israel,” in Symbiosis, Symbolism, and the Power of the Past: Canaan, Ancient Israel, and Their Neighbors, from the Late Bronze Age Through Roman Palaestina. United States: Penn State University Press.

Pritchard, J. (1992) Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplement United States: Princeton University Press.

Krauss, R. (2006) “Dates Relating To Seasonal Phenomena and Miscellaneous Astronomical Dates,” in Ancient Egyptian Chronology. Netherlands: Brill.

Shaw, G. J. (2008). Royal Authority in Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty. United Kingdom: Archaeopress.

Podany, A. H. (2010). Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, USA.

Tyldesley, J. (2001) Egypt’s Golden Empire: The Age of the New Kingdom. Headline Book Publishing Ltd.

Creation Ministries Fails to Show the Bible Teaches a Young Earth

Estimated Reading Time: 30 minutes

In 2020 I published a video, “TOP TEN Biblical Problems for Young Earth Creationism.” As expected, it upset a lot of young-earth creationists (YECs). However, I am surprised to find that even Creation Ministries International caught wind of the video and decided to post a lengthy response. 

Ironically, the author, Keaton Halley. confirms a prediction I posted as soon as the video was up:

That is, throughout his reply, he is forced to add context and re-interpret passages to fit a young earth interpretation of scripture. If these passages were not real problems for the young earth interpretation, and YECs had a monopoly on the plain reading of the text, he would have no need to do this. But the Bible does not explicitly teach a young earth, so YECs have to add context to make their model fit. 

Now to be fair, Halley is not an extreme fundamentalist, and he even agrees with me at times in his reply. But at other times I don’t think he understands my interpretation of Genesis. He doesn’t really seem to have spent any time familiarizing himself with my view by watching my Genesis 1-11 series that this video was an extension of. Normally, I would not expect this because people are busy, but in this case, it seems hypocritical since Halley has the audacity to open his article with: “Most of Jones’ claims have already been addressed on creation.com and in CMI’s books, and Jones ought to have familiarized himself with these before committing his arguments to video.”

If he expects me to have tailored my video to the idiosyncratic publications of one single ministry that I wasn’t directly responding to, shouldn’t he have familiarized himself with my videos and the scholarly publications they rely on?  In reality, many of the arguments he uses are the standard YEC objections I was expecting. I have already addressed many of these in two recent hangouts as well (Link 1, Link 2). Halley also didn’t familiarize himself with these either.

To start Halley claims, “In general, we must wonder how Jones’ supposedly biblical arguments for an old earth were missed by almost all Christian (and Jewish) exegetes throughout the history of the Church. Long-age interpretations became popular only in the 19th century.”

This is not entirely true and Dr. Joshua Moritz has given a lecture detailing how many Christian thinkers throughout the ages held to old-earth views. Ronald Numbers has also written a long book on the topic. I am surprised Halley and his editors are unfamiliar with people like William of Conches. Similarly, I would like to point out that this isn’t a particularly compelling form of argument. I notice CMI rejects Aristotle’s cosmology of crystalline spheres and teaches that the firmament in Genesis 1 was atmospheric. In doing so, they blatantly side against nearly the entirety of Church and Rabbinic history up until the sixteenth century. Why? Because modern science compels them. But let’s get on to the objections. I am going to restate what I said in the video, and I’ll merely respond to Halley.

The Main Objections:

He starts with number 10, Genesis 17:17, and claims this cannot support the notion that the ages of the patriarchs are not literal ages. Halley suggests having a child past the age of 100 should only be considered a problem for Abraham’s generation, and not prior generations because the ages were slowly declining. Halley says, “Abraham could have realized that lifespans were declining, so once he himself reached 100 he was already ‘old’, unlike his ancestors.”

This doesn’t work with the Biblical context, because if you do the math, the decline could not have been happening that fast because, by the time of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, he was having children between 90 and 100 (if the ages are literal). Let’s do the math:

 – Jacob allegedly lived to the age of 147 (Genesis 47:38). 

 – He lived in Egypt for 17 years, so he was 130 when he went to Egypt (Genesis 47:28). 

 – Joseph was then 39 years old when Jacob went down to Egypt (see Genesis 41:46 and add the 7 years of plenty and the 2 years of famine). 

 – Now subtract 130 by 39 and Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born.

Remember also that Benjamin would have been born after Joseph. So here is the problem for Halley, if the ages were slowly declining, but Jacob allegedly could have kids in his 90s, and Abraham’s father could father at age 130, then Abraham should have been able to have kids from between 110 and 120. Given that Abraham was from the generation that followed Terah and two generations away from Jacob, he should have been able to have children much closer to Terah’s age, not only at Jacob’s age of fertility. YECs expect us to believe there was a rapid decline between Terah and Abraham and then it stagnated for several generations. This doesn’t align with the gradual declining age theory that Halley promotes.

Next, Halley brings up Genesis 47:9, where Jacob, at the alleged age of 130 says, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” Halley says, “It also shows Jacob understood he was already near the end of his life at 130 (he died at 147), even though his grandfather Abraham lived to be 175 and his father Isaac 180.”

But Halley is begging the question. He is assuming the ages are literal, and that therefore the age stated in Genesis 47:9 is a literal age, supporting his theory that the age must be literal. This is obviously fallacious reasoning. Jacob only said he was not as old as his forefathers, which is not a problem for symbolic age interpretations. He probably wasn’t as old as Abraham and Isaac were when he went down to Egypt. But that doesn’t prove the ages are literal, especially given the Ancient Near East (ANE) context. I detailed this in my video on Genesis 5. Halley ought to have familiarized himself with this before committing his arguments to pen.

Halley then claims it really wasn’t about Abraham’s age, but Sarah’s old age. I always find it odd that people who claim we have to take a literal reading of Genesis like to cherry-pick when we should read Genesis literally. Genesis 17 doesn’t say the only reason was because of Sarah’s age. That was a factor, but verse 17 makes it clear Abraham’s age was also a factor. The literal reading of the text is pretty clear, both their old ages were factors and Halley cannot claim the text does not say otherwise.

Halley also tries to claim that Genesis 25 says Abraham had children after Sarah died. I already address this in a hangout. Halley ought to have familiarized himself with this. The problem is that there is a single verse Halley appears to have overlooked. Genesis 25:6 reads, “But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.”

Why is Abraham sending these sons away? If they were younger than Isaac, Isaac would have been the legal heir given the ANE custom of primogeniture, where you left all to the oldest son. This is why Ishmael was sent away so Isaac would be the oldest and be the heir to the estate.

Despite what Halley says, Genesis 25 doesn’t say Abraham married Keturah only after Sarah had died. Kenneth Mathews, in his extensive Genesis commentary, says, “The passage does not follow chronologically on the death of Sarah, leaving it uncertain when Abraham took this concubine and produced children” (1). In other words, the passage reads like an appendix and is meant to fill in additional details on the life of Abraham. It does not imply it chronologically happened after Sarah died. Plus, Mathews also notes the word for wife in the passage more refers to a concubine (2). So Keturah was more similar to Hagar and didn’t have the status of Sarah. Plus, if Abraham sent her sons away so Isaac would have the inheritance, that implies they were older than Isaac. If they were younger than Isaac, there would have been no need to send them away like Ishmael. Isaac would have been the oldest and the inheritance would have just fallen to him. The text strongly implies that these sons were older than Isaac, not younger. 

Finally, in this section, Halley says “He points to another video he created to elaborate on the alleged symbolism of the patriarchal ages. Even if he is correct that some of the numbers have symbolic significance, that doesn’t preclude them from being literal.” Halley obviously did not watch this video, which really makes his earlier remark about familiarizing oneself hypocritical. My point in that video was that there is no reason the ages are both symbolic and literal, and comparing the numbers from Genesis to Kings and Chronicles strengthens this. Halley is multiplying assumptions beyond necessity, which is fallacious reasoning. 

He notes, “[I] can’t even say what many of the particular numbers represent.” Yes, I admit this and it’s because a lot of the cultural knowledge of the ancient world is missing. Take Ham’s sin of Genesis 9. Robert Alter rightly notes that no one has fully solved what Genesis 9:22-27 is claiming (3), and a wide range of theories persist. Does this mean it did not mean something to them? Of course not! There is a difference between finding out something is symbolic and noting the specifics of the symbolism. Halley’s objection is moot.

Halley continues, “For example, the high numbers are also casually scattered throughout the patriarchal narratives, not just in formulaic genealogies.” He refers to the ages of Abraham down to Jacob. Ironically, Halley would have seen this was addressed if he watched my video on Genesis 5. The ages of Abraham down to Jacob are symbolic formulas. The ages of Adam to Moses add up to an important symbolic number. So one can find symbolic formulas in the patriarchal narratives. All this was explained in my video that Halley did not familiarize himself with.

Halley closes this section with speculation to support the literal age hypothesis. He suggests the fact that Abraham was called an Eberite implies Eber was still alive, which sounds like a conjecture at best. To be clear, according to the ages listed in Genesis 11 in the Septuagent (LXX), Eber would not have been alive at this point. Halley can only rely on the Masoretic data to support this odd conjecture. However, Halley contradicts himself because he goes on to note that Shem would still have been alive. So then by Halley’s own logic, Abram should have been called a Shemite in Genesis 14:13, as that would’ve been his oldest surviving ancestor. None of Halley’s closing arguments to this section amount to much.

Halley then moves to Genesis 8. I argued this chapter makes more sense with a regional flood hypothesis. He started saying, “The Flood account is loaded with universal language, e.g. the Flood covered “all the high mountains under all the heavens.”  Halley suggests this means the flood was global. 

By this logic, when Genesis 41:57 says, “And every nation came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth,” we should think there was literally a famine on the entire globe and people from Mesoamerica had to go to Egypt to buy grain. We should also say Jesus healed literally every sick person in Syria because of Matthew 4:24. YECs do not seem to understand how universal language can be used hyperbolically. 

Now beyond this Halley is very confusing. He seems to be trying to have it both ways. He refers to another article on Genesis 8:5 which says, “If the planet was surrounded by water with some peaks poking up here and there, one would still be accurate in saying that the globe as a whole was covered. It wouldn’t mean every square inch of land, but rather that the land, broadly speaking, was submerged.” Ironically, this contradicts his very notion that “universal language” means the entire globe was flooded. As I stated in my video, verse 9 reads, “the waters were still on the face of the whole earth (כָל־ הָאָ֑רֶץ).” So does the universal language not apply here? It obviously cannot and YECs pick and choose when the universal language has to mean the entire globe and when it does not. 

Halley even goes on to say, “Second, Kulikovsky has pointed out that the term ‘earth’ in Genesis 8:9 likely refers to habitable land where a dove could build a nest and find food, so would not include mountaintops or ocean basins.” But once again, this means the phrase, “the whole earth” (כָל־ הָאָ֑רֶץ) cannot always mean the entire globe. But this is the YEC argument for why Genesis 7 has to mean a global flood. Halley even started  this section of his reply with using this very reasoning––the universal language must be literal: 

“The Flood account is loaded with universal language, e.g. the Flood covered ‘all the high mountains under all the heavens’ (Genesis 7:19). While sometimes a single ‘all’ (kol) can be non-universal, the double kol in this passage points to the universal nature of the Flood. The account also repeats that all humans and other vertebrates outside of the Ark died, and only those on the Ark survived.”

There is nothing in a double usage of kol that implies it has to mean the entire planet. This is a rule YECs made up based on a conjecture.

Halley then says, “One also wonders how a local Flood in Mesopotamia would have lasted a whole year in a region shaped like a half bowl. And how would the Ark have ended up in the Ararat mountains instead of the Indian Ocean?” I addressed this in my video on Genesis 7. Halley ought to have familiarized himself with this.

Moving on to Genesis 2:24, my point here was to show that no one can take all of Genesis 1 & 2 literally, because the verse reads metaphorically. Husbands and wives do not literally join as one flesh. Luckily, Halley agrees. However, he once again assumes this was a secret attempt to attack CMI. He says, “Jones has ignored what we have said about what it means to take Genesis plainly or even literally.” I never read it because my video was not directly aiming at CMI. If you recall, this specific verse was directly aiming at YECs like the infamous Kent Hovind, who openly admitted to claiming he takes all of Genesis 2 literally. I am glad Halley admits there are metaphors in the text. Now perhaps he should go deeper and see how Genesis 2 contains more. Especially if, as he quotes, “The aim of this method is to read Scripture as its human authors and original audience would have understood it.”

The next verse is Genesis 3:22, which supports the notion Adam and Eve were mortal before the fall, because all God had to do was cut off access to the tree of life, not change them to be mortal. Halley claims I made a logical fallacy here, “Jones is making two errors here. First, Genesis 3:22 only indicates that eating from the Tree of Life was a sufficient condition for immortality, not a necessary one. In other words, the ‘implication’ which Jones says ‘scholars have pointed out’ actually commits a logical fallacy.”

However, I never said this was necessarily the source of Adam’s immortality. Halley doesn’t seem to understand the difference between a necessary claim and an inference based on an exegesis of the text. The fallacy would only work if I said that this was necessarily the only way for Adam and Eve to be immortal. All I did was point out what the text said and made an inference. If YECs want to add something Genesis never says, which is that Adam was created immortal, then they are doing exactly what they accuse theistic evolutionists of doing. See my screenshot above. Halley can add all he wants to make his model fit, but he has to admit the text doesn’t actually say Adam was originally immortal and was made mortal by the fall. 

Halley then adds, “Nothing in our view requires that Adam’s body was innately immortal, just that he would not have died had he not sinned.” Great! But remember this was not a video directed at CMI, but claims of YECs generally speaking. Not all YECs assert all the claims I went over in my video. Why Halley insists on claiming that I made the video to attack CMI is beyond me. 

Halley then takes issue with where I point out that being made of dust is often used idiomatically to refer to mortality. In this section, he is arguing Genesis 2:7 must be literal. To support this he refers to Genesis 3:19, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I am not sure what Halley is reading. Adam was not literally dust at this point – he was a man. When God says, “you are dust,” that necessarily must be understood metaphorically, unless he thinks Adam was a cloud of dust able to eat fruit. So Genesis 3:19 actually supports the metaphorical reading of Adam’s dust nature. Why he thinks Genesis 3:19 helps him is beyond me.

Halley also tries to use 1 Timothy 2:13 to support his notion that Adam was literally made from dust. It says in most English translations, “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Now I addressed this and other verses in more detail in my video on Genesis 2, but this is a highly controversial verse to rely on. For example, Paul uses Greek words that he doesn’t use elsewhere and the verse is difficult to translate. Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger suggest based on the cultural beliefs of the day, and in light of ancient evidence the verse really should read, “I do not allow a woman to teach nor to proclaim herself author of man” (4).

They say, “..we can understand the content of the forbidden teaching as being the notion that woman was somehow responsible for the creation of man” (5). This is more probable given the heretical teachings Paul was trying to help Timothy combat. I would recommend their paper for more. 

Halley then says, “His faulty claims [referring to me] certainly do not overturn the clear teaching of Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 that human death was a consequence of Adam’s sin.”

This is extremely bothersome for me and it really demonstrates how little YECs, like Halley, read the context of these verses. In 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, Paul is using hyperbole. Unless Halley is a universalist, all will not be made alive in Christ; only those who call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13). 

As for Romans 5:12, YECs need to read the whole chapter. In just two verses after this, Paul says in verse 14, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” So did physical death end when Moses came? No, because this chapter is about when humans spiritually died. YECs quote-mine Paul to claim this is about physical death. I address this in detail in a video on Genesis 3.

Moving on to Genesis 2:4, Halley tries to argue Genesis 2 is a recap of day 6 of Genesis 1, and not the next sequence of events, as the Toledoth establishes in Genesis. But they are not used to introduce exhaustive recaps, despite Halley’s claim that they do. My point was this shows the humans of Genesis 1 came before Adam and Eve, and so Adam and Eve are not the first couple. To try and argue Adam and Eve are the first people, Halley appeals to other verses instead of really studying the exegesis of Genesis 2. I’ll go through each of them briefly:

  1. He notes that Genesis 3:20 says Eve is “the mother of all living.” This cannot be literally true. Eve was not the mother of Adam or the animals. Also, in Genesis 4, it reads, “Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” In no way are these two literally the father of every single person who has one of these professions. Being the mother of all living is simply assigning Eve a special place as a leading figure among all life, just as Jabal was a patriarchal figure for those that dwelt in tents. All life should look to Eve as a matriarchal figure. I address this in my video on Genesis 3.
  2. He says the genealogy of Adam in Genesis 5:1 implies Genesis 2 should be placed on day 6 because it references the Imago Dei of Genesis 1:28. But this is not a problem for non-YEC models because Adam was human and therefore also the image of God. Pointing out that Adam was also elected to be the image of God would not contradict my point with regards to Genesis 2:4.
  3. He says that Exodus 20:11 says all was made in six days, so Adam must have been created on day 6. My view is not that Adam are materially manufactured from other materials (dust, a rib) in Genesis 2. Halley ought to have familiarized himself with this before committing his arguments to pen. I detail this in my video on Genesis 2. Plus, there is no preposition for “in” in Exodus 20:11 and I agree the days of Genesis 1 are literal days. I just do not think it is about material creation. 
  4. Halley says Jesus claimed Abel’s murder was at “the foundation of the world” (Luke 11:50–51). But Luke 11 does not say this. It reads, “So that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.” It only says that all the blood of prophets that have existed since the foundation of the world, starting with Abel, has been shed. It does not say Abel died at the beginning of the world or existence. God did not establish prophets until He first revealed himself to mankind, starting with Adam and Eve. 
  5. Halley says, “Jesus also said that God’s expectations for marriage are rooted in the way He created humanity ‘from the beginning of creation’ (Mark 10:6)—not billions of years later!” This is an example of YECs cherry-picking when something is literal or not. A literal marriage would have been established on day 1. YECs often reply that Jesus is just generally referring to the whole of the creation process over the week, which is fine, but that is not a literal reading, it is generalizing the words of Jesus. The context of Mark 10 implies Jesus is talking about the beginning of the creation of marriage. Speaking of the creation of something doesn’t have to mean the creation week of Genesis 1. For example, Revelation 3:14 says Jesus is the “beginning of creation of God.” This is not a reference to Genesis 1. Likewise in Mark 10, Jesus is talking about the creation of marriage and its beginning.
  6. Halley says, “The Apostle Paul explicitly called Adam ‘the first man’, in contrast with Jesus ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45). He did not merely mean that Adam was the first of the two men under consideration (as does verse 47 where the contrast is with Christ, ‘the second man’). The context of verse 45 indicates that Adam was the first of all men.” This could not be further from the truth. If Jesus is not literally the last or second man, in this context, it also cannot be understood as a reference to the first literal human. You cannot have it both ways.
  7. Halley says, “Paul could assume that all people bear the image of Adam (1 Corinthians 15:48–49) because all people have descended from him (not just those who lived from the first century AD onward, as Joshua Swamidass’ genealogical Adam theory arbitrarily assumes).” But in the very passage Halley references, Paul says, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust.” He is speaking of himself and the Corinthians, to whom he is writing. So he is not necessarily referring to all humans who have ever lived. Halley has added excessive context to 1 Corinthians 15 that is simply not in the text. Swamidass’ point remains. 

Also, none of these verses address my main point about Genesis 2:4 and are side issues. The verse implies what happened next (Genesis 2) is a sequel. All Halley did was bypass the real issue, which is the Toledoth of Genesis 2:4.

Halley then suggests there are theological problems with asserting that Adam is not the first man. He says, “If these other people were not sons and daughters of Adam, were they fallen ‘in Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:22) and, if so, on what basis?”

Yes, for the same reason we are saved in Christ. We do not have to be biologically descended from Christ. He is our priest (Hebrews 7) and all who call on His name are grafted into him (Romans 11:11-36). Likewise, Adam was the first priest of creation and represented all of creation before God. He failed, and Jesus is the priest who succeeded for us. All die because Adam failed in the first temple (the Garden of Eden), but Jesus succeeded for us. So there isn’t a theological problem here. We just need to understand priestly representation as Paul lays out for us, and understand Adam like we understand Christ, as our representative before the Father.

Next up we get to Jeremiah 4, and Halley seems to be getting a little frustrated now. He says, “Good grief, this is not how proper exegesis works. One cannot merely find a few similar expressions in two passages with completely different contexts and conclude that both texts must be using the expressions in identical ways.”

So does Halley not agree that Jeremiah 4 is using the language of Genesis 1? Because right after this he says, “Jeremiah is making allusions to Genesis 1, employing its motifs to indicate that the judgment he predicts will be so devastating that it will be like creation is partly undone as well.”

Okay…

So does Halley agree with me that Jeremiah echoes Genesis 1? Again, if Jeremiah can use the language of Genesis 1 to speak of a functional kingdom dissolving, then that means Israelite authors could understand this very language to not be about material creation/annihilation. Halley seems to assert Jeremiah’s usage of this language cannot mean Genesis 1 can be understood the same way, but he doesn’t really give anything to support it. He just asserts, “It’s logical to interpret the later passage in terms of the earlier passage it quotes, not vice versa as Jones does.” But this is a baseless assertion. If Jeremiah could understand the very phraseology of Genesis 1 to be about going from a functional kingdom to a non-functional state, then it is plausible Genesis 1 would also have been understood this way. 

Ironically, Halley gives an example that helps my case, “…judgment is often treated as a reversal or undoing of creation. E.g. the Flood reverses the Day 3 acts where God separated land from sea, so that the whole earth is covered in water again.” But when the flood came it was not a literal undoing of material creation. The sky was still there; it was just raining a lot. By this logic, the fact that the flood narrative echoes day 3, and because the flood was not a literal undoing of the material sky, that implies what happened on day 3 could also be metaphorical, not the literal creation of the sky. YECs cannot just ad hoc assert the language and phraseology of Genesis 1 is about material creation, but metaphorical any time another passage applies the same language and phraseology to another event. You can’t have it both ways. 

Sure, it is possible the language is being used in different ways, but that is ad hoc reasoning. If the language of Genesis 1 can be used in Jeremiah 4 to mean a change in functional status, the implication is that the language also implies that in Genesis 1. To say it does not, and cannot, is to assume the conclusion you are trying to prove.

Halley tries to draw a comparison to Ezekiel 31 where it says trees were envious. He says, “Obviously, trees can’t literally be jealous at all, certainly not jealous of a nation (which is not actually a tree).” Well obviously, but this is missing the point. The point about Jeremiah 4 is the same language and phrases are used in Genesis 1, and even Halley acknowledged the connection (I think). Ezekiel 31 is not quoting from Genesis 3 directly or borrowing language that spoke of Eden to speak of how other trees were made. This doesn’t compare to what is going on in Jeremiah 4 (or with the flood narrative for that matter).

As for a defense of John Walton. Cerebral Faith has published several articles defending Walton’s views from YEC criticism. He even has a response to Halley. Halley should familiarize himself with this since expected me to do the same.

Now on to Problem 4: Genesis 1:14-19, which implies days, nights, evenings, and mornings allegedly existed before the sun and moon, which were not created until day 4. Halley acknowledges the issue: “Granted, the earth rotating with respect to the sun is now what causes the cycle of day and night, but why should God not be allowed to establish this cycle another way, before He created the sun to govern the day?”

In my video, I noted that claiming there was another source of light and heat is the common way YECs try to get around this. The only thing mentioned before day 4 is just the creation of light, generally speaking. So I noted that if there was light before the sun was created, it would be absurd to think light was gathered together to create the sun and moon. The moon is not made out of light.

Halley’s response is quite strange, “This is a bizarre tangent, and it’s unclear to whom Jones is responding here, or whether he’s just made this up. I have never heard this idea that God somehow physically manufactured the sun and moon out of pre-existing light, and this is certainly not required by the literal six-day interpretation.”

To answer this objection, Dr. Joe Boot presented this idea in a sermon series once. Remeber, my intital video was not diractly aiming at CMI.

Halley continues, “Also, God could have met the needs of the plants with whatever light it was that was eventually replaced by sunlight, or He could have left plants without it for a single day, just as they currently survive the dark each night. Jones is wrongly assuming far too much about God’s methods for creation, and not allowing the text to speak for itself.”

This is the very definition of being ad hoc. Genesis 1 does not say there was another light source governing days before the sun. Halley is making up something the text doesn’t imply or state because this is a big problem for YEC models. Also, the problem is not that the plants would have gone a day without light. The problem is that the text says there was evening and morning before this. You cannot have an evening without a sunset. You cannot have a morning without a sunrise. So Genesis 1 implies the sun was already there on day 1. That should be obvious.

The rationale we are to believe is that God made another light source, like the sun, which was placed where the sun was to allow for days, nights, evenings, and mornings. For some unknown reason, Genesis doesn’t mention this light source or when God removed it. God just decides this light source is no longer needed, so he removes it and replaces it with the sun, which does the exact same job as this first light source. This is very ad hoc and exactly why it is a strong objection to the literal reading of Genesis that has been around for centuries. YECs still have to resort to ad hoc reasoning to get around this.

Now we move to Genesis 1:28, where mankind is told to subdue the earth, which is kind of an odd thing to say if the earth was already perfect. What needed to be subdued? 

Halley quotes Carl Wieland and Jonathan Sarfati who say, “Control or reign can of course be benevolent, as well as destructive. E.g. Micah 7:19, in which to subdue (kabash) our sins is a sign of God’s compassion. Leviticus 25:43 ff condemns ruthless dominion (radah). In contrast, 1 Kings 4:24–25 says that Solomon’s dominion (radah) resulted in peace, safety and ‘each man under his own vine and fig tree’.”

These verses hardly support their point. Take 1 Kings 4. This passage is about how Solomon conquered and oppressed surrounding nations to the point that they were forced to pay tributes to Israel. Solomon’s people didn’t have to worry about counter invasions and could rest. Apparently YECs think Solomon was benevolently ruling, even though 1 Kings 12:4 says, “Your father [Solomon] made our yoke heavy.” Solomon was a harsh and cruel ruler. Once again, some YECs rarely study the cultural and surrounding context of the verses they cite.

Furthermore, Halley doesn’t engage with Joshua John Van Ee’s work on this where he conducts a full semantic analysis of these words used in Genesis 1:28. I went over this in my video, Genesis 1b. So once again, if the world was made perfect, as YECs claim, why does the earth need subdued?  

Halley also says, “It’s also completely spurious to read into radah the right to eat animals since mankind was explicitly given permission to eat meat only after the Flood (Genesis 9:2–4).” I addressed this extensively in my video on Genesis 9. Halley ought to have familiarized himself with this.

Next, we move on to the Hebrew word bara. Once again, Halley agrees with me bara doesn’t have to mean creation ex nihilo. Since my video was addressing many claims of YECs, I never said all YECs say this claim about the verb bara.

Halley asks, “But how does it follow from this that ‘Genesis 1 is not about material creation’? It doesn’t.” But I never said the mere use of bara cannot mean Genesis 1 is not about material creation. My point was using bara doesn’t necessarily mean it is about material creation, and given the context Jeremiah 4 adds, Genesis 1 can function fine with a temple inauguration interpretation. Halley seems to misunderstand my point because, once again, this video was not directly aimed at the claims of CMI.

Halley then doubles down on his misunderstanding, “Jones also misrepresents Matthews, who actually has no dispute with the idea that bara refers to the making of material objects in Genesis 1. Matthews only says that bara ‘always refers to the product created and does not refer to the material of which it is made.’”

I never disagreed with this or said otherwise. I have no idea where Halley got this nonsense or why he thinks I disagree with Kenneth Mathews. Because of this, what Halley says really is a straw man.

Finally, we get to Genesis 1:1. I pointed out that modern scholarly research on the syntax of Genesis 1:1 implies that the verse should be read as a dependent clause as “When God began to create the heaven and the earth…” Halley’s response really misses the mark in his attempt to argue it should be an independent clause and be translated as “In the beginning…” 

First, I gave more evidence for this in my video on Genesis 1 (Halle appears to be unaware of this) that the dependent clause reading is more likely, including the Ancient Near East background knowledge. Halley’s first evidence for the independent clause reading is that later translators and commentators take it this way. He says, “This is the traditional understanding, reflected in the ancient translations, including the LXX, Vulgate, and the Targums, and the dominant understanding throughout church history. E.g., the LXX translators rendered the first word en archē (ἐν ἀρχῇ) which is consistent with an absolute beginning.”

This is not entirely true. Michael Heiser points out that the Hebrews Masoretic vowel points imply that an indefinite article should open Genesis 1:1. So whoever put on the vowel points thought it should be understood as a deponent cause. Plus, Halley’s sources are later interpretations and translators, divorced from the ANE context. I prefer to interpret texts with their cultural context in mind, not through the lenses of later cultures. Halley also says Isaiah 46:10 understood Genesis 1:1 to mean “in the beginning…” I am not sure what the heck Halley is talking about. The verse reads:

“declaring the end from the beginning

    and from ancient times things not yet done,

saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’”

Nothing in this is alluding to Genesis 1 or borrowing language like the amount we see in Jeremiah 4. Merely stating “the end from the beginning” is too vague to draw a meaningful connection.

As for understanding the grammar, Halley doesn’t really engage with the scholarly arguments I use to back up this reading. He just asserts many of the standard arguments used to support the independent clause reading, but the scholars I have cited and relied on have addressed these points. 

Just so it is not my word against Halley’s, I asked scholar Ben Stanhope, who has published a recent book chapter on the Hebrew syntax of Genesis 1:1-3 ([Mis]interpeting Genesis: How the Creation Museum Misunderstands the Ancient Near Eastern Context of the Bible (Louisville: Scarab Press, 2020). So here is Halley’s claim:

For the ‘dependent clause’ understanding to be right, it would require the noun ‘beginning’ to be in a ‘construct state’ (used for possessive), but Leupold points out that this would require the article (ha ה, ‘the’), lacking here (note, Hebrew has no indefinite article analogous to the English ‘a’, ‘an’).[ref] Some defenders of a relative beginning even point to the lack of the article here, but as Wenham says this is common for time-related phrases:

Temporal phrases often lack the article (e.g. Isa. 46:10, 40:21, 41:4, 26; Gen 3:22, 6:3,4; Mic 5:1, Hab 1:12). Nor can it be shown that ראשית may not have an absolute sense.[ref] …

Indeed, the dependent clause translation is clearly artificial, and uses ‘awkward grammar’, entailing a huge sentence where “Genesis 1:2 inserts three clauses between the supposed prepositional phrase of 1:1 and its supposed main clause in 1:3”.[ref]

Ben Stanhope responds:

Halley’s source, H. C. Leupold, was a Lutheran theologian publishing in 1942 (so his Genesis commentary would have been hot off the press during the Battle of Stalingrad). First, both Halley and his source are wrong that the LXX’s anarthrous prologue wording en arche (as opposed to en te arche) is indicative of the absolute. This is pretty well recognized in the modern literature based on comparative LXX usage. (E.g. footnote 3 of Robert D. Holmstedt, “The Restrictive Syntax of Genesis I 1.” Vetus Testamentum 58, no. 1 (2008): 57.

Halley’s demand that בראשית be articular in order to indicate the genitive is pretty ridiculous since marking it as such would clearly indicate the absolute and would be understood as definitive evidence as such. His standard conveniently makes it impossible for the author to indicate a dependent clause because both an anarthrous and articular marked textual tradition would be taken as indicative of his conclusion.

In regards to this expectation that בראשית must contain an article in order for it to indicate the genitive, footnote 24 of page 73 in my book points out a study by Babatunde Ogunlana, who notes 78% of the occurrences of בראשית use the term in bound construct. 

Pg 95-96 here https://www.academia.edu/6125754/Inspiration_and_the_Relationship_Between_Genesis_1_1_2_4A_and_Enuma_Elish

So this expectation is not only incorrect, it violates how the word is used 80% of the time. According to Ogunlana’s paper, only about 10% of the occurrences of בראשית can be confirmed as absolute. Eg. ראשית is clearly in construct but isn’t prefixed with a ה in passages like Lev 23:10, Num 24:20, Deut 21:17, Deut 26:10, Neh 10:37, or Psa 78:51.

Second, Halley and Leupold’s point that the dependent clause translation is weird and creates a huge grammatically awkward parenthetical clause is actually making your best argument for Jones, because we now know this was the standard genre formula for opening Mesopotamian creation narratives––of which I’ve paralleled four on pages 76-79 of my book. The more syntactically ‘weird’ and convoluted Halley emphasizes the dependent translation to be, the more he tacitly demonstrates that the syntactic parallels rendered by a dependent clause translation with texts like Enuma Elish’s opening cannot be due to mere chance. The Hebraist Jack Sasson at Vanderbilt Divinity School cited this as part of the reason he believed the dependent clause translation is now “beyond dispute.” (Jack M. Sasson, “Time…to Begin,” in Michael Fishbane, Emanuel Tov and Weston W. Fields [eds.], “Sha carei Talmon”: Studies in the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to Shermaryahu Talmon (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1992), 187-88.)

I also think I recall Jones’ video alluding to Holmstedt’s groundbreaking work as your main source (Holmstedt cannot be ignored in any debate on this topic because he literally discovered new features of ancient Semitic relative clause grammar) and this response shows zero evidence of having read him, understood him, or of addressing the two methods he discovered for proving the author double marked the passage as a dependent clause. Namely:

1) when a relative clause modifies a noun in bound form, the relative clause is ALWAYS restrictive. 

2) when a relative clause omits its relative word the clause is ALWAYS restrictive relative.

The author of Genesis 1 grammatically negates neither of these and therefore compels the reader to understand the passage as double emphasized as a restrictive relative clause.

Stanhope definitely shows Halley’s arguments do not understand the latest scholarship on the syntax of Genesis 1:1. He cites outdated material and fails to realize why the dependent clause reading is gaining traction among scholars today. I would also recommend the work of Robert D.Holmstedt for additional evidence. 

Halley then closes his article in a very condescending way. “If Jones genuinely had compelling arguments from the Bible to refute a young age for the world, I would join him in rejecting that viewpoint. But these ten, individually or cumulatively, fail to mount a real challenge. It is a shame that Jones is promoting them to the detriment of those who might fail to see through his sophistry.”

Well, my video was meant to present problems that exist for young-earth creationism. I didn’t actually claim the Bible refutes a young age for the world. My position is the Bible does not state the age of the earth. It is indifferent and doesn’t teach a young earth or an old earth. It is also ironic he says I employed sophistry, given the fallacious reasoning and cherry-picking he often relied on. 

One final thing, I always find it odd how rude YECs will be when they are dealing with theistic evolutionists and then have the audacity to say things like what Halley concludes with: “We’d love to see him come to embrace a more biblically faithful position on Genesis.” Obviously they need to work more on their ability to be welcoming in their outreach. However, I think I’ll remain a theistic evolutionist. Given how easy it was to respond to Halley’s arguments, I see no reason to conclude the Bible teaches a young earth.

Notes:

  1. Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26. United States: Broadman & Holman Publishers. 352
  2. ibid.
  3. Alter, R. (2018). The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (Vol. Three-Volume Set). United States: W. W. Norton. 34
  4. Kroeger, R. C., Kroeger, C. C. (1998). I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence. United States: Baker Publishing Group. 103
  5. ibid.

Yes, Jesus was buried in a Tomb – A Response to Paulogia

Estimated Reading Time: 30 Minutes

Paulogia published a video responding to the recent debate I had with Jim Majors on the historicity of Jesus’s burial in a tomb, and I felt it necessary to respond for two reasons. First, a lot of the information is still fresh in my mind, and second, I am baffled by how resistant non-mythicist atheists are to such a basic claim that Jesus was buried in a tomb. This is not a miraculous claim and it is consistent with the background knowledge. But apparently, this is the hill they are ready to die on. 

Paulogia decided to go through my opening statement (skipping some sections) and respond accordingly and I’ll issue my response to his claims. As always, I respect Paul and will try to be fair. He offered valid and well thought out arguments that should have come up in the debate but did not. 

The first thing he does is bring up a source I used by Larry Overstreet which says “…local administration, the administration of justice as between the natives of the provinces, and many other tasks were in general simply left to the political organs of the subject people.” (1)

Paul then cites what follows, “One significant exception to this was jurisdiction on matters involving capital punishment which was revered to the procurator.” This is true, but again, that hardly contradicts the point I am making throughout my opening statement, which is that these issues were decided by local rulers, like Pilate. I even quote from the Digesta later in my opening statement that specifically talks about capital punishment and how it was decided by each local ruler or procurator. No where did I say in my opening statement that Jesus was not executed under Pilate’s orders. So Paul seems to be making a molehill into a mountain here and over-exaggerating the point I was making here.

My point was just establishing the background knowledge that not everything was done the same way in every province; things could change depending on the specific rulers and the various customs of each province. Just because we can see that in Ephesus crucified victims were left on crosses, that doesn’t mean this is necessarily how things were done in Judea under the procurators/prefects there.

After this, Paul says, “I think it’s abundantly clear, as seen in the nine sources we skimmed over earlier, that leaving the bodies on the crosses, having them eaten by birds and animals, and ultimately indignantly tossed in a ditch was a significant portion of the deterrent strategy of the Roman interest. The punishment did not end at the point of death.”

No one denies this was the standard practice Rome preferred, but that doesn’t mean you get to make a conjecture that this is always how it was done. For example, Josephus says that after Jerusalem was taken he begged General Titus to take down three former companions who were condemned to die by crucifixion (Life of Flavius Josephus, 75). Because it was the standard Roman practice to leave bodies on crosses, should we say Josephus made this account up just to make Titus appear merciful? As far as I am aware, the overwhelming majority of historians do not think Josephus made up this story. As I cite in my opening statement, Philo records that in Egypt bodies were taken off crosses on the birthday of the emperor (Flaccus 83). Even Bart Ehrman doesn’t imply Philo fabricated this event. I note other examples in my opening statement as well. 

So if Paul thinks it is okay to imply the Gospels are wrong when they record Jesus was taken down and buried because it was not the standard Roman practice, does he also think these other sources (like Philo) are wrong? Surely, he should apply the same skepticism to all the other sources I mentioned that demonstrate that, at times, crucified victims were buried. But let’s go one step further, why not apply that same skepticism to the sources Ehrman brings up that say crucified victims were left on crosses without being buried? How does he know they are not exaggerating or just making things up? Horace (Epistles 1.16.48) and Juvenal (Satires 14.77-78) are writing poetry, not necessarily historical accounts, and only reference crucifixion themes in passing. Artemidorus (Dream Book, 2.53) is talking about someone’s dream, not an actual crucifixion. The Satyricon of Petronius is talking about a third-hand account of a specific event for which we have no corroboration (Sat. of Petr. 112). Why does he take their word on what happened to their crucified victims, but not Mark’s? It seems like special pleading.

Perhaps the charge of special pleading is unfair at this point, but Paul seems to solidify my suspicion in the next section of his video. Right after this, he addresses my use of the passage in Philo which speaks of crucified victims being allowed to be buried in Egypt on the birthday of the emperor. Paul says, “I think Mike is missing the point here that this was a noteworthy exception on a special celebration. Absent documentation, to speculate that what in one province was a noteworthy exception, would have been just common practice in another province, is just speculation.”

There is so much to say about this, but I’ll try to be brief and only note two very important observations. First, appear that Paul just takes Philo’s word on this. Why? It goes against the standard Roman practice, like Jesus’ burial, so why doesn’t Paul apply the same standard and say Philo must be wrong? Why does this skepticism only apply to the Gospels? As my followers are aware, I am constantly pointing out that the Bible is not treated like other ancient works. Well, this is an example of where the excessive and unnecessary skepticism applied to the Gospels is not applied to other works, like Philo.

Second, this reveals a pretty clear double standard and I cannot believe Paul doesn’t hear himself. Remember, he began his video by noting he is in agreement with Ehrman when he cites five sources from outside of Judea that show crucified victims were left on crosses, and from those sources, Paul thinks it is more likely that in Judea Jesus would not have been allowed to be buried. So he uses sources, like Horace or Juvenal, and infers from their accounts that Jesus’ crucifixion was probably the same. However, if I practically do the same thing and cite Philo to show the Romans did, at times, allow crucified victims to be buried, well Paul says that “is just speculation.” So how is this not a double standard? If all I am doing is speculating, then that is all Paulogia and Ehrman are doing as well. You can’t have it both ways.

Paul then addressed the passage in Josephus, which reads, “…the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” (Jewish War 4.5.2)

He does the one thing he should not do, which is to list Ehrman’s objections to using this passage to show crucified victims were allowed to be buried in Judea. This is because Paul is fully aware that I know about these objections and I am ready to address them. The objections Ehrman and Paul present against this passage are basically that (1) it is about when the Jews battled the Idumeans and not Roman victims of crucifixion, (2) Josephus is whitewashing things (meaning he is biased), (3) this passage is about a generation or so after Jesus, (4) during a war, it isn’t likely the Jews would have crossed enemy lines to bury crucified victims, (5) and Josephus refers to them as malefactors instead of political insurgents.

I’ll go through these one at a time:

  1. Josephus makes a general claim in this passage. He doesn’t say that during this one war the Jews decided in this specific instance to bury bodies. He speaks of it as a standard practice that makes them better than the Idumeans (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). In “Against Apion”, Josephus also speaks of Jewish law and says, “We must furnish fire, water, food to all who ask for them, point out the road, not leave a corpse unburied, show consideration even to declared enemies.” (Against Apion 2.211; cf. 2.204). So the implication from Josephus is that burying the crucified was the standard custom that Jews did when able.
  2. You don’t get to just dismiss something merely because you think they are biased. We need more than that. I could do this with Horace, Juvenal, or the dream interpreter, Artemidorus. Imagine if I dismissed Josephus because he didn’t agree with Luke on the census of Quirinius. If we can just dismiss Josephus when it is convenient, why cannot I do it on the census issue? It is strange Ehrman gets to just say Josephus was biased when it is convenient. I agree Josephus was biased, as were the New Testament authors, Tacitus, Livy, Paulogia, and Bart Ehrman. Everyone is biased, but that doesn’t mean what they say is necessarily wrong or inaccurate. Archaeological data supports Josephus on this issue (2), as I went over in my opening statement. So I fail to see why Josephus must be inaccurate here just because he also has biases. We need more than just the mere assertion of bias. Everett Ferguson sums up the issue nicely, “These biases are to be expected and generally it is easy to discern Josephus’ special pleading in contrast to the facts. With proper allowance made for his special interests and recognition that he was sometimes misinformed, the reader will find Josephus an invaluable resource not to be neglected.” (3) E. P. Sanders says, “…wherever he [Josephus] can be tested, he can be seen to have been a pretty fair historian.” (4)
  3. I addressed this in my opening statement. I said, “Well, how convenient that he can dismiss any source that doesn’t speak of burial practices that didn’t happen under Pilate himself. But that is fine, if it comes to that in this debate we can limit ourselves to sources that only speak of burial practices under Pilate and the only sources are the gospels.”
  4. It is true that it is unlikely Jews would have crossed enemy lines during a war to bury crucified victims. So what? As I said, Josephus seems to be speaking as if Jews did this as a general rule (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), which demonstrated how much better he thought the Jews were than the Idumeans. This also cuts against Ehrman’s argument that is specifically about one time regarding the war with the Idumeans. If it is unlikely to happen during wartime, it is more likely referring to standard practices during peacetime, or whenever the Jews were able (Josephus, Against Apion 2.211; cf. 2.204).
  5. The word, “καταδικη” is a very general term, just referring to someone who was condemned. This is reading way too much into a word that was meant to be very general, as is the passage in Josephus. He is just saying if someone was condemned (in the general sense) and crucified the Jews would take them down and bury them. In no way does this word only refer to types of criminals, leaving out political insurgents. 

Finally, I want to reiterate a point from the debate––how do they know Jesus was crucified for insurrection or for being a political insurgent? Well, they have to go on what the gospels say, since non-Christian sources do not confirm it. So they are okay with accepting the crime from the gospels, but not the burial? This really seems like special pleading. Now if we had a 1st-century source that said Jesus was buried somewhere else or not buried at all, then you could make that argument. But such a thing cannot be used in this instance. 

Paul then addresses the archaeological data which show crucified victims could be buried. He says, “It’s about relative frequency, so two examples of the exception does not really affirm anything.” I don’t think Paul realizes the gravity of these two examples. The fact that we have found two is a lot. In reality, we should have found zero, especially if the burying of crucified victims rarely happened. Finding two means it is likely this happened often. The reason is that most crucified victims would leave no traces of crucifixion, even if they were properly buried. Dale Allison notes many crucified victims were tied up rather than being nailed, and so we would not recognize them as having been crucified (5). If they were nailed to a cross, it is likely the nails would not have been buried with the victims, as early sources suggest the nails were prized because they were thought to be able to have magical healing properties (R. Meir, m Šabb. 6:10; Lucan 6.547; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 28.46).

Jodi Magness, an expert on Jewish burial practices, writes “…the means by which victims were affixed to crosses usually leave no discernable traces in the physical remains or archaeological record.” (6)

Bryon McCane says, “If there had not been a knot strategically located in the wood of Yehohanan’s cross, the soldiers would have easily pulled the nail out of the cross. It never would have been buried with Yehohanan, and we would never have known that he had been crucified. [So] it is surprising that we have identified even one.” (7)

Paulogia, unfortunately, made an error I need to point out. When he says the date of the Yehohanan burial box is around 600 BC that is off by 600 years because it dates to the first century. I have no clue where he got this information from and he does not provide a source, but it is wildly off. To quote from the original 1970 paper, “It is possible, therefore, to place this crucifixion between the start of the first century A.D. and somewhere just before the outbreak of the first Jewish revolt.” (8)

As I noted in the debate, in the past decade evidence for another crucified victim has been verified (9). The last Hasmonean king appears to have been crucified and then allowed a proper burial. So the fact that we have been able to find two, given how rare such a find should be, supports the notion crucified victims were being buried more often than skeptics realize. Paul is making the same mistake John Dominic Crossan made on this issue.

Next, Paul says something I feel is out of context. I noted the crucified victims were from the same general time period. Paul responds with “…and same general time period is a rather generous description of these finds when Mike is wanting to narrow everything down to the time and place of the rule of Pilate.”

First Paul, is going off the mistake that the Yehohanan burial box dates to 600 BC, which we corrected above. Second, the reason I did that was because I noted in my opening statement it was a response to Ehrman who set that standard. To quote myself, “Now this is important because I was shocked to read one of Ehrman’s replies to Craig Evans on this exact issue.  Evans brought up the fact that Josephus says all the procurators after Agrippa abstained from interfering in the customs of the country, and Ehrman replied and I quote, ‘But Agrippa 1 ruled Judea over a decade after Jesus.  The “procurators who succeeded” him were later. This passage is not talking about what was happening under the rule of Pontius Pilate during the days of Jesus.’ Well, how convenient that he can dismiss any source that doesn’t speak of burial practices that didn’t happen under Pilate himself.  But that is fine, if it comes to that in this debate we can limit ourselves to sources that only speak of burial practices under Pilate and the only sources are the gospels.”

Notice what I said was in response to Ehrman, so I think it is uncharitable for Paul to divorce that from the context of my statement. Plus, in my opening statement, I am establishing background knowledge, which is basically to point out the idea that a crucified victim could be buried was not so improbable and a lot of supporting evidence is available which shows this. 

Finally, from here we move to evidence specific to Jesus’ burial. I noted the evidence is the gospels, and Paulogia, predictably, plays his “for the Bible tells me so” jingle. I knew I would not make it through this video without hearing it. Well played, Paul.

But on a more serious note, this seems to be another example of special pleading. Remember, he believes Jesus was crucified for being a political insurgent, but how does he know that? Well, “because the Bible tells him so.” As long as he continues to believe Jesus was executed for being a political insurgent, he only believes it because the Bible tells him so, and oddly enough, that seems to be enough to convince Paul.

He then compares the idea of taking the gospels at their word to believing the kids’ show Mister Rogers, which is an unfair example since the gospels are most likely Greco-Roman biographies (10) and Mister Rogers is a kids’ show. My point is simply there is nothing in the background knowledge or in the accounts themselves that suggest the Gospels are in error when they say Jesus was buried in a tomb, but for the skeptic, it seems the Bible is always questionable until proven innocent (unlike other ancient sources, but more on this later).

Moving on, Paul brings up an issue with Mark and John not being independent sources, which is fine, I have no problem saying John knew of Mark. But I wonder if he would apply this same logic to Livy and Polybius on the account of Hannibal? Livy used Polybius as a source (11), does that mean Livy just copied Polybius and is unreliable in speaking of things Polybius does not? Why not treat John and Mark in a similar fashion? As Craig Keener says, in talking about other Greco-Roman biographies, “Although classicists approach ancient historical biographies critically, most of them do not handle them as dismissively as some of the more skeptical NT scholars have handled the information in the Gospels.” (12)

Next, Paul cites a paper to respond to my quote from Dale Allison. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul cites a creed that says Jesus was buried. Dale Allison says, ”The verb θάπτω means ‘bury’ and would hardly be used of the unceremonious dumping of a criminal into an unmarked trench as dog food: that was not a burial but its denial.” (13)

Paul responds by citing a paper (14) on how the word is used in Greek sources, like the Septuagint and later Jewish works, and suggests it can refer to being buried in a trench grave. There is a lot to say about this, but I’ll only hit on the main points. First, notice what Allison said. The word would not refer to “dumping” of a criminal in an unmarked trench. It means “buried,” not left on the cross to rot, and not left out for dog food, as Crossan suggested. The word used in 1 Corinthians 15 suggests a proper burial, not a disgraced one. The Romans didn’t properly bury criminals, so the word alone implies it is unlikely the Romans buried Jesus in the disgraceful manner they preferred. 

Second, the five sources earlier that Paulogia (and Ehrman) refer to are a direct denial of any burial for crucified victims––where they were left on crosses for days and picked apart by wild animals. The sources within Keddie’s paper are still referring to honorable burials, where a body was covered, not left on a cross, and not thrown into a trench uncovered for dogs to pick through. For example, in referring to one example, Keddie says, “The text specifies that Jonah buried her himself while traveling – a reasonable task for a trench grave, but not a rock-cut tomb.” (15) That sounds very much like a proper and honorable burial, where someone took care to bury his mother, not leave them out to disgrace them.

I am not sure if Paulogia misunderstood Keddie, or if I am missing Paul’s point, but Keddie is in no way referring to Roman practices of discarding bodies of criminals. A trench grave within this paper refers to a proper burial by someone of the lower class:

“The majority of the Jewish non-elite population in Early Roman Palestine was buried in trench or cist graves. Unlike rock-cut tombs, trench graves did not impose an obvious mark on the ancient landscape or the archaeological record. It is for this reason that the simple trench graves at Qumran have been called ‘Essene,’ ‘sectarian,’ ‘heterodox,’ and ‘deviant,’ as have trench graves discovered elsewhere. These graves, however, likely represent the common burial practice of those near and below subsistence level.” (16)

So the burial practices Keddie refers to do not support the Roman practice of disgracefully discarding the bodies of criminals, or where one is left on a cross to rot. The word still most likely refers to a proper burial, whether they are buried in a tomb or a trench, which was Allison’s point, and my point as well.

Next, in response to me noting that there are no competing traditions as to what happened to the body of Jesus, Paul says, “This is an argument from silence. For all we know there were dozens of competing traditions that simply didn’t survive to modern-day.” This is not an argument from silence and it misses the point. When it comes to other sources, like Livy or Josephus, we rarely throw them out and posit something that is not attested. We go on what is most probable based on attestation. Paulogia would rather posit something for which we have no evidence––a speculative idea that Jesus was not placed in a tomb, despite having no attestation for this hypothesis. We don’t do this with the friends of Josephus that Titus took down from crosses and posit that Titus refused Josephus, just because we presuppose it was more likely (Life of Flavius Josephus, 75).

Also, an argument from silence is actually when someone dismisses a claim or and event based on a lack of statements in historical sources but is mentioned in others. An actual example would be to discount Suetonius’ account of the Jews being expelled from Rome under Claudius (Divus Claudius, 25) because Josephus falls to mention it. To note there are no sources that say something else happened to the body of Jesus is not an argument from silence, for the same reason, it is not an argument from silence to note we have no sources that say ancient Egyptians visited the Americas. Some fringe groups have suggested it may have happened. It is an argument from silence to dismiss their claim because there is evidence or attestation to it?

Imagine if someone told Paul they thought Thomas Jefferson was a spy for the Spanish Crown. Would it be an argument from silence to say there are no sources that support such a theory? Of course not, because we rarely posit something for which we have zero attestation. However, for some odd reason, when it comes to the Bible, there seems to be a double standard, and we can posit all sorts of theories for which there is no textual evidence.

Next, Paul takes issues when I noted the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9 would better fit if Jesus was thrown into a mass grave for criminals. He draws attention to it also saying that he had to be buried with the rich, and that shows they would have had reason to invent Joseph of Arimathea. Paul is making the same mistake fundamentalists make, which is reading too much into vague lines in the Old Testament. It doesn’t say the messiah had to be in a tomb, let alone a rich man’s tomb. It just refers to being with a rich man at his death. That is so vague it could fit with multiple things. Here is the verse in different translations:

“His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 NASB)

“And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 ESV)

“I will appoint evil men for His burial and rich men for His death, because He committed no lawlessness nor was deceit found in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 LXX, Orthodox Study Bible)

As you can see, the verse is vague. All that would have been needed to make this verse fit is a rich Sanhedrin member burying Jesus in a grave on some field, being consistent with Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Perhaps they could have said Jesus was buried in a rich man’s field, or that Jesus was buried in a field next to a rich criminal. There are multiple ways you could make it work, and that’s why I don’t put a lot of emphasis on prophecy. However, this also demonstrates the Christians did not need to invent the tomb story, as skeptics constantly argue.

Now before moving on, we also need to note Paul doesn’t really add any additional evidence to his case that Jesus was not buried in a tomb. He just tries to respond to my arguments that Jesus was buried in a tomb and explains why he is skeptical. He notes ancient sources need to meet a burden of proof, but doesn’t specify what that burden is. If Paul cannot give any additional reasons to doubt that Jesus was buried in a tomb, I fail to see why we should doubt this non-miraculous claim, for the same reason we don’t doubt that Titus permitted 3 of Josephus’ friends to be taken off their crosses and to receive medical care. As Tessa Rajak said, “as long as what Josephus tells us is possible, we have no right to correct it.” (17)

In other words, if we are to doubt something in the writings of Josephus we ought to have a reason to. Scholars do doubt many things that Josephus claims, but that provide reasons to doubt those specific things.

Why can’t we apply this to the gospels? If we have a reason to doubt the tomb, let’s hear it. The mere conjecture from skeptics that Rome would not have allowed this is mere speculation that has no attestation. My opening statement in the debate explained that the background knowledge is consistent with Rome allowing a burial in this case, and all our sources on Jesus’ death support this notion.

__________________________________________

 

Paul then decides to address some things in an earlier video I did on the criterion of embarrassment. He made a challenge that the criterion of embarrassment is not used outside of New Testament studies, so I made a video that included 5 examples. Paul begins by being very honest and states he now accepts there is the use of the criterion of embarrassment outside of the New Testament studies, and that honesty needs to be noted. Paul deserves respect for saying this.

Paul takes issue with my argument in the video that there is excessive and unnecessary skepticism about the Bible, and he asked what specifically that is. So to answer him––denying Jesus was buried in a tomb is a good example, since there is nothing miraculous about that particular claim, and it is consistent with the background knowledge. Another example is the overuse of the criterion of double dissimilarity, where some very liberal scholars will only accept a saying of Jesus if it is dissimilar from the early church and the Jewish background, which is absurd. Are we to believe that Jesus, who was a Jew, would never say things that were consistent with other Jewish works? Since the church is founded on the teachings of Jesus, why wouldn’t some of the things Jesus said be reflected by his followers? As Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd say, “Thus, most skeptical Jesus studies that focus on assessing the authenticity of individual sayings do not end by demonstrating the general unreliability of the Gospels. Rather, they begin by assuming it.” (18)

Paulogia then responds to a quote from that video from scholar Darrell Bock on whether or not the criterion of embarrassment is used outside of New Testament studies. Bock said in my video, “Why would it be? Those works do not work in this kind of a sociological context with this kind of skepticism.”

Paul responds with, “Is Dr. Bock suggesting that Christianity is in a unique position needing to employ subpar tactics because the most reliable tools of history aren’t sufficient to vindicate what he deems to be the word of God.” The exact opposite is true. Bock and other conservative scholars want the New Testament to be treated like we treat Josephus or Tacitus––innocent until proven guilty. We don’t doubt something in Josephus unless we have reason to do so. We don’t doubt Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps unless we have reason to do so. 

Craig Keener makes a similar point. He says, “Although Tacitus denounces Tiberius whereas Velleius Paterculus adores him, no one doubts that both provide valuable information for us about Tiberius. Nor, because Tacitus eulogizes his father-in-law, Agricola, or Suetonius emphasizes moral lessons in his biographies, do we dismiss most of the evidence that they provide.” (19)

Why can’t we do the same with the gospels––treat them as historical sources unless we have reason to doubt them? N. J. McEleney says historians should accept “the word of the reporter unless he has reason not to do so.” (20)

Paulogia notes he applies skepticism to Josephus at times, which I do not deny. I agree Josephus made errors and scholars point them out, but we are arguing there is an excessive and unnecessary amount applied to the New Testament. What we want is for scholars to look at Josephus and the Gospels in the same way––don’t doubt something unless there is a good reason to do so. As I have argued, there is no sufficient counter-evidence that suggests we should be skeptical of the entombment story. The point is that we can find specific examples (as I have done throughout this blog) where a standard applied to the gospels is not applied elsewhere. I am not saying scholars do not debate over sections of Josephus or other ancient works, but (again) as Craig Keener notes, “Although classicists approach ancient historical biographies critically, most of them do not handle them as dismissively as some of the more skeptics NT scholars have handled the information in the Gospels.” (21) So I am not the only one saying there is a double standard applied to the Gospels.

Paul says, “Why don’t you hold all claims as questionable until you have corroboration?” Because if we did that, we would immediately throw away so much knowledge we have of the ancient world. How far does Paul take this? Does he doubt a story from a friend about an event from his childhood even if Paul never seeks out corroboration? Do we really question everything we hear, or do we tend to intuitively apply the principle of charity and trust sources unless we have reason to not do so? And what if we do have corroboration? Would Paul immediately accept that? If we found an ancient letter that dated to 33 AD which spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, would Paulogia accept it because it is now corroborated in his view?

I am genuinely curious because I have no idea why he would suggest something is always questionable until corroborated. There are so many examples from history I can think of that are not corroborated, but which we tend to accept as innocent until proven guilty, like the event in Satyricon of Petronius (Sat. of Petr. 112), where a roman soldier guarding bodies on crosses falls in love with a grieving widow. Both Paulogia and Ehrman use to say crucified victims were left on crosses, even though it is not corroborated.

Paul also says, “We should always apportion our confidence to the evidence available, and further balanced with the impact to our lives if we should happen to be wrong.” I do not disagree and I am not saying anything otherwise. I don’t understand why he thinks that. The problem is when it comes to someone like Polybius, we don’t just become skeptical for no reason. In many cases, Polybius’ own attestation is enough evidence. Historians do doubt some things in Polybius’s account but they always offer a reason for doubting it. They don’t say the burden is on the proponent of Polybius to show why we should trust him. Instead, it is standard practice to apply the principle of charity, or the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I am really not sure if or why Paul would disagree with this. Does he doubt everything until he has a reason to trust it? Why can I not trust Josephus on his account of the Jewish war and only doubt specific sections if I have a good reason to do so? One’s doubt ought to backed by a reason for that doubt. Doubt is not the default setting.

Paul ends this video with attacking other Christians who just trust everything the Bible says, but I am not doing that, and I am instead advocating we treat it like we treat other ancient sources. So are the Christian scholars I cite. They are not like the fundamentalists Paul is referencing. Mike Licona, for example, expresses skepticism about some of the details in the gospels, because he suspects there is spotlighting, reorganizing, and summarizing going on (22). I am in agreement with him for the most part. For me personally, Chris Hansen has convinced me Job is not a historical account, I think it is an ancient epic, somewhat similar to a parable of Jesus. I am more confident that Jesus existed than I am Abraham existed. I don’t see that as a problem, as I am more confident Donald Trump is the current president than I am that Confucius existed. I can accept all these beliefs, even though my confidence is higher for some beliefs than it is for others. I don’t need to have equal confidence for them all.

Paul then concludes with this, “While the schools where the Bible is taught require teachers and students alike to sign statements of faith that the Bible is without error, what demonstration could I see that Christians are evaluating the scriptures as they would other ancient documents? Show us what intellectually honest evaluation looks like. Lead by example.” 

This comment is uncalled for. It is nothing more than poisoning the well and guilt by association. He is responding to my arguments, even though I never have advocated for this fundamentalist view. I respect Paul, but this is a low blow that I know he is above (and I don’t even need corroboration). Furthermore, why not read some of the scholars I cited, like Craig Keener, Mike Licona, or Paul Eddy? They do lead by example and they offer that evidence. Licona says in his book on the resurrection that if we found the body of Jesus, he would doubt Christianity (23). Craig Keener, in his “The Historical Jesus of the Gospels”, notes the differing levels of confidence we have for certain things Jesus said and did (24). It really feels like Paul is implying Christan scholars have not done this. Perhaps he needs to stop worrying about what he hears in the fundamentalist circle he came from and start reading what Christian scholars say.  

Furthermore, even if he is right and Christians accept too much of what the Bible says without question, that doesn’t give skeptics a pass to apply excessive and unnecessary skepticism to the Bible.

In conclusion, I respect Paul, but he offers no reason why Mark, the other Gospels, and Acts 13:29 are wrong when they say Jesus was buried in a tomb. His skepticism on this is excessive and unnecessary. I prefer to hold to methodical neutrality, and since there is no reason to doubt these passages, I do not. Nonetheless, I appreciate the conversation as always. 

 

Notes:

 

  1. Overstreet, R. Larry. “Roman Law and the Trial of Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 135, no. 540, 1978, pp. 323–332. 540. https://www.academia.edu/41207214/Roman_Law_and_the_Trial_of_Christ
  2. Yoel Elitzur, “The Abba Cave: Unpublished Findings and a New Proposal Regarding Abba’s Identity,” IEJ 63 (2013): 83–102; Magness, Jodi. “What Did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like?” The BAS Library, 5 Nov. 2015,                                                                                                                baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/32/1/7.
  3. Ferguson, Everett. Background of Early Christianity. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987, p. 457.
  4. Sanders, Ed Parish. Judaism, Practice and Belief: 63 BCE – 66 CE. SCM Press, 1998, p. 8.
  5. Allison, Dale C. Resurrecting Jesus: the Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. T & T Clark, 2006, p. 361.
  6. Magness, Jodi. What Did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like? The BAS Library, 5 Nov. 2015, baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/32/1/7.
  7. McCane, Byron R. Roll Back the Stone: Death and Burial in the World of Jesus. Trinity Press International, 2003, p. 107.
  8. Tzafferis, V. “Jewish Tombs at and near Giv’at Ha-Mivtar, Jerusalem.” Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 20, no. 1/2, 1970, p. 31. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27925208. Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.
  9. Yoel Elitzur, “The Abba Cave: Unpublished Findings and a New Proposal Regarding Abba’s Identity,” IEJ 63 (2013): 83–102.
  10. Keener, Craig S. Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019.
  11. Ebeling, H. L. “Livy and Polybius: Their Style and Methods of Historical Composition.” The Classical Weekly, vol. 1, no. 4, 1907, pp. 26–28. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4385688. Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.
  12. Keener, Christobiography, 50.
  13. Allision, Resurrection Jesus, 353
  14. Keddie, G. Anthony. “The Vitae Prophetarum and the Archaeology of Jewish Burials: Exploring Class Distinctions in Early Roman Palestine.” Journal of Ancient Judaism, vol. 10, no. 1, 2019, pp. 79–98., DOI:10.13109/jaju.2019.10.1.79.
  15. ibid., 92.
  16. ibid., 85.
  17. Rajak, Tessa. Josephus: the Historian and His Society. Duckworth, 200, p. 16.
  18. Eddy, Paul Rhodes, and Gregory A. Boyd. The Jesus Legend: a Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic, 2008, p. 376.
  19. Keener, Christobiography, 50.
  20. N. J. McEleney, “Authenticating Criteria and Mark 7:123,” CBQ 34 (1972): 446.
  21. Keener, Christobiography, 50.
  22. Licona, Mike. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography. Oxford University Press, 2017.
  23. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. IVP Academic, 2011, pp. 59-62.
  24. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012.

A Defense of the Census of Quirinius of Luke 2:2

Estimated Reading Time: 35 Minutes

It took longer than I expected, but someone finally responded to a video I did years ago on the census of Quirinius mentioned in Luke 2:2, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

Now, I am always appreciative when non-Christians respond in a respectful manner and without dropping insults or trying to attack me personally. Divine Disbelief focused on the data and didn’t try to make this personal, which was very respectful of them. Also, their channel is much smaller than mine and for that reason, I almost didn’t write this blog post, because when larger channels respond to smaller channels, indirectly we might send trolls their way. However, I really have wanted to redo the video they responded to, but I have not had the time. The reason being is I wanted to update it with more information and articulate some points in a better way (which will be mentioned in this blog). So luckily, I already had accumulated a lot of the research for this blog. Unfortunately, I am pretty busy with other topics and just haven’t found the time to circle back to making a new video, but writing a blog takes far less time than making a video. So I figured this was the perfect opportunity. Also, this gives me the opportunity to highlight an important feature regarding the debate surrounding alleged bible contradictions and errors.

When studying possible contradictions or errors in the biblical texts, it seems like Christians and skeptics are on different wavelengths. Christians, like myself, are often trying to get skeptics to employ the principle of charity, meaning we ought to give an author, like Luke, the benefit of the doubt before we assume he is in error. Whereas, it seems skeptics start with the idea the Biblical texts are questionable (or even flat out guilty) until proven innocent even on ordinary matters. Perhaps many skeptics question the Bible because they see it first and foremost as a religious text, which, in their minds, allows it to be dismissed.

This general implication can be seen in the first response video. At 25:28 they state, “The complete chaos which would ensue as tens of millions of people made the trek to the, quote, place of their origin which, again, is not mentioned in any historical documentation, would not have gone overlooked by those alive at the time.”

But are not the gospels historical sources, aside from the fact that Christians consider them scripture? Luke reported this event did happen in Judea (he doesn’t at all imply it would have been tens of millions, more on that later). But from the skeptic’s standpoint, biblical texts are always assumed to be questionable sources. But Christians ask why we ought to start with the assumption they are questionable when we tend to give other ancient sources reporting ordinary events the benefit of the doubt? Especially since there aren’t other sources that talk about this specific census that contradict Luke.

The Principle of Charity is used quite often in historical studies. In his book, “Why there are Differences in the Gospels,” Mike Licona spends most of the time examining differences in Plutarch and always tries to offer logical explanations for differences instead of assuming Plutarch made an error (1).

Another good example comes from Egyptian History. Some sources say Amenhotep II had two campaigns in Canaan during his reign, one during his third year, and one during his ninth year. However, other sources say he had a campaign during his seventh year. Egyptologists often try to harmonize these accounts. A possible explanation is that the seventh-year campaign mentioned in one source is the same as the third-year campaign mentioned in the other source. The former is counting from when he co-reigned with his father Thutmose III (hence 7 years from that point), and the latter is only counting from when Amenhotep II reigned alone after his father died (hence 3 years from when he was the sole ruler). Another possible explanation is a late scribal miscalculation during reconstruction from the period of the 19th dynasty, instead of attributing the error to the original scribes under Amenhotep II (2)(3). Those possibilities both seem logical, so why can’t we employ the same reasoning when it comes to the gospels? Why is Luke assumed to be in error because some things he says are not mentioned in any other historical document?

Brook W. R. Pearson reminds us our knowledge of the time period from 15 BC to AD 14  is quite limited (4). Yet, Luke is assumed to be in error or questionable even though our data on this time period is incomplete. Luke, if treated like other ancient historians, might give us more data to help fill in the gaps. So the foundation for this blog post is the principle of charity. Let’s not assume Luke is likely in error unless the evidence from that time period points in that direction.

 

Video One:

The first response video starts out with a recreation of one of my slides:

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 8.43.13 AM

The creators say, “..the first and third problems are inherently the same as are the second and fourth.” I am not sure why they think this. The first point is about how Jews were required to travel for the census, and the third point is about whether Rome took a census of the entire empire at once. These are inherently different and why they were separated. The second point is regarding how a client kingdom was treated by Rome, and the fourth point is regarding when a specific individual was reigning as governor of Syria. These are also inherently different, but I digress.

The first video is only going to focus on the first point on the slide, and the second video covers the second point which I will address below. If there are further videos addressing the other two points I will update this blog to include them, but I suspect those videos will also come down to presupposing Luke is questionable instead of trying to find a logical explanation by utilizing the principle of charity. 

After some background, they get to the first objection they are raising. Beginning around 5:40, they take issue with the fact that I cited an Egyptian papyrus which states people had to return to their place of origin for a census in Egypt, which is similar to what Luke states happened in Judea under Herod the Great. PLondon 904 states that Egyptians had to return to their nomes (different administrative districts of Egypt) in order for a census to be conducted (5). In other words, a census needed to be conducted and everyone had to return to their region within Egypt for registration. So if you went to Alexandria to look for work, but originally were from Thebes, you had to return to your place of origin. You could not just stay in Alexandria and be registered there (caveat coming).

Now, I want to be clear, because perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in the short video they are responding to, I am not saying this is a perfect parallel to what would have happened in Judea around 4 BC. I thought that was obvious since Egypt was a province in 4 BC, while Judea was a client kingdom. Also, Rome did not govern every territory in the same way. 

Larry Overstreet says, “Generally speaking, Roman law allowed the local law of each province to be exercised without much interference.” (6) Wolfgang Kunkel says, “…local administration, the administration of justice as between the natives of the provinces, and many other tasks were in general simply left to the political organs of the subject people.” (7)

Divine Disbelief implicitly assumes I was arguing that the censuses in Egypt were perfect parallels to the 4 B.C. Judean census, but my point was only that there are similarities that can help shed light on what Luke was talking about. Namely, that in Egypt people had to return to their nome, which would have required traveling for many. 

Pearson says, “None of the Egyptian parallels can be posited as hard and fast facts for this investigation, but they do go a long way toward establishing what was normal for other Roman territories. The procedures may have been modified in Herod’s kingdom, as indeed in all the different parts of the empire, but there is no reason to posit that anything recorded in Luke 2 concerning the census was out of the ordinary for the Roman world.” (8)

William Ramsey also notes the differences between modern expectations and the ancient beliefs, “We in modern time make the census for one fixed and universal moment, catching our migratory population at the given instant, as if by an instantaneous photograph. The Romans tried to cope in another way with the difficulty of numbering people who might be far from home, viz., by bringing them at some time during the enrolment-year to their proper and original home; and they pennitted them to come for enrollment at any time during the year.” (9)

The data suggests Rome preferred people in a particular place to register. In Egypt, that was traveling back to your nome, which could take days. I’m not saying this is exactly how things were done in Herod’s client kingdom. The only point I was drawing is that there is a similarity in ordering people to return home. 

Now, I detail all this because in the response video they go on to cite the rest of the edict of PLondon 904 which states a caveat about returning to your nome. It says that if you could give a “satisfactory reason for remaining” you could register where you currently were (10). But again, no one says this census is exactly the same as the one done in Judea in 4 B.C. in a neighboring client kingdom. 

The section from PLondon 904 they cite says that the prefect of Egypt appointed a cavalry commander named Fetsus to handle the affairs of this caveat, which seems like a special circumstance the prefect decided to include for his subjects, and was not always standard Roman practice. Divine Disbelief also just finished noting that the prefect of Egypt had a unique status in the empire, giving him autonomous control over Egypt to conduct internal affairs. 

Divine Disbelief seems to think that this is a perfect parallel to the census conducted in Judea around 4 BC. They go on to state, “One could wonder if having a wife who is nine months pregnant and thus unable to travel across the desert would be considered a satisfactory reason for somebody to stay in the town and not need to travel anywhere, let alone the place of their origin, as IP says.”

But why on earth would they suggest the later census from Egypt, under a different ruler, is exactly how things would have been conducted under Herod the Great? No historical sources mention this was exactly the same way it was performed in Judea, or that Judea would also have had cavalry commanders appointed to oversee a similar caveat. Why assume the same caveat was allowed under different rulers and in different regions, and therefore that Luke is wrong about an entirely different census? Luke is not guilty until proven innocent.

Now, DivineDisbelief does say this is a minor point and not the heart of their argument, but since they brought it up, there is no harm in offering a rebuttal, even if it is a minor point. The overall point is that the census in Egypt is only similar to what probably would have happened in Judea, so they cannot use it as an exact match, and neither did I intend to. However, that seems to be what they continue to do throughout this video, weakening their overall argument. 

Next, they cite the number of censuses we have from Egypt. To quote, “What we do have (just over 400 census responses from Egyptians which are dated from 6 CE to 259 CE, with 14 years separating each) is expansive and incredibly telling.”

You might not think this is a major point, but there is some important data they left out, which might be relevant if they decided to make future response videos. Roger Bagnall and Bruce Frier note that prior to this period, and through the reign of Augustus, there were 6 censuses in Egypt: 11/10 BC, 4/3 BC, 4/5 CE, 5/6 CE, 11/12 CE, and 12/13 CE (11).

Screen Shot 2020-05-30 at 10.39.11 AM

The 14-year cycle only begins after this period. This data fits well with the fact that Augustus seems to have been a little obsessive about keeping accurate records of his empire. Pearson notes this might provide the rationale for Luke’s statement in Luke 2:1 (12). Also notice that the date of one of the Egyptian censuses of declarations aligned well with the estimated time of Luke’s census being around 4 BC, which would support the idea that Augustus was surveying parts of the empire around this time (again, this is just to note a minor correlation, not to say they are exactly the same). Overall though, the standard Roman practice of conducting a census every 14 years was not in effect until after this period. So when Divine Disbelief later draws parallels to the Judean 4 B.C. census, they are assuming the same practices were conducted, which seems unlikely given that the standard Roman census procedures were not yet established. Things appear to have been a little more chaotic during the reign of Caesar Augustus, who seems to have been overly concerned about accurate records. 

My point can be seen at 12:13 of their video, where they state, “Of the substantial amount of information we have thus far discovered, we see this: there was never a combination of household registrations of people and evaluations of property, not one time! This leads scholars and papyrologists to say the following, ‘the glaring absence in the Egyptian census returns of the declaration of property, not to mention its evaluation, makes it clear that taxation on property in Egypt was not done through the census process.’” 

Divine Disbelief also goes on to cite papyrus census data from other time periods as well. But no one claimed these were perfect parallels to the chaotic time of Herod the Great and Caesar Augustus. They don’t cite any census data from this time period, and who can blame them, because we lack sufficient census papyruses from this time period in Judea. In addition, it appears that censuses were conducted more frequently than every 14 years. 

Furthermore, as we noted in the original video, Rome probably wanted to turn Judea into a province (which they ultimately did after Herod Archelaus was deposed). So conducting a census that included property and people seems like a good idea in order to obtain a proper understanding of the potential new province and the property of each household for future taxation purposes (more on this below responding to the second video). In other words, we would expect an initial census for a potential new province to be different than standard censuses carried out after that, especially under the obsessive Augustus and his tyrannical puppet-king, Herod. But then again, Rome did not necessarily always do things the same way in each province. So it could have even been different elsewhere in the empire.

Then Divine Disbelief summarizes their points so far, showing their tendency to rely too much on later censuses to conclude Luke was wrong about a different census. Leaving the jokes aside, to quote, “Second, nobody had to go back to their place of origin for any type of census, or for anything really. Third, a household census never happened at the same time as a property census. Fourth, the edict given in 104 CE only had to do with those who were in Alexandria.” 

But again, Luke is talking about a different census, which was in a different territory, under a different Emperor, and during a different time period, which probably doesn’t entirely match the later established Roman census procedures. PLondon 904 does actually require travel to one’s place of origin if you do not meet the needs of their caveat or exception rule. So it appears Divine Disbelief is relying too much on different circumstances to say Luke was wrong, which seems unfair. How can they make such general sweeping claims about all Roman censuses with limited data? Once again, Luke is not guilty until proven innocent.

At 14:30, they state, “IP then references two Old Testament verses, Deuteronomy 21:1517 and Numbers 27:6-11, which he says make it more likely Jews would need to be in their place of origin for a census because Jewish law said their property was the property of their fathers.”

This is true––that is all I stated. To quote from my original video, “…it was more likely Jews would need to be in their place of origin for a census, since Jewish law states their property was the property of their father’s. Harold Hoehner says, ‘…the Romans would comply to the custom of laying claim to one’s family estate in order to assess it for taxation. Every person needed to appear to be questioned so as to make a proper assessment of his property.’ So it’s likely Joseph would need to be in his place of origin for property assessment.”

Now notice this is all I stated. There is nothing here about King David or owning land. This is relevant given the subsequent claims they make. All I am really trying to say is that Jews were tied to families. R.W.L. Moberly writes, “…a man’s children are seen as extensions of his own value and significance and are not considered as uniquely important human beings in their own right.” (14) 

Essentially, children were seen as almost belonging to their fathers, which of course ended when the father passed away. There would probably be less control as children became adults, but fathers were still considered heads of their entire household (15). 

So the inference is a family unit would probably have needed to be together for registration, as your family was essential to your identity in ancient Judea, and that is what you were mainly tied to as a Jew. That is all I was trying to say in citing these two passages––control of the family and the family’s property did not really pass to the son until the father had died. Again, I was probably too brief, so I don’t entirely fault them for the confusion. 

However, from this idea about Jews being tied to their families, and especially their fathers, as well as that Rome seems to have preferred people being in their place of origin, it is likely Herod would have had people return to their fathers, which is their initial home or place of origin so the census could be conducted and a proper assessment of the Jewish family units could be known. Now, I am not saying this is certain, but I am trying to utilize the principle of charity to make sense of what Luke says, instead of just assuming his claims are questionable from the start or that he is guilty of an error until we find something to corroborate his claim. There is a logical explanation for what Luke records. Plus, that is not how we treat other ancient sources, and I don’t see why we should not give Luke the benefit of the doubt considering how accurate he is throughout Acts (16). 

So the point was that children were tied to their fathers and estates didn’t pass to the son until the father had passed away. So in that sense, they were still under the headship of their fathers, and it is likely that the property of sons was still counted as property of the father until the father died. This is what is hinted at in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 and Numbers 27:6-11.

To quote Yehiel Kaplan, “In the first stage, in ancient Jewish law, the dominant tendency was to affirm the authority of the Jewish father over the members of his family. During this period, the idea that parents have a natural responsibility to love their children, care for them and provide for their welfare was less transparent. The main purpose of the rules concerning the relationship between parents and children at this stage was the assertion of the rights and needs of the father of the family.” (17)

He goes on to add, “The authority of the father to determine the fate of all members of his family was the main guiding principle. Many regulations in Biblical law were an outcome of this principle, that the father had significant authority over members of his family. These regulations included the granting of certain rights over the child to the father that were not awarded to the mother. In fact, according to some scholars, some Biblical laws granted almost absolute authority to the father when it came to family matters.” (18)

Unfortunately, Divine Disbelief seems to suggest I was saying this was utterly explicit in the biblical text, which again, perhaps I should have elaborated on. On a side note, they make a claim that God sanctioned polygamy in the Old Testament. However, I pointed out in another video this is unlikely. See also this article

Now at 18:38 Divine Disbelief says, “Neither of the biblical references has anything to do with ‘going to their place of origin’ or ‘property is the property of their father’.”  But I never said it had anything to do with returning to a place of origin. Instead, the point was these passages do hint at property rights through inheritances. Their inheritance came from their father when the father died. Until then, they were under their father. I admit I could have explained this better, but that also doesn’t justify them reading into it what they think.

After this, things kind of go off the rail. To quote at 20:10, “Why would it matter to the Romans who owned any property thousands of years prior?” But where did I ever say or imply this? The fact that Joseph’s original family household was probably in Bethlehem (which is why he went back there) probably had nothing to do with King David’s claim from thousands of years ago, which is why I never claimed that.

Perhaps, they are referring to Luke 2:4 which reads, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” Maybe Divine Disbelief is using this verse to suggest the Romans cared about lineages going back to David, but I suspect that is reading too much into the text. Luke is probably using this opportunity to remind readers that Jesus is a legal descendent of David through Joseph’s family connection in Bethlehem. However, Joseph probably went there because that is where his father was located.

The gospels also imply Joseph and Mary likely stayed in Bethlehem for a while. In the book “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes,” the authors remind us:

“When Joseph went to Bethlehem to register, Mary gave birth to Jesus. They needed to wait a few weeks for Mary to recuperate before they traveled back, but it appears Joseph and Mary may have remained in Bethlehem for nearly two years. When the wise men arrived, they went to a house where the toddler Jesus and his parents were living (Mt 2:11). What had Mary and Joseph been doing all this time? Not vacationing. Joseph was probably following work opportunities. He intended to return to Nazareth but was staying while there was work to be found. This was the time (hairos) for work. He would leave when the time was passed. Americans find it hard to leave town for a long weekend. Who will feed the cat? We cannot imagine someone leaving their home for a year or two. But in cultures in which hairos is more important than chronos, this is a common thing to do.” (19)

If Joseph had family connections, as Luke and Matthew imply, then it makes sense as to why they spent so much time in Bethlehem, and how it could have created work opportunities through familial connections. I don’t think the Romans or Hoerd cared about who was descended from David (which is why I never once said this), but they may have wanted families together in their place of origin for proper assessment. The possibility that some families could trace their lines back to David was just an indirect consequence of requiring Joseph to go back to his father’s house.

This section was a bit funny to watch because Divine Disbelief then spends several minutes trying to attack a claim that was never made by doing mathematical calculations of how many Jews could have been descended from David and would need to have traveled back to Bethlehem. I can’t tell if they are trying to be ridiculous in this section for comedic purposes, but I’ll respond nonetheless. At 24:10, they argue from using exponential calculations, “…it shows pretty much every Jew in 1st century Palestine and all those living elsewhere in the Roman Empire would have been of the, quote, line of David.” 

Sure, that is possible, and it works in a hypothetical setting, but things do not ever play out the same way in reality. For one, the Jews only documented male heirs, so anyone who descended from a female descendant of David would not have documented that connection. Second, the life expectancies were much shorter back then due to higher rates of war and disease (let’s also not forget the Babylonian Exile). Populations didn’t grow as fast as they have after the industrial revolution. So, unfortunately, it’s not like every one of these descendants would have lived to reproduce. In fact, using that kind of exponential growth is very impractical in reality, especially before modern times. This whole thing reminded me of an older video by Potholer54 who responded to AiG on trying to argue for exponential population growth after the alleged global flood to get enough people to build the pyramids.

The idea that every Jew in the 1st century would have been able to claim they were a descendant of David is probably not true, which is why we don’t see it happening in the records that survived. Populations were simply not growing like they are today. 

I am not saying it is impossible that David could be what scientists call the ‘most recent genealogical ancestor’ of everyone in Judea, but that is not even relevant to the main point (20). I did not claim every descendant of David would need to have gone to Bethlehem. Nor do we have reason to believe every Jew would have thought of themselves as a legal descendant of David. My point was about returning to family origins under the father’s household, wherever that was. Again, this is not to say we have proof this is what happened, it is utilizing the principle of charity to make sense of what Luke is telling us. Plus, there are no records that contradict Luke on the procedures of this specific census.

At 25:28 they state, “The complete chaos which would ensue as tens of millions of people made the trek to the, quote, place of their origin which again is not mentioned in any historical documentation would not have gone overlooked by those alive at the time.”

Obviously tens of millions would not have arrived in Bethlehem, as we just went over (especially since there were not even that many Jews in Judea at that time). But apart from this, why do we need to assume Luke is wrong or questionable just because there is no corroborating evidence? Luke is a historical document. Should we not give Luke the benefit of doubt since no other historical documentation contradicts him? If they had a source from this 4 B.C. census that said otherwise, then they would have a point, but they seem to be assuming Luke is wrong because nothing confirms his report. The Bible is not guilty until proven innocent. 

They then begin to wrap up the video and remind us of their earlier points by citing an Egyptian census from about 200 years later to argue Joseph would not have needed to travel to Bethlehem. Now, we have thoroughly addressed this in the first half of this post, but this goes back to one of my earlier points. Why does Divine Disbelief keep assuming the Egyptian censuses from long after the Augustian period were exactly the same as the 4 B.C. census? We have good reason to think this was not the case, given that the standard 14-year increments were not in place, there was an emperor in power that was obsessive about having accurate records of his empire, Herod’s client kingdom was different and about to experience radical changes as Herod was close to death, and Jewish law was different than Egyptian law. 

This is like judging the customs of colonial America by looking at customs in the United States from the 20th century, and declaring a historian from the 18th century is wrong because things were different in the 20th century. The reasoning of Divine Disbelief doesn’t add up or cause us to doubt Luke, unless we assume Luke is guilty until proven innocent. Unfortunately, this seems to be what they are doing. For example, to quote from 26:34, “The claim of movement into a different part of a province, to quote, a place of origin for a poll tax, registration, census, for literally any reason remotely close to that which is mentioned in Luke, is simply not historical and is easily dismissed.”

In other words, Luke is ‘easily dismissed’ and assumed to be incorrect because nothing confirms his account, even though there is no contradictory evidence regarding the specific census he mentioned. Luke is guilty until proven innocent.

 

Video Two:

The second video has less to address. The first thing they say is that Rome would not have gone about conducting a census in a client kingdom. Instead, they would have acted through the client ruler.  To quote at 2:00, “When we find a census, poll tax, or any other type of taxation, it is not directly enforced by the Roman military or even a Roman procurator. Instead, it is performed by the client king who, like Herod the Great, was chosen by Caesar. We also know Herod would perform his own taxation and would sometimes, but not always, provide tribute to Caesar. Thus, there is no reason to assume anything other than that which is evident. Rome did not directly enforce a census in client states.”

But how they went about conducting a census doesn’t mean it was not decreed from Rome. After all, Herod was essentially a puppet king (21), as even they just admitted. Divine Disbelief seems to be getting nitpicky. Rome could still conduct a census in a client kingdom, and would probably go about it through whoever was reigning there. Luke doesn’t say Rome directly ran the census. All he says is “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). I suspect Herod was the one who actually carried it out within his kingdom but under the order of Rome. I don’t think Divine Disbelief is being charitable here in how Luke 2:1 reads, or in how they are interpreting my words. I never said it had to be specifically carried out by Rome, and not through Herod, their puppet-king. All Luke says is the decree came from Augustus, not that Rome had to do all the paperwork.

With regards to their claim, “Rome did not directly enforce a census in client states,” this is challengeable. The Roman historian, Tacitus, seems to reference a census being conducted in a client state:

“At this same time the Clitae, a tribe subject to the Cappadocian Archelaus, retreated to the heights of Mount Taurus, because they were compelled in Roman fashion to render an account of their revenue and submit to tribute. There they defended themselves by means of the nature of the country against the king’s unwarlike troops, till Marcus Trebellius, whom Vitellius, the governor of Syria, sent as his lieutenant with four thousand legionaries and some picked auxiliaries, surrounded with his lines two hills occupied by the barbarians, the lesser of which was named Cadra, the other Davara. Those who dared to sally out, he reduced to surrender by the sword, the rest by drought.” (22)

Sabine R. Huebner says after citing this passage, “This suggests that a similar census on the Roman model could well have taken place in the kingdom of Herod the Great, officially directed by Herod but with military and administrative support from the Roman governor in neighboring Syria. As a vassal king, Herod was dependent on the favor of Augustus and legitimized by his support.” (23)

There is no reason to assume Herod, who was under the thumb of Rome, could not have been ordered to conduct a census. Even without the example in Tacitus, Caesar Augustus could do what he wanted. There was not some rule he had to abide by that stated he had to leave Herod’s kingdom alone.

Now the rest of the video only addressed one of my three points. Remember, to point out Augustus had reason to conduct a census (and was more involved in Judea that we realize) I mentioned that Herod fell out of favor with Augustus, Herod was also approaching the end of his life, and subjects of Judea swore an oath to Herod and Caesar.

However, they only focus on the first point, and to be fair they make a good point. At the end of this video, they circle back around to the alleged error. At 18:25, they state, “So the claim that IP made about Herod being, quote, more of a subject than a friend not at all true.” So they correctly point out sometime later Herod did regain the favor of Caesar. 

Let’s remember my video was supposed to briefly cover this topic, so it is fair to note I left out details I didn’t think mattered at the time (you live and learn). It is fair to say, I only noted around this time that Herod fell out of favor. For a time he was demoted from rex socius to rex amicus. “The sum of his epistle was this: that ‘Whereas of old he had used him as his friend: he should now use him as his subject.’” (23). I didn’t think it was relevant to the defense of Luke 2:2 to note what happened later, which was that Herod was restored because that was secondary to my overall point. After all, this wasn’t a video about Herod, but Luke. My only point was that Herod fell out of favor and Augustus could have used this opportunity (as one of the reasons) to conduct a census for records. 

Perhaps Huebner can articulate why this is relevant better than I can: 

“A rift had opened up between Augustus and Herod only a year earlier, in 9 BCE, after Herod had mounted a military campaign against the Nabataeans. This had been discussed beforehand with the governor Saturninus, but Herod had neglected to secure the approval of Augustus as well. Augustus then broke their amicitia, their political friendship, after more than twenty years, and threatened to treat Herod as a subject rather than as a friend and ally from that point onwards. Could this have motivated Augustus to order a Roman census in Herod’s kingdom to assess the tax-raising potential of the region, recalculate the tribute due, and put Herod firmly in his place? A census in Herod’s kingdom, carried out by officials dispatched by the governor of neighboring Syria, would have made his dependence on Rome unmistakably clear. A Roman census in Herod’s kingdom would not, moreover, have represented the only direct interaction between Augustus and the subjects of his client king. The oath of loyalty to Augustus which Herod’s subjects were required to swear in 6 or 5 BCE also indicates an understanding of the nature of Roman rule that was increasingly unfettered by borders and which interfered with the normal autonomy of a client king in interior affairs.” (25)

In other words, the relationship between Herod and Augustus was complex. Herod was a friend, but also still a client who was on shaky ground for a period. This seems to be indicated by the oath Huebner and my original video mentioned from around 6/5 B.C. (Divine Disbelief did not address this aspect). I fully understand Herod was restored, but again, my aim was to focus on Luke and only the matters related to that. Of course, it is fair to say I may have been too brief (as also admitted above), but I don’t think that really challenged the main issue. Remember, Herod temporarily rift with Augustus was only one of my points as to why a census was likely, and Augustus had the right and motive to conduct a census if he wanted.  As Robert Hunt said, “The patron-client relationship was a complicated and intricate social system throughout the ancient world. Rome was no exception to this rule.” (26) 

Divine Disbelief glossed over the second and third aspects of my case. The first of which was the oath of loyalty from 6/5 B.C. That is odd because that provides context on the relationship between Herod and Augustus. Things were not so black and white, and this should have been noted. I can admit I was too brief and should have said Herod only temporarily fell out of favor, but regardless of that, it really doesn’t affect how we read Luke and the census. The data still seems to support what Luke tells us, as long as we don’t assume Luke has to be entirely corroborated by other sources. 

Next, Pearson also quotes F. M. Heichelheim and reminds us, “…the ‘will of Herod the Great, which must have been drafted a few years before the birth of Christ, took a very close survey of all the resources of the kingdom, and this could not have been possible without a recent census of the actual domain of the king.’ Part of Herod’s report concerned the annual revenue of the country; after the revolts which occurred upon Herod’s death (Josephus A.J. 11.9.5 §229), Caesar used these records of taxation to remit a quarter of the Samaritans’ taxes, as the Samaritans had not taken part in the unrest (A.J. 17.11.4 §319).” It seems implausible, therefore, to assume that Judaea had been without the practice of census taking prior to the establishment of direct Roman rule.” (27)

This quote relates to the third point I brought up in the original video about Herod getting old and a proper assessment of his kingdom would be needed, which Divine Disbelief also omitted in their response. Instead, they focused only on the issue of ‘falling out of favor,’ and then kind of failed to address the real issue, which was how this related to Luke’s statement. They spent so much time on this one issue I think it got them a bit sidetracked from the overall point.

The last thing to address in this video is this closing slide, a quote from R. L. Fox:

Screen Shot 2020-05-31 at 1.32.33 PM

To address this, it should be noted Luke doesn’t say Rome was taxing Judea directly and bypassing Herod. Pearson also notes there is enough evidence Herod adopted several roman practices, “We cannot think that in the process of romanizing his kingdom, he would incorporate Roman architectural, military, religious, and recreational techniques, models, and practices, but would reject their incredibly efficient administrative systems–or that he would be allowed to do so by his overlords.” (28)

Josephus also reports the use of “village scribes” in Judea under Herod (29), which was a position responsible for collecting the information regarding property for taxation during a census. The position is mentioned in 200 different papyri (Examples: POxy. 79, 240, 251, 252, 254, 255, 288, and 488). The fact that this occupation is mentioned as existing in Judea under Herod makes more sense if they were conducting censuses and mimicking the Roman versions, which is why we see similarities in Egyptian papyri (30). So, like before, the existence of this occupation associated with census duties fits with Luke’s account. 

So suffice it to say, their claim that Luke made an error is not supported by the data they provided. This goes back to my original point, skeptics will assume passages in the Bible are in error because they have not been confirmed elsewhere. However, they would never do this with Plutarch, Josephus, or any other ancient historian. Typically, when we study these works we tend to assume they are accurate unless we have a good reason to doubt them. For example, we are not going to assume Josephus’ accounts of the Egyptian prophet and Pilate’s attack on the Samaritans were fabricated or questionable unless we encounter a separate contradictory source. We tend to take Josephus at his word, resting on the principle of charity, unless we encounter a good reason to doubt him. The Bible, on the other hand, is assumed to be in error until it finds supporting evidence. But Divine Disbelief did not provide any specific contradictory evidence, and mainly relied on reports of completely different censuses. So if we just employ the principle of charity, there is no reason to assume Luke is in error. Luke should be seen as historical, just like how we treat other ancient works as innocent until proven guilty. If there is a part 3 and 4 to their series I’ll address them here as well, as there is still more data I have saved I would like to cover.

 

 

Notes:

  1. Licona, Mike, and Craig A. Evans. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography. Oxford University Press, 2017.
  2. Pritchard, James B. “Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.” Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 245-248.
  3. Vandersleyen, Claude. L’Egypte et la Vallée du Nil, vol. 2. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995, 325.

  4. Pearson, Brook W. R. “The Lucan Censuses, Revisited.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 2, Apr. 1999, p. 282.
  5. Deissmann, Adolf. “Light From The Ancient East (Classic Reprint).” Forgotten Books, 2016. p. 268.
  6. Kunkel, Wolfgang, and John Maurice Kelly. “An Introduction to Roman Legal and Constitutional History.” Clarendon Press, 1985.
  7. Overstreet, Larry. “Roman Law and The Trial of Jesus.” Bibliothecasacra, vol. 135, no. 540, Oct-Dec, 1978, p. 325.
  8. Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 277.
  9. Ramsay, W. M. “Luke’s Narrative of the Birth of Christ,” ExpTim 4, 1912, p. 483.
  10. Deissmann, LFTAE, 268.
  11. R. S. Bagnall and B. W. Frier. “The Demography of Roman Egypt.” Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy, and Society in Past Time 23; Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 5.
  12. Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 274.
  13. Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” xvi 9.3.
  14. Moberly, R. W.L. “Christ as the Key to Scripture.” He Swore an Oath: Biblical Themes from Genesis 12-50, by Richard S. Hess et al., Wipf & Stock Pub., 2007, p. 156.
  15. Kaplan, Yehiel. “The Changing Profile Of The Parent-Child Relationship In Jewish Law.” The Jewish Law Annual Volume 18, 2010, pp. 21–80., doi:10.4324/9780203855249-2.
  16. http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2012/01/84-confirmed-facts-in-last-16-chapters.html
  17. Kaplan, Yehiel S. “Child Custody in Jewish Law: From Authority of the Father to the Best Interest of the Child.” Journal of Law and Religion, vol. 24, no. 1, 2008, pp. 89–122., doi:10.1017/s0748081400001946.
  18. ibid, 92-93.
  19. O’Brien, Brandon J., and E. Randolph. Richards. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. IVP Books, 2012, pp. 144-145.
  20. Swamidass, S. Joshua. The Genealogical Adam & Eve: the Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry. IVP Academic, 2019.
  21. Hendricks, Obery M. The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of the Teachings of Jesus and How They Have Been Corrupted. Three Leaves Press, 2006, p. 56.
  22. Tacitus, Annals 6.41.
  23. Huebner, Sabine R. Papyri and the Social World of the New Testament. University Printing House, 2019, p.44
  24. Josephus, Antiquities 16.9.3
  25. Huebner, Papyri and the Social World, 45.
  26. Hunt, Robert D. “Herod and Augustus: A Look at Patron-Client Relationships.” Studia Antiqua 2, no. 1 (2002). https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/studiaantiqua/vol2/iss1/5
  27. Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 266.
  28. Ibid, 272.
  29. Josephus, Antiquities 16.7.3
  30. Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 271.

 

Skylar Fiction’s Methodological Flaws on the Book of Job

Guest Post by Chris Hansen:

My previous variations of this work were produced primarily to search through numerous historical mistakes and problems that I spotted in Skylar Fiction’s initial response to Inspiring Philosophy’s commentary/interpretation on the Book of Job. While such a work may be warranted on occasion, I simply decided that sitting around spotting errors was not really getting at the in-depth methodological problem that pervaded the entire rejoinder, and one which pervades most atheist responses to Christians. So instead, I think that what is warranted is a more detailed discussion of Skylar’s main problem and then also an introduction to the Book of Job that will be attached afterward, mostly so that Skylar (among numerous other atheists, like Aron Ra) can more accurately assess the book. 

Skylar’s Methodological Flaw 

When we make rebuttals to people, we cannot sit there and use a completely different methodological approach than the one used by our opponent. At that point, we are just talking past each other and not understanding the interpretive framework from which that person is working with. This is the largest flaw that pervades all of Skylar’s comments on the Book of Job. 

Inspiring Philosophy (and I confirmed this in discussion with him) was not performing or functioning under the same interpretive framework that Skylar decided to apply. What do I mean by this? When we interpret a piece of literature (ancient or modern) there are multiple perspectives that we can take in order to gain meanings or concepts from it. Applied to the Book of Job, there are numerous methods that people can decide to take in order to try and look at this work in detail. To give a few examples of what scholars and scribes have done in the past, one can use Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Feminist, Linguistic, Literary, Comparative Cultures, and numerous other approaches.(1) And all of these end up with different interpretive results, both in translations and in understanding of the characters and meanings of the text. The first problem with Skylar’s work is that he has no solid interpretive framework that he is functioning under. He appears to try and be historical, but it is not developed enough to be substantial. For example, he frequently tries to interpret the Book of Job through the laws of the Hebrew Bible. But Skylar neglects to note that, nowhere in Job is the law actually ever recalled, nor is the history of Israel a concern.(2) Not only that, but the characters and setting are not even Israelite either.(3) 

Another part of Skylar’s ill-defined framework, which is not part of Inspiring Philosophy’s, is the emphasis on the historicity of the story. While this may be important from a philosophical point of view, if one decides to be a literalist, what this reflects is that Inspiring Philosophy actually has a better grasp on the historical genre(s) of the Joban text than Skylar does. The historicity is not actually that important in reality. The book is specifically written as a story, not really as history. It is purposefully fabricating an older archaic form of Hebrew, it has contrived linguistic idiosyncrasies, (4) the location and setting of the story is a mystery and the location of the figures makes no geographic sense,(5) and in form of genre, it has cannot truly be placed in any accurate genre at all.(6) At best it can be postured as “Wisdom literature,”(7) and often compared to other suffering narratives of the Ancient Near East, none of which necessitate historicity.(8) As Lindsay Wilson notes:

[…] one of the features of wisdom literature is its lack of focus on history. Though wisdom ideas can be present in historical narrative […], it is unlikely that a wisdom book is only historical narrative.”(9)

Wisdom literature, as a whole, is simply not focused on being historical in nature. Wisdom literature is worried with presenting historically important questions and debates. And that encompasses numerous different genres and other kinds of writing. In terms of genre, numerous have been proposed, anything from history to parody.(10) Ultimately, in regard to history, we simply have no reason to seriously think this was a story that was meant to be taken historically. Wilson summarizes it with, “However, even if the book of Job is to be read in this way [historically], the more important perspective is to read the book as part of a debate within the wisdom movement.”(11)

What we can gather from this is that Skylar’s interpretive framework is, firstly, internally concerned with the wrong questions. Even in his quasi-historical perspective, he is concerned with problems that the Book of Job cannot be determined to actually care about. It ultimately makes Skylar’s interpretations either forced or more reflective of his modern conceptions of the Problem of Evil, than anything to do with the ancient work of Job. His interpretation is sometimes historically oriented, sometimes a philosophical hypothetical, and then other times concerned with questions that we cannot demonstrate the author of Job was actually concerned with (again, there are a number of factors above which point to the author not caring for historical accuracy). But then there are problems with Skylar’s framework in its inability to encompass even variant historical theories. What if Job is like any historical work (i.e. the product of a historical selection of particular events, and then an author’s extrapolations and exaggerations(12))? Unless Job wrote at some unknown time in that idiosyncratic dialect of a Hebrew-Aramaic-Arabic hodgepodge and had a perfect recollection of the events and dialogue, then we simply cannot expect it to be accurate history. Not to mention, YHWH never reveals what happens in the Heavens to Job or anyone else in the story. Quite the opposite. He says as Peter Enns summarizes, “‘I am God, shrouded in mystery, and you need to learn how to deal with that.’”(13) So a historical framework could encompass something as simple as some man named Job existed, somewhere, at some time, had hardship and then had a crisis of faith, which his friends tried to insufficiently solve, but things got better eventually. That could be the entirety of the historical core. A historical event that is exaggerated or beautified by the author is, in fact, an interpretation in scholarly literature.(14) Even those arguing for a hard, historical core admit that it is easy to see the artistic and didactic nature of the work.(15)

In short, even if taking a historical position on Job, it depends on how scrutinous you are of the narratives and how they logistically work. But at that point, again, you miss the entire goal of the Book of Job… to discuss human suffering. In the end, there is nothing in the Book of Job that should make us even really care about the historical reality of the narrative. What is important is are the meanings we can draw from it, and the narrative it is wanting to tell us. This brings us back to the interpretive framework again.

Skylar’s framework, which has numerous unresolved issues and methodological problems (which we noted some above), is simply not a rebuttal to Inspiring Philosophy’s, because they are using completely different metrics. In short, Skylar’s rebuttal to Inspiring Philosophy is simply talking past the points he wishes to rebut to, instead of addressing them from the same methodological setting.

Inspiring Philosophy is, by his own admission, not doing a historical, contextual, or Hebrew Bible type interpretation of the Book of Job. As such, those problems concerning those interpretive frameworks, do not concern Inspiring Philosophy’s in this setting necessarily. Inspiring Philosophy’s is what is called an eisegetical interpretation, he is reading into and from the text meanings that are interpreted through Christian lenses of the New Testament, with the same applied to a few other Hebrew Bible books. As a result, the vast majority of Skylar’s concerns with this interpretation should be levied from this similar framework. Of course, someone operating from a historical framework will view Inspiring Philosophy’s interpretation is flawed or problematic from that historical perspective. But Inspiring Philosophy is not even pretending to perform a historical interpretation. As such, those concerns are literally moot points. This is what is called having a different hermeneutic. And as a result, Skylar is just talking past everything that is said. He is not rebutting as much as he is just promoting his own perspective and while simultaneously devaluing and insulting Inspiring Philosophy’s interpretation, which Skylar evidently either does not understand or does not care to actually work with.

Now please note, this is not me condoning or agreeing with Inspiring Philosophy’s methods or interpretations. I do not, myself, have much of a personal care about this hermeneutical method and, as a result, I do not agree with what he gleans from the text. However, I also recognize that such hermeneutics do have value. Just as I think that a modern Feminist critical hermeneutic is exceedingly valuable in gleaning information from the text, I also think that a Christian interpretation can be very valuable as well (though these will be on the theological and literary sides, not the historically “accurate” one, necessarily). I cannot say how intriguing and how much one can learn on theological perspective, discourse, and logic by viewing various passages through different hermeneutics (try reading Paul’s letters from Jewish, Orthodox Christian, and Gnostic Christian perspectives and you will really see what I mean).

To summarize, Skylar’s rebuttal to Inspiring Philosophy is unconvincing for two reasons. Firstly, it has no interior cohesion or consistency. He often attacks Inspiring Philosophy for using the New Testament or works not in the context of Job, while doing the same thing with a number of Hebrew Bible concepts (I’ll cover the provenance of Job below in the Introduction). And lastly, his methods are simply speaking past the entire Inspiring Philosophy’s hermeneutic. Inspiring Philosophy fully admits (as he confirmed to me personally) that the best way to view the Book of Job historically is in its historical setting, i.e. contextually, as Skylar often tries to argue for. Just as he does not think that Isaiah 53 was historically a messianic prophecy (as he also confirmed to me), but this is the theological meaning it was given. Inspiring Philosophy has a different theological hermeneutic, and this is where Skylar seems unable to separate the two. Historical context is not necessary for a theological hermeneutic. 

Anyone wishing to pay a critical eye to methodology and argumentation should take note of this. One has to be on the same page hermeneutically in order to make any kind of meaningful rebuttal to another’s position. The rebuttal that Skylar should have had was: what framework is the “best” (a subjective quality) for interpreting Job. Instead, he merely threw points from a different perspective, many times of which were errant, at another person, whose methodology was not even affected or concerned with them. The rebuttal was more a Red Herring than a meaningful rebuking of Inspiring Philosophy’s position. This is something no one should repeat. The conversation on methodology should happen before one engages another.

 

THE BOOK OF JOB: 

A Small Introduction for Beginners 

The Book of Job is quite literally an enigma of the ancient world. And that is partially what causes such a huge interest in the work world over. It is a book that is simultaneously relatable (we have all had moments of anger and desperation with our god[s]) but is also ungraspable. So many times, there are references to things we don’t understand, can’t really grasp, or are outright strange. 

This little introduction I’m providing you with is to give you (whether you be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Polytheist, or insert identity here) a basic understanding of the Book of Job, its contents, some of the motifs and themes in it, and its historical and cultural contexts, where those are discernable. At times there are going to be a lot of complicated things occurring, so I will try to summarize in an understandable manner for you as much as possible. 

1. Language of Job 

So, I choose this topic first because it is rather relevant to most of the following ones. The language of Job is often considered the most complicated and diverse of the entire Hebrew Bible. It contains numerous Aramaisms (words or phrases that appear to be Aramaic in origin or influence). Arabisms (words or phrases that appear to be Arabic in origin or influence), and then there are both flavors of an older archaic form of Hebrew, as well as that of Late Biblical Hebrew. Most of these linguistic anomalies occur in the Dialogue portion of the Book of Job. 

Previous scholarship was concerned with the number of Arabisms and Aramaisms in the text that it often led to a number of varying hypotheses. F. Foster and A. Guillaume both arrived at the conclusions that Job was originally written in Arabic, based on both internal elements that seemed to indicate that as its place of origin, and then also the number of lexical peculiarities in the language of Job…

To read the rest of Chris Hansen’s small and informative booklet on Job, please download a copy here. Chris covers issues the Behemoth, Leviathan, dating, structural unity, and many other interesting aspects of Job:

 

 

 

Notes:

 (1) Respectively see: Patrick Henry Reardon, The Trial of Job: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Job (Chesterton: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2005); Harold Kushner, The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person (New York: Shocken, 2012); Ibn Kathir, Stories of the Prophets; F. Rachel Magdalene, “Job’s Wife as Hero: A Feminist-forensic Reading of the Book of Job,” Biblical Interpretation 14.3 (2006), pp. 209-258; C. L. Seow, Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013) offers the most rigorous modern linguistic commentary in my collection; J. P. Fokkelman, The Book of Job in Form: A Literary Translation with Commentary (Studia Semitica Neerlandica, 2012); Marvin H. Pope, Job, AB 15, Revised Edition (Garden City: Doubleday, 1973) is largely comparative in nature, with major usage of comparison between Ugaritic and early Israelite cultic worship. 

(2) Roland Murphy, Tree of Wisdom, ABL (New York: Doubleday, 1990), p. 33. 

(3) Seow, 2013, pp. 46-47.  

(4) Seow, 2013, pp. 17-26, 47. 

(5) Pope, 1973, pp. 23-24 and Stephen J. Vicchio, Job in the Ancient World (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006), pp. 30-51. 

(6) Seow, 2013, pp. 47-65. 

(7) Seow, 2013, p. 61. 

(8) Vicchio, 2006, pp. 8-29; Seow, 2013, pp. 49-56. 

(9) Lindsay Wilson, Job, Two Horizons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), p. 6. 

(10) Wilson, 2015, pp. 5-7. 

(11) Wilson, 2015, p. 6. 

(12) Wilson, 2015, p. 6. 

(13) Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So… (New York: HarperOne, 2014), p. 148.  

(14) This is the position of Michael Brown, Job: The Faith to Challenge God, A New Translation and Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2019), see his introduction. 

(15) Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Book of Job, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), p. 14.  

(16) F. H. Foster, “Is the Book of Job a Translation from an Arabic Original?” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 49.1 (1932), pp. 21-45. Guillaume was the most prolific in arguing for an Arabic original, see A. Guillaume, Studies of the Book of Job (Leiden: Brill, 1968), “The First Book to Come Out of Arabia,” Islamic Studies 3.2 (1964), pp. 151-166, “The Arabic Background of the Book of Job,” in F. F. Bruce, ed, Promise and Fulfilment: Essays Presented to Professor S. H. Hooke in Celebration of His Ninetieth Birthday (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1963), pp. 106-27, “The Unity of the Book of Job,” The Annual of the Leeds University Oriental Society 4 (1962), pp. 26-46, “Job,” in Charles Gore, Henry Goudge, and Alfred Guillaume (eds.), A New Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: SPCK, 1951), pp. 311-340.  

Cult of No Reason (or Charity)

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Sometimes it is like certain atheists don’t even try, and yet claim they have roasted me. For example, I recently received a short response on the moral argument, where they attempted to critique the validity of my version. It is extremely likely they didn’t even watch my video, but instead skimmed through it and glanced at the basic premises, without listening to me define what each premise means. Then they thought they could debunk my argument. But how could I conclude this? 

Because they didn’t even allow me to explain what each premise means, implied I didn’t have a formal conclusion and misrepresented the argument in propositional logic. For example, at 0:29 in their video, they put most of my argument up on the screen:

Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 1.51.30 PM.png

But If they would have made to 4:50 in my video, they would have seen there is a conclusion. I didn’t just stop with premise 5. 

Screen Shot 2019-12-30 at 8.57.59 AM.png

It really looks like they didn’t even make it that far into my video because they didn’t include the full argument. So I doubt they even watched me explain what each premise means and instead just glanced at what was on screen and then took an uncharitable interpretation.

Next, they get to the heart of their argument and claim my argument is not logically valid or follows any rules of logic. At 3:56 they say, “It is a numbered list of disconnected items that are simply claimed to lead to one another.” Well, if they would have listened to the video instead of probably just glancing it over, they would have seen how I explain the argument flows. They make no mention of this, which either shows a lack of use of the principle of charity, or they didn’t even watch the video to see the explanation for each premise. 

They then try to represent my argument in symbolic logic and do so in an uncharitable way which doesn’t match what I said in the video. When they put it into propositional logic they still lack the formal conclusion from my video, once again revealing they probably did not watch my video long enough to see I had that on the screen.

Screen Shot 2019-12-30 at 9.11.47 AM.png

But this attempt to represent my argument is nothing like what I said in the video. In fact, it is an attempt to way over complicated it. If you want to see it in modus ponens form you need to realize premises 1 through 3 are just propositions. You don’t need to dive further than that. So it runs like:

1. A

2. B 

3. (¬C) 

4. If (A) (B) & (¬C) → D

5. D → G

C: G

 

My version was built on the philosopher Linda Zagzebski’s version, which I linked in the video description. See more here and here. Here is how her argument runs:

i) Morality is a rational enterprise.

ii) Morality would not be rational if moral skepticism were true.

iii) There is much too much unresolved moral disagreement for us to suppose that moral skepticism can be avoided if human sources of moral knowledge are all that we have.

iv) Therefore we must assume that there is an extra-human, divine source of moral wisdom.

 

In philosophy, we are called to employ the principle of charity as much as possible (something the atheist philosopher Benjamin Watkins has advised me on). In proposition logic, there is no reason to overcomplicate it. It runs as:

i) A

ii) If S → (¬A)

iii) If H → S

iv) If (A & ¬S) → G

 

As you can see, I tried to be charitable without how I represented her argument. However, my critics didn’t employ the principle of charity, nor did they try. Probably because they didn’t even watch the video. 

When I did a video titled, “A Critique of Error Theory,” atheist and philosopher Benjamin Watkins helped out by presenting an argument for Normative Realism. If you didn’t listen to Ben explain how the premises flow you could easily think the argument is invalid:

(F) We have more reason to prefer a life filled with happy experiences than a life of unrelenting agony.

(G) The fact that some argument is valid and has true premises does give us reason to accept this argument’s conclusion.

(H) Therefore, there are some objective normative truths.

(I) Some things have intrinsic features, or properties, which give us strong reasons to care about them for their own sake. 

 

Now I don’t have time to explain this here, especially when you can just watch the video and see why it is valid. The reason it is valid is because arguments are typically accompanied with an explanation to clarify things and provide support. Plus, it is our job to employ the principle of charity as much as possible, before we assume error. One ought to listen to the best of their ability to the explanation of the argument before they assume the argument is invalid. Unfortunately, it is probably the case my critics did not even try when I present my version of the moral argument. 

The last issue they bring up is they take issue with the fact that God is not brought in until premise 5. But so what? The Kalam doesn’t make reference to God, but that doesn’t mean it is not valid. Zagzebski’s moral argument doesn’t make reference to God. Arguments are not unsound or invalid because they do not make reference to the conclusion early on. That should be blatantly obvious. 

Plus, once again, if all you did with the Kalam Cosmological Argument is glance at the premises and not allow Dr. Craig to explain what each means, you would not actually understand the argument, nor would you get a reference to God. Arguments come with explanations. It is dishonest to divorce an explanation from an argument. 

If you actually watch my video I explain how the premises flow to the conclusion. These things are not coming out of the aether. They are explained in the video as to how we arrive there. The fact that they don’t acknowledge this, once again, shows us they didn’t attempt to watch the video, but just glanced at the premises. Nor do they ever employ the principle of charity.

Finally, their whole critique doesn’t even address the soundness of the argument (probably because they didn’t watch the video). They are only trying to argue the way it is presented is invalid. If that was even remotely true (and as we have demonstrated it is not), this would not mean the moral argument doesn’t work. It would just mean it needs to be presented in a different way. So their whole critique is pedantic at best. All they succeeded in doing is making me more confident in the moral argument. 

I suspect because they are such a small channel, they might take this opportunity to reply to this blog post. If they do, I think it is likely they will once again misrepresent my position, ignore the principle of charity, and dig their heels in and tell me what I mean by my premises. When someone doesn’t employ the principle of charity and gets called out on this, they are likely to double down on their dishonesty. I hope I am wrong, but we will see.

A Response to Paulogia on Divine Hiddenness

Average Reading Time: 21 Minutes

It is always good to get a response from someone who I have mutual respect for. Paulogia (Paul) recently did a video response to my video on divine hiddenness and is very respectful in his approach, which I greatly appreciate. It is good to know we can respectfully disagree (I cannot say the same for the trolls that showed up on my channel after the video went up) without insulting one another’s intelligence.

 

With that said, I find writing this reply to him to be fairly easy, mainly because most of his objections can be addressed by simply reminding him of something I already said in the video, or clarifying misconceptions. His response seems to mostly ignore the holistic approach of my video and instead focuses on certain parts, which divorces what I said from its context. So much of what I say here has already been said in my original video. 

 

There is not much to respond to in the beginning, but then at 3:36 Paul says, “if reasonable non-belief is a category, then unreasonable non-belief must also be a category.” Paul makes these distinctions throughout the video so I want to begin by addressing this because this is my primary disagreement with him. I don’t think such a hard-line distinction is fair on Paul’s part. Technically speaking, I don’t think either category exists (reasonable or unreasonable non-belief), which is why I really didn’t make the distinction in my video or ever admit either group exists. The truth is beliefs are formed from a plethora of inputs, some emotional motivations, reasons, experiences, etc. I don’t think there are reasonable non-believers, for the same reason I don’t think there are reasonable believers (in that particular sense). Humans are not reason-machines, which is why I opened my original video with studies that show motivations play a strong role in belief-forming factors for all humans. Paul seems to have misunderstood why I brought these studies up. I am not saying the studies I cited show there is a category of unreasonable non-believers. I am citing them to show that all humans are not reason-machines. There aren’t people who just believe because of the right information and people who reject Christianity because of insufficient information. So I reject early on one of Paul’s main premises, which (as you will see) is where a lot of the confusion and disagreement will come from.

 

This is an important fact going forward because I reject the existence of reasonable humans in general. We are emotional beings who reason, not reasonable believers, or reasonable non-believers, or unreasonable non-believers, etc. So to answer Paul, why did I spend most of the time addressing what he calls the category of unreasonable believers? Simply put, the categories probably do not exist. If they do, I did have a caveat later in my video to address that. 

 

At 4:55, Paul says, “The distinction between a reasonable and unreasonable believer is for some reason inconsequential.” To respond, well yeah, because I don’t think either category really does exist. I thought I made that clear when I cited the studies on how motivations play a role in how we form beliefs. The studies do not say there are categories or people to whom this does not apply – the implications are it applies to us all. So I am trying to follow the science as best as I can, and so I would deny his claim that there are reasonable non-believers.

 

Off topic, but at 5:05, Paul says, “…having good reasons to believe isn’t required for the plan of salvation.” I actually do not agree with this and will openly scold Christians for just believing without reason. I have a video on what faith is and I explain that Christians are called to believe because of good evidence and reasons. 

 

Building on this, at about 6:00, Paul reveals one of his basic premises, that there are unreasonable non-believers, reasonable non-believers, unsaved believers and saved believers. Again, I reject this premise that these groups exist and I also have argued in my video on hell that who goes to heaven is not as clear cut as this. Jesus said Himself (John 9:41, 15:22) ignorance doesn’t mean one is guilty (more on this later). In Romans 5:13, Paul directly says, “sin is not counted where there is no law.” The question of what heaven and hell are and who goes to each place is much more complicated than this, which is why I did a video on heaven and one on hell before I thought I could even do one on divine hiddenness. I realize the issues of heaven and hell needed to be dealt with first, so I will refer people to those two videos for a more nuanced approach, but simply put, no I don’t think only the saved believers go to heaven. It is much more complicated, which is why I think the Bible is intellectually superior. It recognizes that reality is not always clear cut and circumstances play a role. 

 

After this, Paul says that the only category that matters for the sake of divine hiddenness is the category of reasonable non-believers. But with all due respect, do we have any evidence such a category even exists? Throughout his video, Paul just assumes such a thing is possible and he doesn’t address the claim in my video that such people do not exist. Again, I have already given over the category of reasonable believers, and they don’t exist either. There are no humans in either category. My original video opens with studies to back this point up, which the rest of the video is contingent upon. Paul brushes over these studies and doesn’t go back to them, which I would say is the main fault in his response.

 

After this Paul draws a distinction between ‘being convinced’ and something ‘being reasonable to believe in.’ I bring up the studies I cited up again because they play another role here. Paul says at 7:40, “Unfortunately, one cannot merely choose what one is convinced of.”

 

Again, this might be what we want to think (I certainly want it to be true), but the data doesn’t support this.” Art Markman, Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today says, “…these results suggest that people are biased to interpret the evidence in ways that are consistent with their desires. That means that people may ultimately come to believe that the weight of evidence supports the position that they already wanted to believe was true.  And they will believe this without recognizing that their own desires influenced the evaluation of the evidence.”

 

Again, there was a reason I began my video by noting these studies and it wasn’t to designate a category of unreasonable non-believers. It was to say there are no purely reasonable people, so there are no reasonable non-believers. 

 

After this Paul cites a bunch of arbitrary facts, like the belief, “Barack Obama was once president,” and asks if you can simply choose not to believe it. The main problem is these do not compare, as there are no desires or personal motivations to deny these basic facts. These do not compare to more deeply held beliefs connected with theism, or any other motivated belief for that matter. You don’t have to take my word for it, you can look at the studies and articles that show motivations play a heavy role in what we believe. Citing a bunch of arbitrary facts about reality and asking people to stop believing them is really missing the point about the studies on deeply held beliefs within psychology. 

 

I remember when I was a guest on “Dogma Debates.” David Smalley (host) was debating with me on the reliability of the New Testament and went on about how we have to judge the New Testament by a higher standard because it would have serious implications if it were true. The underlying message (as supported by the studies) is that we are not judging the New Testament simply based on the evidence, but by how it would personally affect him, which implies motivations for rejecting it. Personal motivations are connected with beliefs about Christianity (or any religion) for all people (myself and Paul included). This doesn’t at all compare to arbitrary propositional knowledge about past presidents that affects no one’s desires or motivations.

 

Second, building on the studies, I would argue people do will themselves to believe unreasonable things. One example we can all agree on would be flat-earthers. After watching the documentary “Behind the Curve,” I think it is likely many people join such an absurd movement because it is fun and exciting to think you are part of a minority group exposing a vast government conspiracy. So I would argue they will themselves to reject basic and obvious science about the shape of the earth. As you can see with this example, we can identify the motivation for denying the shape of the earth. If you could find motivation for someone to deny Obama was ever president (given the research into how beliefs are formed), I suspect you could find someone who would deny it (perhaps a radical Mandela Effect advocate). Again, you don’t have to take my word for it that we end up believing what we desire – this is why I backed it up with research. 

 

After this, Paul kind of admits to this point. At 8:50, he says, “When we are talking about individuals… how could it not be subjective? If there were such a thing as an objective standard of evidence then we wouldn’t need 12 jurors. Any trial could be settled with just one juror upholding this objective evidence standard.” 

 

Yeah, exactly! So if this is the case and subjectivity plays a major role, why is Paul suggesting there is a category of reasonable non-believers? By Paul admitting this fact, he is only saying what I was trying to say. More evidence doesn’t convince people to accept cognitively robust theism. So the issue is not that God is hidden. It is that subjectively, people convince themselves that God is hidden or probably does not exist. Again, you end up believing what you want and we all have to fight every day to rise above that.

 

After this, Paul cites me admitting to this in my own words at 9:12. I am not sure if he thinks this is ‘gotcha moment.’ If he is accepting that what constitutes ‘enough evidence’ varies from person to person, he is supporting my case that there are not reasonable non-believers. In fact, that was one of my points and it undermines his response.

 

After this, at 9:35, Paul says, “Why must salvation be a two-step process? First, belief and then a chosen relationship?” Again, I go back to the point that all these other arguments are contingent upon the studies I opened with. I never said salvation was a step-process because I don’t think you get to cognitively robust theism from basic propositional knowledge of theism. In fact, I argued that in my original video. The studies demonstrate that you end up believing what you desire anyway. So if you reject cognitively robust theism, you are likely to desire the falsity of basic theism as well. However, we should both agree that beliefs are formed in much more complicated ways for each person. This is not always the same from person to person, and a plethora of facts and desires will factor into each belief. However, you cannot just assume reasonable non-believers exist without evidence they do exist (Paul provided no evidence they do), and if they do, again, there was a caveat in my video.

Here, I’ll just quote from my original script for my video, “If honest rejection of Christ exists, then as CS Lewis said, “Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed.” No one is condemned for ignorance. God knows the hearts of all and knows all who will freely surrender.”

 

At 10:45, Paul says, “Okay, so we know that God can reveal Himself directly to people convincing them without a doubt he exists, without removing their free will to choose. The Bible itself refutes this free will objection with story after story of people who reject God after definitive encounters.” 

 

I am not sure what Paul is trying to say here because I agree with this and it wasn’t my point in bringing up free will. Remember I said, “So the obvious objection is why doesn’t God simply remove our subjective desires and give everyone a basic sense of His existence they cannot deny. The response is that removes too much freedom and forces people in the direction God wants them to go, instead of letting them choose for themselves. As we discussed in our video on the problem of evil, God wants free creatures to earnestly seek him because they want to. He doesn’t want a world of Stepford wives or Pleasantville humans following a script. If someone doesn’t want to seek God and desires to be their own Lord, then God allows them to seek the evidence to fit what they originally desired to begin with.”

 

As you can see, what I was responding to was the objection that God just removes all subjective desires and essentially turns us into robots, forcing us to go into the direction he wants. This wasn’t a section of my video addressing the objection, “Why doesn’t God reveal himself to everyone and give basic propositional knowledge?” Unfortunately, Paul has taken my words out of context and I have to call him out.

 

At 12:50, “…if there are any people at all who could be the right kind of believer. If only they were shown enough evidence to believe God exists, then a fully revealed God would increase the number of saved believers, and therefore be a more loving God than the hidden one.” 

 

This is an odd claim by Paul. How does he know God has not already done this? Is Paul omniscient and knows this has not been done, so an all-loving God cannot exist? This doesn’t make sense because it assumes an omniscient God would not already know how to save everyone who could be saved regardless of the circumstances (see my video on omniscience for more). It assumes more propositional knowledge would lead to salvation when there is no way (given what the studies show in how beliefs are formed) to show that would make a difference. Paul just seems to assume this would help or that God is not revealed enough already. He even admitted earlier in his video (citing the example of jurors) that evidence can be subjective and personal. So an omniscient God would know if this would help or not, and we cannot assume it would help, or if God has not already been revealed enough to save everyone who can be saved. Therefore, it cannot be used as an argument that God does not exist. This is the main problem with the argument from divine hiddenness. It assumes the skeptic has an omniscient standpoint on what God ought to do, and that because God is not doing what they think He ought to do, therefore God likely does not exist. The entire argument is built on a false premise that you somehow know what would help make more believers, but a simple analysis shows there is not enough knowledge in the human mind to make such an inference.

 

At 13:48, Paul says, “This proposed Christian God already individualizes revelation levels. So that could just continue, but raise the level to what it takes for the individual person to be convinced.” 

This misses the point of my video. It assumes any amount would convince some. I argued that some will never be convinced regardless of how much evidence they are given. I cited people in my video on hell who admitted to this (Dan Barker and Christopher Hitchens). I also stated this in my original video on divine hiddenness already, “Given God’s omniscient, He can accurately judge when an attempt to change someone will work and how much influence they need, and He knows who will change and who will not. Given that we are not omniscient like God, we cannot assume the system truly is unfair. See my video on the omniscience paradox for more on this.” Just after this, Paul even cites another section of my video that says the same thing in so many words.

 

But Paul’s next response to this is, “Yes, yes, Mike continues to malign the unreasonable non-believers who in turn continue to be irrelevant to the divine hiddenness argument.” That is not what I said whatsoever. I am surprised I have to explain this again. I don’t think such categories even exist. I am not saying there is a distinct category of unreasonable non-believers, just like I do not think there are reasonable non-believers (or reasonable believers). My argument was to point out you cannot assume more evidence just makes more cognitively robust theists. Paul just seems to keep directing my argument as if they are only talking made-up category called unreasonable non-believers, which I never implied because I am talking about all humans. As I said before, this is his biggest misunderstanding.

 

After this, Paul builds on a lot of the misconceptions I already addressed about the existence of chosen beliefs, who goes to heaven and hell, or reasonable non-believers. So there is not much more to address here and I’ll skip ahead to any more points that need to be addressed. I am not going to address the points any more when Paul brings them up in his video.

 

At 18:22, Paul challenges my citation of John 9:41 and John 15:22 and questions if Jesus really said people are not condemned for lack of information. He doesn’t offer a different interpretation to the passages. Instead, he appeals to the apostle Paul in Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

First, I already cited Romans 5:13 above where the apostle Paul agrees with Jesus in saying there is no sin where there is no law. Second, Paulogia needs to cite the context of Romans 1, because the following verses clear this up, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” The apostle Paul is attacking people who willingly rejected God. Even verse 21 says “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God.” These are not people who just have not been given enough evidence yet, so these are a different category of who Jesus is talking about in the Gospel of John. Paulogia is quoting-mining Romans 1.

 

After this, he appeals to Hebrews 9:27 to argue that people cannot get out of hell after death, which I will admit is something I think is possible but probably rarely happens, if at all (see my video on hell). The verse reads, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” The problem is that this verse is kind of vague. It doesn’t say there are no more chances. The entirety of the passage is talking about how Christ only had to die once for all time, and then makes a comparison to how men only die once. The aspect of Judgement coming later seems to be in reference to a future event of judgement, known as the day of judgement. Even if that is wrong, J.P. Moreland explains why people do not get out of hell after death. 

 

The last thing to address is at 19:59. Paul says, “Mike has fully conceded Schellenberg’s third premise, reasonable non-belief occurs.” I’m sorry, but where on earth did he see that? He doesn’t quote me saying this, he doesn’t show a timestamp, so he has no evidence for his claim. What is his reason to put these words in my mouth? I can only assume (as studies show) Paul has ended up believing what he desires to be true, when in fact, I never conceded this. This was the point of citing the studies in the beginning (that I did not concede this point), and then I elaborated on this in the rest of my whole video. 

 

I’m not going to address Paul’s personal testimony of atheism at the end because I cannot psychoanalysis people, and quite frankly, I don’t care much for personal testimonies from either side. Likewise, Paul cannot know the psychology of anyone and know that some just need more evidence to accept cognitively robust theism, which is the main reason the argument from divine hiddenness fails.

All in all, the main problem with Paul’s response is that he ignores the holistic approach of my video, which is why in this response I just had to refer him to other sections of my video. I appreciate the constructive criticism, but I don’t think his video sufficiently addressed the problem, because he assumes reasonable non-belief occurs, and never once did he give evidence that is does occur. He assumes more evidence will convince this alleged category of reasonable non-believers, but I argued extensively that they do not exist. He also probably did not see my videos on heaven and hell, so he doesn’t have that context either, meaning he did not fully grasp the entirely of the argument. This video on divine hiddenness was part of a series with each building on the other. The order goes as they were uploaded: 

 

Omnipotence Paradox Debunked

Omniscience Paradox Debunked

Does God Send People to Hell?

What is Heaven?

The Problem of Evil: A Christian Response

Divine Hiddenness: A Christian Response

 

It is also important to remember even for people who are philosophically minded and have some sort of epistemology to justify their beliefs on, ultimately their reasoning will be emotionally based, as people will generally be emotionally-oriented, and therefore ultimately believe in what they want. This is probably why God tries not to focus on the purely reasonable aspect of humanity. Rather, he probably focuses on the emotional aspect, since we are emotional beings. Building a relationship with God requires hiddenness for us to realize the implications of life without God (this was explained in more detail in my video and Paul did not address it). Thus, our response to the problem of evil is similar to the hiddenness argument because it is due to mankind’s nature and God would know full well what would happen in a world of forced belief. Furthermore, Paul does not distinguish between general hiddenness (objective reality hiddenness)  and subjective hiddenness, because, for believers, God is not hidden, whereas for the unbeliever he is hidden, but I would argue this is more subjective and which is why one cannot use such an argument to objectively argue God probably does not exist. Your subjective desires or experience does not indicate an objective fact.

Paul might actually  admit this in his video description, where he says, “Unfortunately, Mike’s answers don’t align well with the kind of personal divine hiddenness that affects me and many of my fellow Christians.” With all due respect Paul, but if it is personal then it is based on subjective preferences and not objective facts about the world. It is the equivalent to when a Christian argues God exists because they have personally felt his presence. The argument from divine hiddenness seems to just be the atheist version of this and is equally weak evidence. Let’s try to set aside our personal feelings and look at the evidence as best as we possibly can.

Last, I want to reiterate that several times during Paul’s video, he circles back to the problem of hell, which is expected, and why I did a video on hell before I tackled divine hiddenness. I admit this can be a lot of videos for someone to go through, but I think it is necessary to elaborate on these topics. It is not like these issues can be quickly and simply answered, as numerous concepts and psychological issues need to be addressed. The series is meant for someone who is open to the idea and who wants to know how these issues can be addressed. If someone has this mindset, I believe they are genuinely interested in these topics and would actually want to sit through all the videos. So with that clarified, I’ll conclude. If Paul responds, I may add an update to this blog later on. 

 

A Defense of Libertarian Free Will

By: Kyle Alander of Christian Idealism

Introduction

The primary objective of this essay is to investigate the extent to which human beings generally have the ability to freely choose their choices and actions without any prior causes on one hand or human beings’ choices and actions are generally predetermined by prior causes that are outside of the human being’s control on the other. This former option will be referred to throughout this essay as the “Free Will Thesis” and the latter option the “Determinism Thesis”. For the reasons that will become clear my task will require me to consider recent discoveries in many disciplines including physics and neuroscience as well as areas in philosophy dealing with the reasons for our actions. I wish to defend the “Free Will Thesis” which goes like this: Human beings generally have the free will to freely choose their actions without any prior causes and human beings are the originator and first cause of their actions which sets off a chain of events that take place due to that choice. Philosophers have called this chain of causation “agent causation” as it is the free agent (human mind) that is the final decider in its actions and choices and therefore are fully responsible for their actions and choices. I will attempt to show that it is most likely the case that this free will thesis is true and that it is the most philosophically probable position to hold to when it comes to human choices. 

Before we dive into what positions will be in the determinism thesis, we must clear up a few misconceptions. First, free will is not about making choices. There are no philosophers who deny that humans make choices rather the real disagreement stems from how much control over our choices we do have. People that hold to free will believe humans generally have control over their choices and the human being was the originator and real first cause of their own choice. Those that hold to determinism on the other hand generally view choices as outside the humans’ control since the real cause of the choice was some predetermined and prior cause that is outside the human beings’ control. So obviously just making a choice itself is not enough to justify the free-will thesis or the determinism thesis. The second misconception of free will is its alleged similarity with maximal autonomy. I want to point this out to respond to Sam Harris on his misunderstanding of free will. Just because we cannot pick out genes, our past, our abilities, etc. It doesn’t mean we don’t have free will. As Alvin Plantinga says: “Harris’ notion of freedom is really an idea of what we might call maximal autonomy. It’s obvious that we don’t have maximal autonomy; we aren’t free in that sense. Indeed, it isn’t so much as possible that we be free in that sense. That is because, as he thinks of it, I act freely on a given occasion only if I myself freely choose to have the desires and affections I then act on, and furthermore I myself freely bring it about that I do have them. But note that the action by which I bring about that I have those desires and affections must itself be free. That means that I must have freely brought it about that I had the desires and affections out of which I acted in bringing it about that I have the desires and affections I presently have. You can see where this is going: for every occasion on which I act freely, there must have been an earlier occasion in which I acted freely. This clearly involves an infinite regress (to use the charming phrase philosophers like): if Harris is right, it is possible that I act freely only if it is possible that I perform an infinite number of actions, each one a matter of bringing it about that I have a certain set of desires and affections. Clearly no one has time, these busy days, for that. Harris is certainly right that we don’t have that maximal autonomy; but nothing follows about our having freedom, i.e., the sort of freedom we ordinarily think we have, the sort required for moral responsibility.”

We do not have the freedom to choose to not be a human we JUST are humans. We don’t have the freedom to choose to exist we JUST exist. While one can freely choose to kill themselves, they could not have freely chosen to never be born or never exist in the first place, it’s because that is maximal autonomy and NOT free will. So with this cleared up, we see that maximal autonomy is NOT part of the free-will thesis and is therefore not what I will be defending.

Constitutes of the determinism thesis

We now get into what constitutes the determinism thesis and will try to break down the categories which are part of the determinism thesis. 

  1. The first is perhaps the extreme radical group of Newtonian determinism which is the extreme form of hard determinism. This position states that absolutely everything is predetermined and that therefore absolutely everything is inevitable. This position states that all our actions are predetermined and are inevitable so our choices are outside our control. 
  2. The second is a little less extreme but still falls into hard determinism. It says that not all things are inevitable as it accepts the reality of there being randomness in nature however human beings’ choices are still predetermined by prior causes. Whether these causes are random or not it doesn’t matter as you still don’t have humans in control of their choices. 
  3. The third moves a little away and accepts that humans may have a limited sense of free choices but that those choices are still determined by someone’s character which itself was predetermined. This position is known as soft determinism or compatibilism as it says that both determinism and free will are compatible with each other in some way. It says how someone’s character will govern their choices and that it can lead one to a specific choice itself. This position is compatible with some idea of their being free will but NOT of the libertarian type that is present in the free will thesis. 

Constitutes of the free will thesis

We now get into what constitutes the free-will thesis and will try to break down the categories which are part of the free-will thesis. 

  1. The first is the extreme version of libertarianism or hard libertarianism which states that in order for a person to be free he must always have the ability to choose the contrary, or must be free from external influences. This view does not accept any external influences on one’s choice and therefore one would be in total control of their choices in the libertarian sense. 
  2. The second is the one that is more common among libertarian philosophers is called soft libertarianism. It accepts that humans are generally in control of their choices but that there is a limited sense of external influences. It recognizes the influence of external events that can have an effect on an agent’s choice but that ultimately the agent makes the final decision. So, then someone’s character determines a range of choices rather than a specific choice itself. And that someone’s choices can influence their character and vice versa. A good way to think of it would be to see how the holy character of God determines his set of possible options within his free will in that God chooses to reject evil since it’s against his nature. In fact, soft libertarianism is the perfect description of most religious descriptions of human free will in that due to our fallen nature we have the free will to sin and we need sanctification so that one day we will have the nature and character to reject sin. So, I admit for the sake of clarity that I myself personally hold this position of free will but in this essay, I will be defending the broad free-will thesis and not just this particular part of it. 

Now that we have broken down the determinism thesis and the free will thesis, I hope that my readers understand the position I will be defending. Like I’ve mentioned before the objective of this essay is to defend the various forms of the free-will thesis over and against the various forms of the determinism thesis. 

The Case for the Determinism Thesis

It’s now time to make the cumulative case that can be made for the determinism thesis and offer the best arguments in support of the broad view. There are 7 primary arguments that make up the cumulative case for the determinism thesis. 

  1. Physical determinism: The first piece of evidence has to do with the fact that we live in a deterministic universe. We have many precise mathematical equations that can describe and predict the motion of particles before we see them move and therefore particles would be determined to move in specific areas. This makes evidence for at least some things in nature being predetermined by prior causes and therefore works to support the case for determinism. This is even true for the randomness in nature as humans have no control over this randomness. 
  2. Reductionism: The second and more significant evidence for determinism is the claim that mental states simply just are brain states. If mental states can be reduced to physical states and if physical states are deterministic then it follows that mental states and also deterministic and thus free will does not exist. This argument builds up from the last one in that it puts mental states as part of the deterministic universe and thus human beings lack control over their choices as their choices are totally controlled by external factors which is the physical deterministic universe.   
  3. Libet type arguments: The third is perhaps the most famous argument for determinism that comes from neuroscience. The reason this is the case is due to the fact that in the experiment a scientist would put subjects on an EEG machine that records brain patterns and ask the subjects to consciously make hand movements and press buttons then record the exact moment they made that conscious decision. Libet found that the onset of brain activity clearly preceded by at least several hundred milliseconds the reported time of a conscious act (this is called the brains’ readiness potential). Critics at the time objected that this experiment doesn’t refute free will due to the fact that it is only by a few milliseconds factor which is not enough time for conscious choices and it didn’t predict a specific outcome of a choice. However, these criticisms are addressed when we consider Soon and his colleagues found that the readiness potential (the brain activity before conscious choices) determined someone’s specific choice. They found how the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity up to 10 seconds before it enters awareness. This delay presumably reflects the operation of a network of high-level control areas that begin to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness. In other words, one was able to predict someone’s free choice a full 10 seconds before they actually consciously made that choice and this poses a serious challenge to any notion of free will. Thus, this is strong evidence for the determinism thesis
  4. Strawson type arguments: The fourth argument for the determinism thesis has to do with the reason for our choices and that since our reasons are external to us and since they largely determine our choices then free will does not exist. The Basic Argument has various expressions in the literature of free will, and its central idea can be quickly conveyed.

(1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself.

(2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions, one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects.

(3) Therefore, nothing can be truly morally responsible.

This is a philosophical argument for determinism based on how our choices are largely shaped by our reasons and since we can’t determine our own reasons then we are not in control of our choices. 

5. Principle of sufficient reason: The fifth argument for determinism is the PSR which is argued by determinist that since every fact of the world has an explanation then every choice and action has an explanation. The core of this argument has to do with metaphysical necessity in that the PSR proves that there can be no contingent facts but only necessary facts.  The argument goes like this 

  1. There is an explanation of why every fact is so and not otherwise (PSR)
  2. Therefore, there are no facts that are so and can be otherwise 
  3. But if there are contingent facts, then there are facts that are so and can be otherwise 
  4. Therefore, there are no contingent facts under the PSR, only necessary facts 

Furthermore, it has been argued that since there are only necessary facts then this proves a strong form of determinism which is necessitarianism (that every fact is metaphysically necessary). If necessitarianism is true it’s argued that its always necessary for someone to make a specific choice and therefore by necessity they could never have chosen something else and thus free will is refuted. 

  1. Only necessary facts exist 
  2. The ability to choose otherwise in a free-will decision is not a necessary fact 
  3. Therefore, free will is not a fact 
  4. Therefore, free will doesn’t exist

So, these two arguments put together show that the determinism thesis is true if the PSR is true. 

6. Omniscience argument: The sixth argument is somewhat different in that it argues for determinism from a theistic perspective. The basic argument is that if God knows everything then he also knows our free choices before we ever make a free choice and thus, we could never have the ability to choose something else. This means that if God is omniscient then determinism is true as God’s knowledge of all events means it determined those events. 

7. Incoherence of free will. The Burden of Proof and beyond: The final argument has to do with the burden of proof as well as the incoherence of free will. Many determinists argue that any definition of free will is incoherent or lacks definite clarity. That comparing two identical twins it would be impossible to tell if one has free will and the other lacks free will on top of the fact that we cannot empirically verify whether free will exists and therefore free will is meaningless. Furthermore these types of arguments take together the cumulative case for determinism and argue that given the reasons mentioned above that the burden of proof goes on the libertarian to properly define and show that free will exist but since this has not been done then the default option is simply to accept determinism until some good evidence for free will shows up. 

Moving forward

Now that we have reviewed and presented the best cumulative case for determinism the majority of this essay will be to show the various flaws in the case for determinism presented above. After the critique, we shall present the case for the free will thesis then wrap up with our cumulative case for free will

A critique of the case for determinism

Critique: Physical determinism 

The determinist argues that we live in a deterministic universe and therefore we know of things that are predetermined by prior causes. While this may be true for inanimate objects this doesn’t say anything about the choices of human beings and therefore this alone is not sufficient to justify the determinism thesis. Furthermore, the core of the free will debate has to do with whether there is agent causation in the universe or whether consciousness is an active force in nature that has causal powers of its own. So those that hold to free will do not deny determinism in the broad sense rather they say things are determined by the choices of agents. The determinist, on the other hand, denies agent causation and thus doesn’t think humans can have a say in nature. Things being described by mathematical equations that predict the motion of particles does not predict the choices of agents. According to the free will thesis the two main types of causes that exist is both event causation (causation of inanimate objects) and agent causation (causation of free agents) Therefore physical determinism itself is not evidence for the determinism thesis as the free will thesis would simply add that on top of their being event causation there is also agent causation. But since the case for determinism is cumulative the determinist would simply object that reductionism is enough to prove their thesis. We will now proceed to that. 

Critique: Reductionism:

The more significant argument for determinism is the claim that mental states simply just are brain states. If mental states can be reduced to physical states and if physical states are deterministic then it follows that mental states and also deterministic and thus free will does not exist. However, while it may be true that if reductionism is true then the determinism thesis is true the burden would be on the determinist to actually show that reductionism is true. Simply saying that it’s true is an obvious example of begging the question. There are serious problems with reductionism when we look at it more closely. Reductionism is the view that our mental states or our consciousness can be fully reduced to neurons in the brain. In other words, physicalist reductionism says that all experience is reduced to something that is not itself an experience in and of itself. However, the biggest problem with this is what’s termed the “hard problem of consciousness”. 

The hard problem distinguishes itself from the easy problems as any easy problems will include information processing in cognition, the focus of attention, the deliberate control of behavior (free will), the ability of a system to access its own mental states, etc. If this was all consciousness was then there wouldn’t be a hard problem. While we may not know yet how these things are fully explained with current neuroscience, we can certainly explain them in the future. The issue, however, is that all models of the brain already assume experience accompanies these processes without explaining experience itself which brings us to the hard problem. The hard problem is about experience itself. When we think and perceive the world there is information processing but there is also a subjective aspect. An organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism. 

In other words, it is the subjective experience itself that is the problem and not just the knowledge that an organism has or it’s complex information processing no matter how complex it actually is. This is why adding complexity to a human brain will never explain the experience itself. One cannot simply just explain it in terms of functions. To explain things, we simply need to only look at its mechanism and its environment and how it operates in nature. But with consciousness or experience, it’s about why are these functions accompanied by experience. Furthermore, functions can go in the dark in which they happen without an experience being accompanied by them in which case there is no thing in which there is something it is like to be that thing rather that thing is only having functions and lacking experience. And this leads us to the crux of the problem. 

Reductionism requires that at the fundamental bottom level of our brains there is no thing that it’s like to be our brains so then if our brains do in fact produce experience in this sort of reductionistic way in which our experiences in and of itself reduce to something that is not an experience in and of itself (if experience is not fundamental to the brain but rather the brain produces experience) then it necessarily leads to an “experience” being itself non-experiential and thus your left with a contradiction. 

Any conceivable solution to this problem that attempts to save physicalist reductionism will necessarily contain a contradiction within itself and therefore won’t be a solution at all. This is why the hard problem of consciousness can only be solved if we reject physicalist reductionism. Because of the hard problem our experience is fundamental to the brain rather than produced by the brain. Our brain simply correlates with our experience in its fundamental way it is not that consciousness or experience is a byproduct of the brain. 

So, once we take into account this hard problem of consciousness, we can see that the determinant cannot use reductionism as evidence for determinism if reductionism is false. The most likely scenario is that consciousness is simply fundamental and that mental states are not reducible to brain states. Therefore, with showing reductionism to be highly unlikely we have refuted the first 2 lines of evidence for the determinism thesis.

Critique: Libet type arguments

The most famous argument against free will in neuroscience comes from the Libet experiments and similar experiments that use the same methodology. Basically, researchers found that through brain scans they were able to predict someone’s choice a full 10 seconds before they consciously made that choice (brain’s readiness potential). This is more significant as this has to do specifically with human choices and not just inanimate objects and therefore the determinist says that since researchers found no evidence for agent causation in these experiments rather it contradicted agent causation then human choices are in fact predetermined. However, there are several problems which I will highlight that show why these experiments cannot be used for the determinism thesis. 

Methodological problems

The first problem has to do with the choices people are making in the experiments. The experiment was simply about pressing buttons and not about any moral decisions or decisions that are more deliberate and take time to think on. When we make deliberate free decisions, we will always take morality into account, like when we are deciding between right and wrong. In these types of experiments, the subject is asked to press a button arbitrarily and no deliberation is involved. The primary intention has been completed before the experiment which was to push pointless buttons in some arbitrary time. We know of many actions that are arbitrary like breathing or eating that are virtually automatic in nature so it is hardly surprising that someone’s mind automatically presses buttons in these experiments and therefore a readiness potential would be involved. The point is that they are abstract real-life situations as the experiment is about pressing random buttons and not something more serious like deciding if you’re going to kill someone. So, while these experiments do give us insight into how automatic processes work (processes that we already knew about before the experiment) this says nothing about human freedom. 

The main methodological problem is that none of these experiments deal with more serious decisions like moral decisions or deliberate ones rather they are focused on what we would already expect to be automatic processes going on in the human brain. This holds true for any experiment involving the pressing of buttons so with this methodological problem in place this gives us our first reason to doubt that these experiments provide good evidence for the determinism thesis. 

Scientific problems

We shall now dive into the various scientific problems with any Libet type argument against free will. There are several considerations to take into account. The first has to do with the fact that several studies show the readiness potential is present even when there are no conscious decisions being made. This provides us with good reasons that the readiness potential cannot be the cause of conscious decisions. In one 2008 study subjects were told they had to press a button when they saw a cube, among many other shapes. So the neural activity is present well before the presentation of a stimulus. The observed activity could not have been regarded as a specific preparation to press one of the buttons rather than the other.

“We performed an experiment where participants observed a stimulus on a computer monitor and were instructed to press one of two buttons, depending on the presented stimulus. We found neural activity preceding the motor response, similar to Libet’s experiments. However, this activity was already present prior to stimulus presentation, and thus before participants could decide which button to press. Therefore, we argue that this activity does not specifically determine behaviour. Instead, it may reflect a general expectation. This interpretation would not interfere with the notion of free will.”

 This leaves the room open to various free will interpretations in how the Libet experiment should be seen.  

The second problem is that later researchers demonstrated the existence of a veto in the readiness potential. This means that the readiness potential can build up overtime but the intentional mind has the ability to veto the readiness potential from carrying out a decision. In 2015 one study said this 

“In humans, spontaneous movements are often preceded by early brain signals. One such signal is the readiness potential (RP) that gradually arises within the last second preceding a movement. An important question is whether people are able to cancel movements after the elicitation of such RPs, and if so until which point in time. Here, subjects played a game where they tried to press a button to earn points in a challenge with a brain–computer interface (BCI) that had been trained to detect their RPs in real time and to emit stop signals. Our data suggest that subjects can still veto a movement even after the onset of the RP. Cancellation of movements was possible if stop signals occurred earlier than 200 ms before movement onset, thus constituting a point of no return.” 

The significance of this study is mentioned in the study itself 

“Significance: Many studies have shown that movements are preceded by early brain signals. There has been a debate as to whether subjects can still cancel a movement after onset of these early signals. We tested whether subjects can win a “duel” against a brain–computer interface designed to predict their movements in real time from observations of their EEG activity. Our findings suggest that subjects can exert a “veto” even after onset of this process. However, the veto has to occur before a point of no return is reached after which participants cannot avoid moving.” -The point of no return in vetoing self-initiated movements” 

This means that we can have libertarian free will that is compatible with the Libet experiments and therefore this provides us with another reason that we should doubt these experiments provide good evidence for the determinism thesis. 

The third problem is a much more serious and fatal objection that can be raised against any Libet type arguments against free will and this is due to the fact that there is evidence that the readiness potential itself is absent when one is making deliberate choices. In early 2018 researcher, Maoz discovered that there are different neural mechanisms in the brain’s decision making.

“The onset of the readiness potential (RP)—a key neural correlate of upcoming action—was repeatedly found to precede subjects’ reports of having made an internal decision. This has been taken by some as evidence against a causal role for consciousness in human decision-making and thus as a denial of free-will. Yet those studies focused on purposeless, unreasoned, arbitrary decisions…It remains unknown to what degree these specific neural precursors of action generalize to deliberate decisions, which are more ecological and relevant to real life. We therefore directly compared the neural correlates of deliberate and arbitrary decision making during a $1000-donation task to non-profit organizations. While we found the expected RPs for arbitrary decisions, they were strikingly absent for deliberate ones. Our results are congruent with the RP representing the accumulation of noisy, random fluctuations, which drive arbitrary—but not deliberate—decisions. The absence of RPs in deliberate decisions further points to different neural mechanisms underlying deliberate and arbitrary decisions and thus challenges the generalizability of studies that argue for no causal role for consciousness in decision making from arbitrary to deliberate, real-life decisions.”-Neural precursors of decisions that matter—an ERP study of deliberate and arbitrary choice

This implies that when making more moral choices that the brain is not running on automatic processes but rather free will is involved. This will lead us to the cumulative case against all Libet type arguments 

 

The death of Libet type arguments

To summarize we took into account the argument that human’s decisions can be predicted up to 10 seconds before they made a decision and therefore free will is an illusion. However, there are 5 major problems with taking Libet type experiments as evidence for the determinism thesis. 

  1. The main methodological problem is that none of these experiments deal with more serious decisions like moral decisions or deliberate ones rather they are focused on what we would already expect to be automatic processes going on in the human brain. 
  2. The fact that the readiness potential is present even when there are no conscious decisions being made. This provides us with good reasons that the readiness potential cannot be the cause of conscious decisions.
  3. Readiness potential activity was already present prior to stimulus presentation, and thus before participants could decide which button to press. Therefore, this activity does not specifically determine behavior. Instead, it may reflect a general expectation and it leaves room open for free will. 
  4. Researchers have identified a point of no return in self-initiated movement which supports the interpretation that the mind has the ability to veto the readiness potential so that free will may take place in decision making
  5. Maoz has discovered that the readiness potential is absent when a subject makes a deliberate rather than arbitrary choice. The experiments involving arbitrary choices therefore cannot be counted as evidence against free will due to the fact that the subjects were making arbitrary rather than deliberate choices and therefore any previous studies that involved arbitrary choices cannot be counted as evidence against free will.  

These 5 reasons give us good grounds to doubt that Libet type arguments are successful in supporting the determinism thesis and therefore this takes down the 3rd line of evidence for the determinism thesis. 

Critique: Strawson type arguments 

The fourth line of evidence for the determinism thesis comes from the Strawson type arguments. These mainly have to do with the idea that since we have reasons for our choices then we lack free will. There are various versions of the argument but the most basic one that is central to all of them comes from this syllogism.

(1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself.

(2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions, one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects.

(3) Therefore, nothing can be truly morally responsible.

However, there are some problems with these type of argument where I wish to highlight. 

Models of free will based on criteria causation

The first major problem is that it ignores models of free will in which there can be reasons that shape our free will decision processes. The “criteria” or “reasons/reasoning” is the weighting, values, goals, and past outcomes that the brain uses in order to choose for future outcomes. During deliberation, the brain will test the various options producing a pathway of events along with that choice, much like an imaginary “worldline”. New criteria will lie along these optional future paths (navigations). This can be imagining what meal might taste best comparing the satisfaction levels to past similar meals or this may be imagining being married to several different partners producing multiple decades of events. This set of various paths being testing and predicting in memory are called a cognitive phase space as the agent chooses particular “paths”, a particular set of criteria will be gathered. Just the same rejecting some paths, particular criteria will not be attained. IF the agent chooses a path due TO the criteria that can be gathered, that agent is now “cultivating criteria”. 

Peter Tse describes this as the second order free will or meta-free will

“Finally, it is not enough to simply have the ‘first-order free will’ afforded by the above kind of nervous system that can choose actions freely. Only if present choices can ultimately lead to a chooser becoming a new kind of chooser — that is, only if there is second-order free will or metafree will — do brains have the capacity to both have chosen otherwise, and to have meta-chosen otherwise. Only such a metafree will allows a brain to not only choose among options available now, but to cultivate and create new types of options for itself in the future that are not presently open to it . Only then can there be responsibility for having chosen to become a certain kind of person who chooses from among actions consistent with being that kind of person.” Dr. Peter Tse

So, the brain is preparing future states during which new criteria is the goal of the choice the chooser is now “choosing what kind of chooser he wishes to become”. This leap frog’s causa sui because the chooser is “getting ahead” of every oncoming T=0 of the moment of the decision is executed (real time, post deliberation).

It’s important to understand there are two flavors of determinism.

1) Independent determinism – this is natural forces; we can call this the LaPlacian domain

2) Dependent determinism (criteria) – this is when the once independent forces are exploited for informational or criterial causation and this type of determinism would be agent causation. 

Analogy 

To understand criteria causation or agent causation and its relation to our reasons there is a simply analogy one can make with falling rocks. Independent would be like water falling down rocks. The rocks are not placing filtered constraints on the water. The system could be described as Laplacian. a + b = c. Dependent would be as if the water’s input had decoding filters placed on it in a broader system. The water’s input’s future is modified via filters from the “rocks”. The a + b = c stops when both physical AND informational pathways are required. Changes in the physical system’s criteria (volitional attention aka consciousness) limits firing in light that they must be met by future inputs to continue on “falling down these rocks” but guided by criteria.

So ultimately free will is completely logical IF you approach it from the top down macrostate perspective which is the brain’s preparing and testing the long-term future tensed pathways. In such a model neither natural forces or the linear philosophy of causation is a potent rebuttal. This refutes the first premise of the argument since things can be the cause of themselves if you take into account something like metafree. Therefore, with understanding criteria causation and its relation to free will we see that no Strawson type argument is successful in supporting the determinism thesis thus the fourth line of evidence is refuted. 

Critique: Principle of sufficient reason 

The fifth argument for determinism comes from the PSR. Now I do not intend to dispute the PSR in this essay I want to argue that the PSR does not conflict with free will. The argument I intend to refute would be this one 

  1. Only necessary facts exist 
  2. The ability to choose otherwise in a free will decision is not a necessary fact 
  3. Therefore, free will is not a fact 
  4. Therefore, free will doesn’t exist

The first thing to point out is that facts in and of themselves are not deterministic they are just simply part of reality. As mentioned before under certain models of free will, there is a criterion that needs to be met in order for a choice to be made. While it’s true this kind of free will works better with soft libertarianism than hard libertarianism it is still free will but it takes into account external influences. This way free will is explainable and that is all that the PSR requires. 

Furthermore, as demonstrated in the previous model brain sets up multiple possibilities which are real physical necessary states “IN the world”. The state that brings the agent the desired self-cultivation will be the path chosen converting one of the possible into the actual. So undetermined facts (free will facts) can still be necessary facts which refutes P2 of the above argument

The fundamental problem with this argument is that a “necessary fact” doesn’t have to be determined fact it’s only a fact of the world. The final decision in human choices is the byproduct of criteria that guided it. This criterion is a necessary fact of the world but it’s still dependent determinism which are independent forces are exploited for informational or criterial causation. 

So, the refutation of this line of evidence for determinism is similar to the refutation of Strawson arguments. This takes down the fifth line of evidence for the determinism thesis. 

Critique: Omniscience argument

The sixth line of evidence is a little unique in that it argues against free will from a theistic perspective. It argues that God’s knowledge of choices is what determines choices and therefore free will doesn’t exist. To be honest, out of all the arguments for determinism this is perhaps the weakest as it ignores the fact that omniscience is not the same as meticulous providence (the view that God directly causes all events). Rather God would be outside of time and actualize all things at once so then the free choices of creates is what determines Gods knowledge not the other way around. 

Furthermore, having knowledge of something doesn’t mean your knowledge determined it rather it was the thing that you already know about that determined your knowledge. In other words, the free will of creates is what determines God’s knowledge of those choices. Since if there are no choices to be made, then God would not know them since those choices do not exist. Free will has to exist for God to know about it otherwise he wouldn’t have the knowledge of free choices in the first place. This idea does not in any way provide evidence for determinism so not much more can be said on it. 

Critique: Incoherence of free will. The Burden of Proof and beyond

The final argument for determinism simply has to do with the lack of a clear definition for free will. Its argued that if we were to take two identical twins it would be impossible to tell if one has free will and the other does not on top of the fact that free will is not empirically verifiable and therefore is meaningless to talk about. The issue however is that free will is similar to consciousness in that it is irreducibly subjective. When we borrow from the concept of philosophical zombies for example, we see that comparing two identical twins (one of them a p-zombie) you cannot tell if one person is conscious and the other is not. This means that free will just like consciousness can only be known from the subjective aspect of the human mind. Furthermore, something doesn’t need a definition for it to be coherent. You cannot define colors like blue since you have to experience it and must be intuitive it’s not limited to definitions. Additionally, making the argument that since free will is not empirically verifiable then its meaningless is question begging positivist epistemology which ignores the subjective and intuitive aspects of the human mind. We can make reasonable inferences to free will from intuition, even if we can’t absolutely prove that it exists empirically. Any definition of free will can and will depend on your particular constitute of libertarianism but if we take the criteria causation version of free will then free will is simply: The ability overtime for an individual to navigate to a type of chooser as a down operation. 

Language will always be limited to describe complex ideas and our categories of language are never really perfect. This is why we must be careful with how we define complex ideas like free will, especially if there is a lot that goes into it. However, given that free will is subjective then it is no surprise that a 3rd person methodology which is science cannot empirically prove that something 1st person like consciousness or free will exist rather it can only make inferences that those things exist.

Moving forward

We have presented our critique of the case for the determinism thesis and have found major flaws in all of the lines of evidence for determinism. Since we have addressed and critiqued the main arguments for determinism, we will now consider the cumulative case for the free will thesis and provide some good reasons to think that free will exist. 

The Case for the Free Will Thesis

In our investigation, we have found no good reasons to hold to determinism so the job now will be to address whether there can be made a good case for libertarian free will. As will be shown there are plenty of good reasons to think free will exist and we shall now begin our cumulative case. 

Intuition

The first line of evidence is simply our intuition of free will. While its true that intuitions can be wrong if we have no good reasons to doubt our intuitions then we should believe our intuitions to be true. This is because intuition is a good starting point when addressing whether a position is correct. If something is intuitively obvious then it is on the burden to show the intuition is wrong not on the one to show the intuition is correct. Since we have given our critique of the main lines of evidence for determinism then there’s simply no good reason as far as we know to doubt our intuition of free will. This serves as the first line of evidence for free will. 

Simplicity and prior probability

Building up from the last line of evidence libertarian free will is a much simpler explanation of human choices than determinism. It is simpler to say our choices are the result of our own mind controlling itself rather than some external cause outside our mind. While it may be true that we can never prove free will since we can’t go outside our experiences to see if our experiences are self-caused or external it is rational to simply take our choices as they are and accept that we are the ultimate cause of our own choices. Therefore, the prior probability of free will is higher than that of determinism and so determinism once again carries a higher burden of proof at least initially. 

The evidence and mechanism for agent causation in physics 

The third line of evidence comes from recent studies in quantum physics. To clarify quantum physics is about subatomic particles in nature that we can’t see with the naked eye. There is also lots of randomness in quantum physics so one cannot predict an event like one can in classical physics. A recent theorem in physics called “The free will theorem” is the main line of evidence for free will in quantum physics. It was developed by physicist John H. Conway and Simon Kochen:

 “It assets roughly that if indeed we humans have free will, then elementary particles already have their own small share of this valuable commodity. More precisely, if the experimenter can freely choose the direction in which to orient his apparatus in a certain measurement, then the particle’s response is NOT determined by the entire history of the universe”

To put it more simply, it would mean that the agents first cause would be the particles collapsing into a definite state to start a chain of events that initially started with that agent’s choice. Now a determinist may object that this assumes standard quantum physics and that other deterministic interpretations like hidden variable theories get around this issue. However, if we build up from our last pieces of evidence, we see the burden is on the determinist to show that hidden variables exist so that the free will theorem is falsified not for the libertarian to demonstrate the free will theorem is true as the math works out. We can reject the free will theorem by denying its axioms but one must show the axioms to be false by providing evidence for hidden variables. So, this does leave us with evidence for agent causation in physics and when we accept the basic facts of quantum physics without adding additional deterministic hidden variable theories then its most likely that humans have free will. 

Another objection is that this does not show free will to exist because Schrödinger’s equation is deterministic and thus quantum theory is deterministic however as Henry Stapp says: 

“The Schroedinger equation, like Newton’s and Maxwell’s equations, is deterministic: given the motion of the quantum state for all times prior to the present, the motion for all future time is fixed, insofar as the Schroedinger equation is satisfied for all times. However, the Schroedinger equation fails when an increment of knowledge occurs: then there is a sudden jump to a ‘reduced’ state, which represents the new state of knowledge. This jump involves the well-known element of quantum randomness.” 

Furthermore, once we understand how free will may have its own mechanism in nature then we get a much better understanding. There is a way in which our mind and brain are integrated together to have agent causation in quantum theory.

“The observer in quantum theory does more than just read the recordings. He also chooses which question will be put to Nature: which aspect of nature his inquiry will probe. I call this important function of the observer ‘The Heisenberg Choice’, to contrast it with the ‘Dirac Choice’, which is the random choice on the part of Nature that Dirac emphasized. According to quantum theory, the Dirac Choice is a choice between alternatives that are specified by the Heisenberg Choice: the observer must first specify what aspect of the system he intends to measure or probe, and then put in place an instrument that will probe that aspect. In quantum theory it is the observer who both poses the question, and recognizes the answer. Without some way of specifying what the question is, the quantum rules will not work: the quantum process grinds to a halt…This all works well at the pragmatic Copenhagen level, where the observer stands outside the quantum system, and is simply accepted for what he empirically is and does. But what happens when we pass to the vN/W ontology? The observer then no longer stands outside the quantum system: he becomes a dynamical body/brain/mind system that is an integral dynamical part of the quantum universe…Putting the observer inside the system does not, by itself, resolve this basic problem: the Schroedinger evolution alone remains unable to specify what the question is. Indeed, this bringing of the human observer into the quantum system intensifies the problem, because there is no longer the option of shifting the problem away, to some outside agent. Rather, the problem is brought to a head, because the human agent is precisely the quantum system that is under investigation. In the Copenhagen formulation the Heisenberg choice was made by the mind of the external human observer. I call this process of choosing the question the Heisenberg process. In the vN/W formulation this choice is not made by the local deterministic Schroedinger process and the global stochastic Dirac process. So there is still an essential need for a third process, the Heisenberg process. Thus the agent’s mind can continue to play its key role. But the mind of the human agent is now an integral part of the dynamical body/brain/mind. We therefore have, now, an intrinsically more complex dynamical situation, one in which a person’s conscious thoughts can — and evidently must, if no new element is brought in, — play a role that is not reducible to the combination of the Schroedinger and Dirac processes.”-Henry P. Stapp, Attention, Intention, and Will in Quantum Physics  

With a mechanism in place for how agent causation exists in our universe and thus a free will mechanism we now move into the neurological mechanisms underpinning free will.

Evidence for free will from neuroscience

The fourth line of evidence will make up the bulk of the case for the free will thesis as it has to do with evidence for free will from the study of recent neuroscience. Much of this is complex and difficult since this type of research is still in its infancy stages. I should warn my readers that this part of the essay will be a very advanced and technical read so readers are free to skip over some parts if they don’t understand the material but for those interested, there are several pieces of evidence for free will we will go over that come from neuroscience

The first thing to consider is that a lot of the research has moved on from Libet type methodology and now many researchers have developed different models of free will based on neuroscientific data. In a recent 2019 study researcher Thomas Hills came up with a neurological mechanism for free will. 

“Free will is an apparent paradox because it requires a historical identity to escape its history in a self-guided fashion. Philosophers have itemized design features necessary for this escape, scaling from action to agency and vice versa. These can be organized into a coherent framework that neurocognitive capacities provide and that form a basis for neurocognitive free will. These capacities include (1) adaptive access to unpredictability, (2) tuning of this unpredictability in the service of hierarchical goal structures, (3) goal-directed deliberation via search over internal cognitive representations, and (4) a role for conscious construction of the self in the generation and choice of alternatives. This frames free will as a process of generative self-construction, by which an iterative search process samples from experience in an adaptively exploratory fashion, allowing the agent to explore itself in the construction of alternative futures. This provides an explanation of how effortful conscious control modulates adaptive access to unpredictability and resolves one of free will’s key conceptual problems: how randomness is used in the service of the will. The implications provide a contemporary neurocognitive grounding to compatibilist and libertarian positions on free will, and demonstrate how neurocognitive understanding can contribute to this debate by presenting free will as an interaction between our freedom and our will.”

Studies like this demonstrate that the brain is able to have a system capable of free will. There are plenty of studies that discuss this in detail, some of which will be cited so those more interested in the subject can read it at their own time. Furthermore, they help to explain deliberation and the main difference between arbitrary and deliberate decision making. When it comes to making value judgements there are different mechanisms that are being studied in the field. Since the current evidence supports the idea that there are many different neurological mechanisms underlying decision making (more than just the readiness potential) then through these ideas one can have evidence for free will. As one study says 

“Rational, value-based decision-making mandates selecting the option with highest subjective expected value after appropriate deliberation. We examined activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and striatum of monkeys deciding between smaller, immediate rewards and larger, delayed ones. We previously found neurons that modulated their activity in this task according to the animal’s choice, while it deliberated (choice neurons). Here we found neurons whose spiking activities were predictive of the spatial location of the selected target (spatial-bias neurons) or the size of the chosen reward (reward-bias neurons) before the onset of the cue presenting the decision-alternatives, and thus before rational deliberation could begin. Their predictive power increased as the values the animals associated with the two decision alternatives became more similar. The ventral striatum (VS) preferentially contained spatial-bias neurons; the caudate nucleus (CD) preferentially contained choice neurons. In contrast, the DLPFC contained significant numbers of all three neuron types, but choice neurons were not preferentially also bias neurons of either kind there, nor were spatial-bias neurons preferentially also choice neurons, and vice versa. We suggest a simple winner-take-all (WTA) circuit model to account for the dissociation of choice and bias neurons. The model reproduced our results and made additional predictions that were borne out empirically. Our data are compatible with the hypothesis that the DLPFC and striatum harbor dissociated neural populations that represent choices and predeliberation biases that are combined after cue onset; the bias neurons have a weaker effect on the ultimate decision than the choice neurons, so their influence is progressively apparent for trials where the values associated with the decision alternatives are increasingly similar.”

This study goes over the different types of neurons in the brain that work during free will decisions. Basically, it’s that some neurons are value based others are reward based or just automatic based. The brain does not use “logic” in a deterministic sense it is non-linear in the sense of being able to shift direction and it is not like a computer that runs in linear processes. While there is an autopilot to the brain (readiness potential) there is no evidence that it controls free will in deliberate choices since deliberate choices have different nonlinear mechanisms that drive free will in this type of process. Again, even from a neuroscientific perspective, we may be able to explain free will one day and the type of research needed for this project will take some time. 

Moving beyond the Libet methodology, Future research and beyond

Having looked into the conceptual issues of free will as well as its neurological basis the thing we need is more research and right now there are only a handful of studies that go into the details about free will. For many years based on the Libet type experiments and its methodology free will was seen by many scientists as an illusion but now gaining the knowledge of there being different neurological mechanisms for decision making and the fact that deliberate decision processes are not deterministic we can see how free will is supported by neuroscience. 

The methodology used by Libet and other researchers that tested human decision making were all based on arbitrary decisions and therefore since arbitrary decisions are automatic in nature then this was seen as evidence against free will and this is the main reason for why all the studies that followed this same methodology were able to all reach the same conclusion: that free will does not exist. However, with the new knowledge in place for making the arbitrary/deliberation distinction, we can move on from this libet methodology and shift the paradigm toward a new methodology that can truly study free will. The researchers I’ve cited have already adopted this new methodology and their results are showing that free will does exist in the human brain. With this new methodology in place, the next 10-20 years of free will research will give us more details about how the neurons in our brains work and how we come to make our decisions. So, by accepting this new methodology that further grows our understanding of the human brain we can say quite confidently that neuroscience strongly supports and inferes the existence of free will. 

Philosophy of mind and human consensus

Having presented our case for free will before we conclude this essay, we should take into account the importance of the philosophy of mind. The libertarian free will I advocate is compatible with a wide range of views including idealism, dualism and non-reductive physicalism. So even if one is nonreligious, they may believe free will exist and does not have to hold to the materialistic determinism that some atheists hold too. I firmly think all humans should agree on the existence of free will and even if we may never absolutely prove the existence of free will we should all just accept our gut intuition that it is a real thing in the world. Taking moral responsibility for our actions is a very important thing in our world and if humans believe in free will then we may in fact make the world a better place not just for us but for all life on earth. 

Conclusion: The cumulative case for free will and the death of determinism

We close by asking: Do human beings generally have the free will to freely choose their actions without any prior causes and are human beings the originator and first cause of their actions? In light of what we have seen in this essay, the answer is a strong YES. 

To summarize the broad cumulative case for the free will thesis and our critique of the case for determinism we have found that there is positive evidence for agent causation in the universe namely from the fields of quantum physics. We have found that the prior probability of free will is higher than that of determinism due to it being a simpler theory so the initial burden is on the determinist to demonstrate their thesis to be true. Given this initial burden, it also applies to any hidden variable theories in quantum theory that attempt to describe quantum mechanics by pure determinism and thus we can be confident in the existence of agent causation. 

Moreover, attempts to argue against free will based on Reductionism, Libet type arguments, Strawson type arguments, the PSR or God’s omniscience have shown to be faced with major flaws. Reductionism is refuted by the hard problem of consciousness. Libet type arguments rely on an outdated methodology of studying free will which is based on arbitrary rather than deliberate choices. This has given rise to a new methodology which supports the existence of free will from neuroscience. As for Strawson type arguments, these ignore models of free will based on criteria causation. The “criteria” or “reasons/reasoning” is the weighting, values, goals, and past outcomes that the brain uses in order to choose for future outcomes. During deliberation, the brain will test the various options producing a pathway of events along with that choice, thus allowing for free will and refutes any Strawson argument. As for the PSR, it allows for free will since a “necessary fact” doesn’t need to be a necessary determined fact it’s only a fact of the world. The final decision in human choices is the byproduct of criteria that guided it. As for the incoherence of free will due to the fact that if we were to compare two identical twins and we can’t tell which one has the free will and which one does not this objection ignores the fact that free will is a purely irreducibly subjective aspect of the human mind and therefore can only be intuitively known from the 1st person perspective. Finally, with God’s omniscience, people’s free choices determines God’s knowledge, not vice versa. 

So, where does this leave us? I suggest that with taking our intuitions seriously and being open to agent causation in quantum physics as well as moving beyond the Libet type methodology that has existed in neuroscience as well as understanding that free will is ultimately an irreducibly subjective aspect of the human mind that free will is the most probable position to hold to when it comes to human choices. The full burden of proof now goes to the determinist to show that free will does not exist. I believe this essay serves as a robust defense to libertarian free will and so I challenge determinist to show why free will does not exist. If this essay has to any extent helped to give good solid reasons to believe in free will then it has served its purpose. 
 

References 

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