Prophet of Zod’s Argument from Ignorance

The second video Zod has come out does not fair any better than the first. I responded to his first video here (Link). It seems to be a 22-minute argument from ignorance in an attempt to respond to my video “Does Christianity Cause Christian Nationalism?” This is the fallacy of arguing that because something has not been proven false, it is true. Zod says in his thumbnail “Christian Nationalism is Christian,” but then never presents evidence to back up this claim:

Unfortunately for Zod, this is a positive claim he has made and throughout his video, he gives no evidence to back it up. If one makes the positive claim that Christianity causes Christian Nationalism it is their job to provide evidence to support this claim. It is not my job to disprove it if they have offered no evidence to back up the claim. However, Zod gives us no reason to think Christianity causes Christian Nationalism. He also barely covered any of the research I provided in my original video, which demonstrates it is unlikely that Christian religiosity would lead to nationalistic tendencies. If Zod thinks Christianity causes Christian Nationalism (as he states in his video thumbnail), he needs to provide evidence for this. It is not my job to debunk a positive claim that has no evidence behind it. The burden is still on him to back up his claim. 

To be fair, Zod seems to admit he cannot refute my original video. If that is the case I fail to see the point of his video. Like the first video, this one is hard to follow. A lot of the arguments do not seem to make sense and at times he seems to contradict himself. I’ll try to respond as best as I can, but even if I misunderstand something, it should be noted Zod has given no evidence Christianity causes Christian Nationalism. That statement alone is enough to refute his entire video.

Zod opens his video by stating:

“Now I’m not exactly going to refute his video as such, at least not in the traditional sense of responding to it point by point. The main reason for this is that he [Inspiring Philosophy] spends a lot of time focused on the findings of specific studies that indicate correlational connections between Christianity and specific positive social outcomes and I find it rather futile to try to refute the conclusions he draws from them. For one, it’s very hard to use these correlations to nail down meaningful cause and effect patterns.”

This is true. But let’s remember the aim of the first part of my original video that Zod is responding to. I am showing there is no reason to think Christianity causes nationalistic tendencies in Christians. If a Christian is a nationalist, it is likely because of other motives separate from Christianity. So I am pointing out that the claim that ‘Christianity causes Christian Nationalism,’ is riddled with problems and conjectures. The data seems to actually indicate more Christian religiosity is likely to reduce nationalistic tendencies.

If Zod believes “it’s very hard to use these correlations to nail down meaningful cause and effect patterns” then he is only shooting himself in the foot. If one could find a study with a correlation between Christianity and Christian Nationalism that wouldn’t necessarily indicate a causal relationship. Zod never demonstrates there is a causal relationship, so why claim (as he has in his thumbnail) that Christian Nationalism is Christian?

Zod then tries to elaborate by giving an example:

“Take for example a correlation between being a practicing Christian and positive mental health. When such a correlation exists is it because Christianity causes positive mental health, or does Christianity just happen to be the institution that holds the keys to a lot of our society’s community and social networks, and belonging to these networks is rewarded while withdrawing from them is met with isolation or even social retribution.”

Zod must not realize in sociology there is research that has already looked into this. Researchers often divide participants by religious orientation, intrinsic and extrinsic. 

An intrinsic orientation means:

“[Persons] find their master motive in religion. Other needs… are regarded as less ultimate significance, and they are, so far as possible, brought into harmony with the religious beliefs and prescriptions. Having embraced a creed the individual endeavors to internalize it and follow it fully. It is in this sense that he lives his religion.”

An extrinsic orientation means:

“[Persons] are disposed to use religion for their own ends… Extrinsic values are always instrumental and utilitarian. Persons with this orientation may find religion useful in a variety of ways—to provide security and police, sociability and distraction, status and justification… The extrinsic type turns to God, but without turning away from the self.”

(Source)

If Zod’s hypothesis was that the correlation between mental health and religiosity was because of “community and social networks” the positive correlations would align with extrinsic religiosity and not intrinsic religiosity. However, we see the opposite in research.  I’ll just quote from my video, “Is Christianity Harmful?”

A Meta-Analysis found intrinsic religiosity “tends to correlate with desirable variables (mental health, altruism, religious commitment).”

The study even directly says:

“…the E scale does a good job of measuring the sort of religion that gives religion a bad name… the I scale correlated positively with other measures of religious commitment, internal local of control, and purpose in life, and negatively with trait anxiety.”

A 2002 meta-analysis found that those with an intrinsic religious orientation correlate with three of five big personality traits and did not significantly correlate with the other two. However, those identified as mature in their religion correlated with 4 of the 5 personality traits and negatively correlated with neuroticism. Whereas extrinsic religiosity did correlate with neuroticism while not correlating with the other 4 personality traits one should. 

A meta-analysis from 2003 found intrinsic religiosity was negatively related to depressive symptoms, but extrinsic religiosity was positively associated with depressive symptoms.

Another 2003 meta-analysis found that religion was positively associated with better mental health and that “the religiosity/mental health correlation becomes stronger as concepts (religiosity and mental health) are operationalized in an internal, identifiable manner.” In other words, intrinsic religiosity was associated with better mental health than mere extrinsic religiosity.

A paper from 2009 that surveyed a wide variety of research found that:

“…intrinsic religious motivation is associated with higher self-control” and self-regulation, whereas extrinsic religiosity was not. Also, the researchers noted they gathered research “predominantly from Christian backgrounds.”

So we do know the positive effects are more likely to come from intrinsic religiosity, not external factors like “community and social networks.”

Zod then gives another example:

“Then there are claims that Christianity established a lot of the west orphanages and universities and charities and so on. Was this because Christianity encourages generous behavior more than secularism or other religions or was it because Christianity was the accepted framework for these undertakings long woven into their infrastructure and you kind of had to call yourself a Christian to participate.”

Again, research has addressed this question as well. For one, large percentages of orphanages and charities arose out of Christian regions. We do not see this happening in the middle ages in non-Christian regions on the scale it happened in Christian regions. Robert Woodberry also ran a model and demonstrated Protestantism is tied to more charity, education, and colonial reform. This was cited in the second half of my video that Zod is responding to.

Woodberry says:

“Missionaries spread SMO forms and tactics internationally. Early Protestant missionaries tried to reform what they considered abuses in other societies (e.g., foot binding, female genital cutting, widow burning [sati], and consummating marriage before age 12; Woodberry 2004c)…  Even after controls, Christians (particularly Protestants) are the most likely to volunteer and give both formally and informally (Bekkers and Schuyt 2008; Chang 2006; Ecklund and Park 2007; Kim 2003; Trinitapoli 2007; Uslaner 2002). The consistency of these findings around the world and across levels of analysis (i.e., between countries, regions, and individuals) suggests the association is causal.”

Additionally, Woodberry says:

“Both historical and statistical evidence suggest that CPs promoted democracy, although often through indirect means. In all five contexts analyzed—Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, European-settler colonies, and mission territories— Protestantism is associated with democracy. Comparative historical analyses show that CPs consistently initiated and spread factors that past research suggests promote democracy: mass printing, mass education, civil society, and colonial rule of law. In cross-national statistical analysis Protestant missions are significantly and robustly associated with higher levels of printing, education, economic development, organizational civil society, protection of private property, and rule of law and with lower levels of corruption (Woodberry 2004a; 2004c; 2006c; 2011b; 2011c; and Table 22, Online Appendix).”

Tom Holland also draws attention to a pagan Emperor Julian, who was raised as a Christian. Julian wrote to pagan temples that he was surprised they were not carrying for the needy and poor. He encouraged them to enact charitable giving. However, Holland points out Julian was operating from a Christian ethic that was alien to the pagan world.  

To quote:

“Behind the selfless ascetics of Julian’s fantasies there lurked an altogether less sober reality: priests whose enthusiasms had run not to charity, but to dancing, and cross-dressing, and self-castration. The gods cared nothing for the poor. To think otherwise was ‘airhead talk’.4 When Julian, writing to the high priest of Galatia, quoted Homer on the laws of hospitality, and how even beggars might appeal to them, he was merely drawing attention to the scale of his delusion. The heroes of the Iliad, favourites of the gods, golden and predatory, had scorned the weak and downtrodden. So too, for all the honour that Julian paid them, had philosophers. The starving deserved no sympathy. Beggars were best rounded up and deported. Pity risked undermining a wise man’s self-control. Only fellow citizens of good character who, through no fault of their own, had fallen on evil days might conceivably merit assistance. Certainly, there was little in the character of the gods whom Julian so adored, nor in the teachings of the philosophers whom he so admired, to justify any assumption that the poor, just by virtue of their poverty, had a right to aid. The young emperor, sincere though he was in his hatred of ‘Galilean’ teachings, and in regretting their impact upon all that he held most dear, was blind to the irony of his plan for combating them: that it was itself irredeemably Christian. ‘How apparent to everyone it is, and how shameful, that our own people lack support from us, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans support not only their own poor, but ours as well.’ Julian could not but be painfully aware of this. The roots of Christian charity ran deep.”

So there is evidence Christianity does directly lead to more education and charity. It is unlikely not a coincidental association. Of course, I suspect Zod would say this cannot be proven, which is true. However, we cannot prove most things, and instead, we often have to follow the evidence where it leads and infer to the most likely explanation. If a skeptic denies this link he needs to provide research that indicates opposite. Speculation that there may not be a causal link is not enough.

Zod then claims:

“We’re faced with a plain fact that Inspiring Philosophy is choosing his studies and both he and the authors of the studies are choosing the effects of Christianity they’re addressing. That muddies the whole conversation in a way that I don’t want to take the time to hash out.”

This is an odd accusation. First, there is an implication of cherry-picking. If I or Kenneth Vaughan cherry-picked studies that must be demonstrated, not thrown out as baseless speculation. Second, there are multiple studies that compare religiosity to multiple variables. I discuss a lot of those variables here (link). You can look at how religiosity compares to so many other variables. It is not like we have been limited when it comes to this type of research. Merely because I am focusing on a specific topic (i.e. Christian Nationalism) does not limit anything or muddies the conversation. What is Zod even trying to say here? His objection makes zero sense.

Zod then says:

“I’m not interested in winning as much as saying something useful and I hope I can bring up some meaningful questions about what Inspiring Philosophy actually establishes and how we as communities of believers and non-believers can digest it.”

I think this is a fair point and I respect Zod for stating this. However, if this is all he is aiming to do he should remake his video thumbnail, which contains the positive claim, “Christian Nationalism is Christian.” Zod also tweeted this out:

This is a claim it should be obvious Christian Nationalism is Christian. So it appears Zod is sending us mixed signals. In one setting he claims it is obvious Christianity is tied to Christian Nationlaism, but in his video he is not going that far. But let’s get to his questions.

Zod summarizes my video in this slide:

This is inaccurate when it comes to the first point.  It should say, “Christian Nationlaism is more likely to be associated with politically right-leaning unchurched populations.” I am not saying left-leaning unchurched individuals are likely to be Christian Nationalists. 

Zod then says:

“So when you consider the multiple varied iterations of Christianity seeping through society affecting people’s thinking in all different ways it becomes pretty clear that the question of whether Christianity causes Christian Nationalism is a lot more complicated than the number of, quote, people affirming Christian religiosity. And the question of what to do about it is a lot more complicated than getting fewer or more people into churches, yet this is the simplified framing Inspiring Philosophy starts with.”

This is not what my argument was. My argument was research demonstrates that Christian religiosity is not tied to an increase in Christian Nationalism. In fact, those on the political right that are the least religious are more likely to be nationalists. So an inference can be drawn that if people that were politically right were more religious and Christian we would see less nationalism. I see no reason in Zod’s video to think this inference is wrong, when the data I provided suggests this. 

Zod continues:

“This question, ‘should people be in church or not?’ sets up a discussion based more on superficial correlations and a real deep look into the complexity of what Christian ideas are affecting which people and how.”

Unfortunately, Zod does not really give any data to indicate that Christian ideas affect people in negative ways, let alone lead to nationalistic tendencies. So we see no deep look into this complexity he speaks of. If Zod thinks there is some Christian idea that affects Christians and leads to nationalistic tendencies (or any other negative quality) then the burden is on him to show a causal link. I fail to see how what he is stating here is meaningful. Of course, we need to look at how Christian ideas affect people, so let’s do that. Why is Zod stating the obvious but not following through on this?

I bring this up because this is exactly the point I was making in my debate with Holy Koolaid that Zod was responding to in his first reply. He spent a whole video rejecting this process, but now in this video, he seems to be in agreement that to show Christianity is dangerous one needs to show how a Christian idea affects individuals. How is this different from the point I originally made? Zod appears to be contradicting himself.

Zod says:

“Even assuming this is entirely true the fact that Christian Nationalism drives the young church more than the church or is motivated mostly by politics does not absolve Christianity of being at the root of the problem.”

Again, as I said earlier, the burden is on Zod to back this claim up. If he thinks Christianity is at the root of the problem then he needs evidence to back up that claim. He has given none, and the research I provided indicates the opposite is true. Merely speculating that it could be is not evidence it is. As Christopher Hitchens said, “what can be asserted without evidence, can be denied without evidence.” Zod has given no evidence Christian Nationalism is a version of Christianity or caused by Christianity. 

After this, most of the claims Zod makes are speculative. From here on out I am not going to address anything Zod asserts without evidence. I don’t care if he thinks Christianity can lead to Christian Nationalism. The burden is on him to provide evidence this is the case and he has not.

Zod does bring up a good point though. He says:

“Let’s also be leery of this statement that the form of extremism seems to thrive with secularism. Assuming this is true, it’s not an indictment of secular society.”

This is true, and I never made such a claim. My claim was that if you have a politically right-leaning population that was religiously Christian and deconverts, yet remains politically right, you get Christian symbols reinterpreted in political and nationalistic ways. This results in a rise in nationalism and the preservation of Christian symbols in ways they were never intended to be. I am not saying the mere existence of a secular society means you get more nationalism. There is a specific process that needs to take over, which involves a decrease in religiosity. I also wish Zod would apply this reasoning to Christianity. Let’s also be leery of this statement that extremism seems to thrive with Christianity. Assuming this is true, it’s not an indictment of Christianity.

Zod then seems to attempt an odd attack on me personally. He says:

“Despite the fact that he doesn’t link any of his studies in the video’s description, which is weird…”

It is not weird because all the sources are cited in the video under each claim that is made. It is easy to look them up as Zod proceeded to do. Why is it weird that I find it redundant to put the links in the video description when they are in the video?

Zod then begins to discuss the first paper I cited indicating that Christian Nationalism is more likely to be found among unchurched Christians. However, Zod proceeds to misrepresent it. He quotes from the introduction of the study and says:

“It cites literature showing how ‘religious ideas and practices spill out of religious spaces and into everyday life losing much of their complexity but retaining their power to draw group boundaries,’ something that seems to validate my point about Christianity being at least a causal spark behind christian nationalism even if the extremism it fosters don’t currently display high levels of religiosity.”

This is not what the study indicates at all. Zod is quote-mining. There is nothing in the study that would remotely demonstrate “Christianity being at least a causal spark behind Christian Nationalism.”

In fact, just after this quote, the authors state:

“In showing how Christian nationalism works differently among nonchurchgoers compared to churchgoers, we provide a clear empirical example of this phenomenon. Our findings thus highlight a gap between religion, as it is practiced in local religious communities, and “lived religion” existing beyond the bounds of religious communities (Ammerman 2014). We argue that congregational embeddedness nurtures religious concerns, social conservatism, and partisanship (Bean 2014), whereas nationalist religio-political sentiments disconnected from churches can become secularized, populist, and a powerful electoral draw for individuals who are detached from religious communities (Asad 2003).”

In other words, their findings indicate there is a gap between Christian religiosity as found in churches and how Christianity is utilized in political contexts divorced from churches and the teachings of Christianity. As they conclude:

“…we find no evidence that Christian nationalism mobilized church-based support in the election. This is demonstrated by the fact that in our results Christian nationalism is only strongly associated with Trump support for voters who do not attend religious services. Among religious attenders, the effect of Christian nationalism on Trump voting is not only weak, it is also not statistically different from zero.”

Zod has the audacity to speculate I cherry-picked studies earlier, and then quote-mines from the only study he cites to back up his claim. This is quite a dishonest move on his part. But Zod does not stop there. Then he says:

“Is it even saying Christian nationalism is more prevalent outside churches than inside churches? Not at all. All it’s saying is that it’s more closely correlated to Trump’s support outside churches than inside churches as indicated by this graph from page 13. Now I’m not a statistician so I may be prone to some error here, but the reason for the correlation seems to be that if you don’t go to church you’re very unlikely to vote for Trump unless you lean toward Christian nationalism. Whereas church attenders were just more likely to vote for him across the board regardless of their level of nationalist sentiment.”

This is missing the point of the study. The study authors note nationalistic tendencies were not affected by Christianity or church attendance. The reason Christian individuals voted for who they preferred had nothing to do with Christianity and likely was the result of other motivating factors. As Zod even admitted earlier, “it’s very hard to use these correlations to nail down meaningful cause and effect patterns.” The study authors, however, argued Christianity and church attendance was not affecting voting preferences or support for nationalism. Thus, there is no evidence of a causal link. The whole point as to why I cited this study was to show Christianity is not directly tied to any promotion of nationalism (as part of my overall case), which is what the study authors indicated. 

Zod does not seem to understand this, as he quotes the study and says:

“So does the article address that? Oh yeah, it does, right here on page 16, where it says Christian nationalist beliefs are more prevalent among observant Christians.”

However, right after this the study also says:

“…though the current study does not find robust evidence that these beliefs directly translate into increased support for Trump among churchgoers (who had a variety of other reasons for voting for Trump in 2016). Never fully contained within religious institutions, Christian-America narratives were cultivated by anti-New Deal business elites in a different era (in concert with religious leaders) (Kruse 2015), and in recent years a spillover of Christian-America rhetoric has taken on a life of its own within American political life outside of religious institutions (e.g., the Tea Party) (Braunstein and Taylor 2017). In one sense, the salience of such unchurched religio-nationalist sentiment appears odd. However, researchers have long noted that lack of institutional religious participation does not equate to religious antipathy and secularization may not necessarily augur a more liberal or less nationalist politics. It may do the opposite (Gorski 2020). Simply put, we find that a lack of churchgoing does not necessarily mean that a person does not ascribe to religiously rooted boundaries of national identity and belonging; indeed, our results suggest that some nonchurchgoers may be more strongly motivated by such boundaries compared to regular churchgoers.”

In other words, it is not Christianity that is causing right-wing voting preferences or nationalistic tendencies. Why is Zod bringing this up when already he admitted, “it’s very hard to use these correlations to nail down meaningful cause and effect patterns”? Zod seems to, once again, be contradicting himself. Just because “nationalist beliefs are most prevalent among observant Christians” it does not mean Christianity is mediating this. In fact, the conclusions of the study indicate it likely is not, which was my point in bringing it up. Zod seems to be walking back on his point that correlations are not necessarily meaningful. 

Zod then argues:

“When he [Inspiring Philosophy] alludes to people straying from core doctrines while maintaining vestigial signs of Christian identity he basically gives himself a free pass to claim anybody who looks like a Christian, smells like a Christian, and indeed a vows Christianity, isn’t a true Christian.”

This should not be complicated, because Christianity is defined by its doctrines. If you reject the core doctrines of Christianity you are not a Christian. It is like someone claiming to be a vegan but eats cheese on the weekends. They are not a vegan just because they claim to be. The Jacobins during the French Revolution claimed to be humanists, even though they instituted the Great Terror. One is not really a humanist if they institute such a policy like this. What if someone claimed to be a progressive, but was pro-life, voted for Trump, anti-gun control, and was a card-carrying republican and agreed with republicans on every issue? Can he claim the title of “progressive,” yet reject the core teachings of what it is to be a progressive? Zod doesn’t get to reject this logic only when it comes to religion. If someone claims to be a Christian, but rejects the core doctrines of Christianity, and only utilizes Christian symbols for political means, they are not actually a Christian. 

To remind everyone the core doctrines of Christianity are:

  • Belief in one God who is a Trinity of Father, Son. and Holy Spirit.
  • There was a literal fall of humanity.
  • Jesus was born of a virgin.
  • Jesus died and atoned for our sins and is Lord over all.
  • Three days later is physically rose from the grave.
  • The 66 books of the Bible are the inspiring word of God. 
  • Jesus will physically return in the future.

Now one may argue that this is simple and can include many people, which is true. However, let’s remember the main point, which is that Christianity doesn’t cause nationalistic tendencies. If someone is a Christian and a nationalist, their nationalistic beliefs likely result from some other factor, not Christianity. In fact, the more devoted to Christ and their religion they become, the more likely it is nationalistic tendencies will be diminished, as the collection of research I cited indicates. 

Zod then responds to this quote from Phillip S. Gorski:

He says:

“So like, Christianity is supposed to have mornings holding it in a specific place? That sure is weird considering how absolutely all over the place the religion has been across its history.”

Zod is confusing denominational differences and essential doctrines. Christians can disagree on non-essential issues, just like political progressives can disagree over issues and still be classified as progressives. One could say that progressives can be “all over the place,” but it doesn’t mean there are essentials of what makes one a progressive. In terms of essential doctrines, Christianity has not been all over the place. 

Philip Gorski is actually speaking on how Christian symbols often get reworked in political ways that have been entirely detached from their religious meaning. When one begins to pervert how Christian symbols were meant to be used and reworked in political ways one is no longer operating within Christianity. Christian Nationalism is specifically defined as a political ideology, not a religious one. So Zod cannot claim it is Christian unless he gives evidence (which he still has not done). The research I relied on even backs up my point that it is not a result of Christianity, but something else entirely.

Zod then wraps up his video by asserting I have not given evidence on how to prevent nationalistic tendencies or find the right church. First of all, the main aim of my video was to show there is a disconnection between Christianity and Christian nationalism. I never said I would show how to beat nationalism, and that is because it probably is a multi-facet approach. However, if the research indicates the more religious a politically right individual is, the more likely it is for nationalistic tendencies to decrease, then I did provide some guidance on how to diminish nationalism in at least one way. Getting politically right individuals in church and getting them to be more religious will likely decrease nationalism. But I find it odd that Zod expects me to cover issues I never claim to address in the video. I never said it was a video on how to find the right church, it was a survey of the sociological and historical data that indicates Christianity is not tied to nationalism.

Zod then makes an accusation. He claims Christianity puts “a bunch of arbitrary ideas in people’s head and telling them to accept them based on dictate, and other things aside from sound judgment, it can’t exactly throw its hands in the air and act appalled because some of those people start believing weird horrific things it never intended them to.”

I already dealt with odd reasoning in my first reply to Zod. But once again, Zod has given no evidence Christianity actually causes this mentality. He, once again, assumes this without evidence. Why does Zod get to believe such a baseless claim about Christianity, but demand such a high level of evidence to show Christianity does not cause Christian Nationalism? There seems to be a double standard present. Nor is there reason to think that Christianity put arbitrary ideas in people’s heads, and this leads to them accepting things like nationalism. The leaps in Zod’s logic are astounding, and yet he claims I have not given enough evidence for my claim Christianity does not cause nationalism. Again, this appears to be a double standard.

Zod just goes on after this point making baseless claim after baseless claim about what he thinks Christianity teaches or causes. Never once does he even consider citing evidence to support these claims. Instead, he just assumes Christianity teaches people to accept teachings without thinking or reasoning. No sociological data indicates this. So as I said, we can just dismiss these claims because they are based on his own personal biases and not on evidence or sound reasoning. 

At this point, I suspect part 3 will be a lot of the same reasoning. Zod will presuppose his caricature of Christianity, and therefore, it leads to harmful effects. But we shall see. 

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Prophet of Zod Does Armchair Sociology To Show Christianity Is Dangerous

Prophet of Zod is back and this time is he challenging my argument that Christianity is not dangerous. He has argued Christianity is inherently dangerous in the past on his channel. I have ignored his arguments up to this point because they are not convincing and he doesn’t rely on a lot of data to support his case. So I should not have been surprised when Zod opens his video by implying one can cherry-pick studies to support their case. To quote:

“I don’t find it fruitful for atheists to point to specific instances of things like low atheist populations in prisons or living conditions in secular nations versus religious ones. All these are so potentially cherry-picked so tainted with other contributing factors and so subject to counter-examples that it’s hard to use this data to show an ideology as dangerous as alluded to in the ‘dark playing analogy’ at the end of my inherent dangers of Christianity video, it’s more informative to look at how the belief system produces ideas and prompts behavior. So to that end, I’m going to forego the endless game of whack-a-mole with every rapid-fire study and factoid inspiring philosophy can bring up and instead analyze a presentation from his debate with holy Kool-Aid where he sets the actual terms whereby he wants to argue whether Christianity is dangerous.”

This is an odd way to begin when challenging my argument. First, he is going through a debate I had and not relying on my videos where I went into this more in-depth (see here, here, here). Second, why would you ignore what the actual meta-analytical data in sociology says? Does Zod know something the researchers do not know? We rely on research to prevent ourselves from falling into bias and to test if our assumptions about another ideology align with facts. Often we assume things that do not align with reality.

For example, conservative parents used to argue violent games will lead to violence. The connection seemed obvious to them and they put forward reasoning as to why playing videos will desensitize children to think violence in real life is persmissable. The research never has supported this, and no evidence has been found playing violent video games will lead to actual violence. The armchair sociology of many conservatives parents did not align with the facts. Zod’s reasoning throughout his video is a lot like this. He doesn’t cite data, just his own assumptions as evidence Christianity is dangerous. This is armchair sociology.

We need to check our assumptions against peer-reviewed research to make sure we are not guided by our biases against ideological opponents. Zod has rejected this approach from the get-go, which is a red flag and means we should be skeptical of his conclusion. If research doesn’t support his conclusions about the effects of Christianity religiosity his argument is built on sand. 

Also, to address an implied objection, I have not merely cherry-picked studies. I rely heavily on meta-analyses. A meta-analysis is not a single study, it takes in all the studies published across a time period on a specific topic to find the overall general trend. The results of a meta-analysis often can be more reliable because researchers can combine results from all the studies that have been done on the subject to identify patterns among various results from different studies. This, by definition, is not cherry-picking. This is looking at what has been published across multiple studies to find out what the general trend is. 

So does Zod conduct a full analysis of my argument? Nope. Instead, he then cites only one brief clip from the debate and then proceeds to address that alone. Here is what I said that he cited:

“To show Christianity is the cause of harmful beliefs or behavior you need to find a place in the bible where you think a negative quality is taught. Then show the verse actually means what you think it does, most Christians agree this is how to properly interpret the verse, and then show evidence this belief results in horrible effects in society and individuals.”

Zod then says this is “wrong-headed on every conceivable level.” It is not, as I’ll explain towards the end. However, I find this statement odd because later in his video he partially agrees with what I say here (we’ll get to that).

Zod then goes through a long explanation as to why my criteria are wrong-headed and that Christianity is still dangerous, (despite not presenting data to support that). I’ll be honest, it is hard to follow Zod. A lot of what he says is not articulated well. Sometimes he seems to be in agreement with me and sometimes he gets off track from the main point. I’ll do my best to respond, but even if I misunderstand something he said, it must be stated his argument is nothing more than a baseless assumption. No data is offered to support his conclusion Christianity is dangerous. His reasoning is like the conservative mother claiming video games lead to violence even though published research shows the opposite. So Zod’s conclusion is unwarranted and baseless. This alone is enough to address his whole video. I could even leave it here, but I’ll humor his attempt. 

First, Zod argues:

“Christianity ascribes infallibility, or at least undue authority, to a book of scriptures, along with other church traditions depending on the sect. And by doing this it steers people toward accepting sheer unconsidered dictate without properly considering the effects of their actions. If your brand of Christianity takes the bible as inerrant or even obeys it or some set of doctrines for no reason other than that the church describes authority to them then this all applies to you.”

Here is the first problem. Where is the data that shows this is what Christianity actually does to people? Zod asserts Christianity “steers people toward accepting sheer unconsidered dictate without properly considering the effects of their actions,” without evidence. 

This is as bad as if I argued, “Atheism means you reject objective morality, so it causes people to do more harm because it results in people thinking there are no eternal consequences for the actions. Therefore, they end up believing they can do whatever they want and cause harm for their own pleasure.” No data shows atheism necessarily leads to this behavior, and just because I hypothetically could make these connections from the armchair it doesn’t magically make it so. So where do we see Christians not properly considering the effects of their actions, and the reason as to why, is because Christianity teaches them to do so? Zod has just baselessly asserted this, and this is the problem of relying on your own biases and not peer-reviewed research.

Second, Christianity does not teach this. We see biblical passages telling Christians to reason, and test everything (Isaiah 1:16, Matthew 6:25-34; Acts 17:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). What Zod actually should have done is given a verse where the Bible says for Christians to accept “sheer unconsidered dictate without properly considering the effects of their actions,” and demonstrate the majority of Christians agree this is the meaning of the verse. You know, kind of like what I noted in the debate. If he would have went this route he would actually have had substance behind his argument. If you want to show Christians think this way, show a verse that teaches we have to think like this and show this is how we actually interpret the verse in the church. Zod does not do any of this. Instead, he presupposes this is what Christianity teaches (without evidence). Ironically, in trying to argue against my line of reasoning from the debate, he demonstrates how effective the point I made was. Not only that, but he goes on to agree with the point I was trying to make in the debate.

Zod then says:

“Now the bible having a negative quality is not dangerous in and of itself the risk is posed by how people interact with the bible.” 

I could not agree more. In fact, this was the very point in the debate I was making, which is in the clip that Zod showed. I fail to see what Zod says here is any different than what I said in the debate. If most Christians do not interpret a Bible verse that has a negative quality to be a command for them, then it does not manifest in negative behavoir because that is not how people who believe in the Bible interact with it. Similar to how playing violent videos doesn’t lead to more violence in real life, because the way our psychology interacts with the games doesn’t cause us to be more violent.

Zod continues on:

“We need to acknowledge what’s implied by the very possibility of the bible having a negative quality. It means that we have some method outside the bible of distinguishing negative qualities from positive ones, that we have some internalized or socially agreed-upon grasp of what it means for something to be good and bad, and that we bring this understanding to the bible. To evaluate whether it’s good or bad Inspiring Philosophy tacitly admits, this by acknowledging that it’s possible at least in theory for the bible to have a negative quality and for someone to demonstrate that it does. Of course, he doesn’t say it does have a negative quality and I’m sure his point is that it doesn’t.”

I agree with the first part of this quote, but not the second part. I fully acknowledge the Bible has negative qualities in some of its descriptions. One only has to read the narratives of the patriarchs or how the kings of Israel often acted sinfully. The Bible narrates negative qualities of people from the past. The question then becomes do the passages of descriptions of bad behavior prescribe rules or actions for Christians? I see no evidence they do, and neither do most Christians. Most Christians do not think the polygamy of David or Solomon is prescribed for us. Most Christians do not think the stipulations of Leviticus or Deuteronomy are prescribed for Christians under the new covenant. So they pose little to no danger inherent in the ideology of Christianity. As Zod already said, “the bible having a negative quality is not dangerous in and of itself the risk is posed by how people interact with the bible.” Again, this is the point I was making in the video. 

As for the first part of the quote I do agree. First, remember the context. It was a debate where Christianity was on trial. I was supposed to take a neutral stance, not assume the Bible is true or good, but ask whether or not it aligns with our understanding of good and harm. My job was to show the positive benefits of Christianity, assuming we all agreed certain things are good, like altruism, self-control, etc. I am not sure why Zod even had to bring this up. In the context of the debate, the point was not to assume the Bible’s teachings are ethical but see the effects they produce in Christians and then see if those effects align with what we know to be good. 

Moreover, as a moral realist, I fully acknowledge we should not assume the Bible is necessarily good and ethical but scrutinize it and see if it aligns with what is good. This is a deep philosophical subject I do not have time to cover, and elsewhere I argue the New Testament teaches virtue ethics. I argue in another video this is the most superior system of ethics. But this is another issue altogether and has nothing to do with the question at hand. Zod has gotten sidetracked. The evidence does indicate the effects we see from Christianity align with what we believe to be good, which the research I provided indicated. 

After this, it appears Zod is arguing that Christians pick and choose which verses to follow. He says:

“…most of them get a different feeling when they read a verse about Jesus saying to love your neighbor, then when they read one about slaying and enslaving other people, and they process each one based on their external understanding of harmful or helpful behavior. Then embrace or rationalize each verse accordingly they simply couldn’t do this unless they were bringing an existing well-considered sense of safe decent constructive behavior to the bible.”

This is simply not true and it is a simplistic and erroneous understanding of the Bible. He seems to be assuming all commands in the Bible are equal. But not all commands in the Bible are universal commands for all people at all times. Some were only for Israel before the new covenant, and a scholarly assessment shows we have misunderstood the purpose of many old testament ‘laws.’ The point is we do not just pick and choose what we like. We can offer cogent arguments as to why certain commands do not apply to us. Skeptics, like Zod simply select verses and ask ‘why do you follow this good one, but not this bad?’ The response is they have not studied it in this context and to understand what the Bible is actually commanding for Christians. 

However, once again, this is missing the main point. If Zod acknowledges we Christians do not believe every law in the Bible are commands for us, then he should be ready to acknowledge Christianity doesn’t lead to harmful behavior because our interpretation of the Bible matters. Additionally, we still have not seen any reason to think Christianity leads to dangerous or harmful behavior.

Zod then put this slide up:

He says:

“If you take the bible as authoritative you can end up in either one or two depending on the nature of the bible. The mere risk of this does count as danger.”

The key phrase is, “depending on the nature of the Bible.” Zod has offered no research to support the conclusion Christianity leads to negative behavior. This needs to be reiterated as much as possible so we remember the whole point of this conversation. Zod has chosen to ignore what the overwhelming amount of research actually indicates.

But the mere risk of this does not count as real or meaningful danger. I even addressed this at the end of my debate with Holy Kool-Aid. All we have here is a potential for danger, not a real danger, let alone actual danger that shows up in the published research I cited. By this logic, violent video games are dangerous because there is a potential that one game could affect one individual in a way and makes him violent. Atheism must also be dangerous because an atheist could potentially act in a way that harms someone because they see no consequences from God. The potential exists, but no research suggests atheism causes this on a large scale. Likewise, where is the data that shows when a Christian believes the Bible is authoritative negative behavior results? Merely stating there is a potential risk doesn’t mean something is actually dangerous. There is a potential risk of going into a hospital, walking on a sidewalk, or even sleeping in your own house. Are we going to classify these as all dangerous in a real and meaingful sense? As I said in the debate with Holy Kool-aid, by that logic everything is dangerous, thus, calling something dangerous is not meaningful anymore. None of this leads to the conclusion Christianity is likely going to cause harm, thereby making it dangerous. Again, we still have been given nothing that shows Christianity is actually dangerous in reality. Zod’s thought experiments are insufficient. 

Zod then takes issue with one of my slides. In the debate I argued if one wants to demonstrate Christianity is dangerous this is the most plausible process one would need to take (more on this at the end). I stated step two is, “Interprets Y to mean X”. He says:

“Now let’s take a quick glance at the second stage which isn’t a danger and strikes me as out of place on this list. All it is is a demand by Inspiring Philosophy to skeptics to show that the Bible means what they understand it to mean.”

This seems odd since Zod already said, “Now the Bible having a negative quality is not dangerous in and of itself the risk is posed by how people interact with the Bible.” So I thought Zod already acknowledged how people interact with the bible matters. How we interpret it is an essential part of how we interact with the Bible. Zod seems to be contradicting himself, which as I said, is one reason his video is hard to follow. 

Zod also seems to be missing the point, which is that if you want to show Christianity is dangerous or leads to harmful behavior then we should see Christians interpreting certain verses in ways that make them think in ways that will lead to bad behavior. For example, take Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” A skeptic could argue this verse means Jesus is promoting conquest. But the overwhelming majority of people who follow Jesus do not see this verse as promoting conquest, so the verse is not a real danger because it actually doesn’t result in conquest. Christians are smart enough to read the context and the Bible is full, to know Jesus didn’t tell his followers to launch a conquest. How a verse is understood by the community of believers is important as Zod acknowledged early, but now he seems to be denying. 

Zod then goes on to argue maybe the Bible is unclear, and therefore, someone could misunderstand it and get the wrong teaching. This is a red herring as it doesn’t address the main issue of whether or not we have reason to think Christianity is dangerous. However, I do not even concede the point. If you read the Bible in context, study commentaries put out by experts, and are shepherded by a church and pastor, you are unlikely to get teachings that result in negative behavior. This is not say there are no debatable passages in the Bible, but it is unlikely you will get the idea the Bible teaches one should not love and care for others. However, you do not have to take my word for it. Again, the research I have cited supports this reality. If Zod was correct that numerous Christians were getting the wrong teachings from the Bible that results in unethical behavior the data would show this. It does not. Unlike Zod, I can back up my claims with research. He has not presented evidence for his assumptions. All he has done in his response is sociology from the armchair.

Zod then argues:

“It takes no imagination to see how just 10% of Christians radicalized by some dangerous belief they took from the bible would be a problem.” 

Once again, is there data to support this assumption? Zod offers none. All he presents is a hypothetical, but we so no evidence any core doctrine of Christianity leads to some dangerous belief in reality. The overwhelming majority of sociologists do not suggest the teachings of Christianity lead to harmful effects, and often other non-religious factors are what are associated with negative behavior (link, link, link). Zod can do sociology from the armchair all day, but it is pointless unless he has actual data to support his assumptions.

Zod then says one of the funniest lines in his whole video:

“He [Inspiring Philosophy] not only gives us an absurd burden of proof for showing something is a danger but he throws in qualifying words such as ‘most Christians and ‘horrible effects’ to give apologists every semantic way out of acknowledging we’ve met that burden.”

This is just absurd. Zod has given no evidence to suggest Christianity is dangerous or harmful, but assumes he has. Armchair sociology is not meeting any burden of proof.

Second, as I promised above I would get to this point. I have not set an unreasonable standard any more than what sociologists would say. Apart from extreme ideologies like nazism, it is hard to show most ideologies are dangerous or harmful, especially something like Christianity. The reason is that humans are complicated and it is hard to dissect motives and factors that ultimately lead to a harmful or negative result. Most of the time researchers speak of positive or negative associations. Occasionally, researchers have published an outlier study that resulted in showing religiosity (including Christian religiosity) was positively associated with something like depression (most studies find a negative association). But the researchers almost always stop short of saying religiosity caused the negative effect, like depression, because such a claim would be a leap. Correlation is not necessarily causation.

What Zod does not realize, is it is not I who set an unreasonable standard, it is atheists like Zod, who are trying to do the impossible. In stating Christianity is dangerous he goes beyond what any sociologist would say the data allows. I have merely been pointing this out. I did not set such a high bar, that is where it has always been. No amount of thought experiments from the armchair can fix that or over turn the mountain of research that I have presented which shows positive associations with Christian religiosity.

What I provided in the debate is how, in theory, one could show Christianity is dangerous. One cannot point the finger at me because all I am showing atheists, like Zod, is the reality of the situation they have put themselves in when they claim Christianity is dangerous. To actually show this requires a lot and they have not met the burden of proof. Zod’s armchair sociology definitely falls short.

The reader should also know this is also why I have turned down debates on whether or not atheism is dangerous. I know I cannot meet that burden because the data does not allow it. But atheists, like Zod, have the audacity to think they can do what no sociologist can do. I have not set an unreasonable standard. I’ve merely pointed to the reality of the situation atheists like Zod are in. He cannot get upset because I am pointing this out.

This leads me to wonder how Zod would respond to a Christian arguing atheism is dangerous and harmful. It is not like this has not happened. In his book, “Gunning For God,” John Lennox has a chapter titled, “Is Atheism Poisonous?”. Lennox does not offer a lot of data to support his conclusion atheism is harmful. He mostly relies on his own assumptions and reasoning. Yet, he does lay out a coherent narrative on why atheism (in his view) is dangerous. He says, “atheism lies at the very heart of the communist agenda” (88), and that the new atheist’s “atheistic programme, though, superficially attractive to many, is potentially dangerous for exactly the same reasons that the New Atheist (with less justification) use against religion” (92-93). But Lennox doesn’t offer strong justification that atheism is dangerous or is the cause of some extremism. But does Zod accept Lennox’s armchair reasoning, or would he agree with me that most sociological research does not indicate atheism leads to harm? I suspect Zod would agree with me, but why does he get to use similar logic to claim Christianity is dangerous? Zod has put himself in a difficult situation. If his thought experiments are adequate in showing Christianity is dangerous, then Lennox’s thought experiments also show atheism is dangerous. You cannot have it one way and not the other.

Zod then says:

“As we’ll see in his video on Christian nationalism, he constantly distinguishes what he sees as Christianity from various forms of false Christian practice.” 

This is is a red flag that Zod doesn’t understand the argument the sociologist Kenneth Vaughan and I made in that video. I’ll remind the reader I didn’t make that video by myself, an expert helped with it. We did not arbitrarily distinguish real Christianity from false Christianity. We provided research that demonstrated nationalism arises when religiosity among Christians declines. We quoted experts who noted, as religiosity declines, Christian symbols are reinterpreted in political ways that lack any connection to their Christian origin. We demonstrated church attendance and religiosity have no effect on nationalistic tendencies. If Zod thinks we just arbitrarily separated different forms of Christianity then he doesn’t understand what the research says. If he plans to cite examples of Christian nationalists claiming their movement is Christian, so therefore it is, that may end up being an association fallacy or a false analogy.

In conclusion, Zod has not given any evidence that Christianity is dangerous. He doesn’t understand the importance of using data to support one’s conclusion and he assumes doing sociology from the armchair is sufficient. His reasoning is just as bad as a Christian who argues atheism is dangerous from the armchair, or a conservative mother who argues violent video games are dangerous. There is no reason to take what he has said as nothing more than baseless assumptions.

Yes, Tall el-Hammam is Sodom

Estimated Reading Time: 35 Minutes

This blog has been updated to include a part 2 to address The Bible Skeptic’s response to this blog.

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?

Response to “No, Tall el-Hammam is NOT Sodom: A Reply to IP

It appears I struck a nerve. So TBS decided to respond to this blog (and in a very immature way I might add), complete with all sorts of disrespectful jokes and rude comments. As I said above, “Just remember that atheist apologists, like TBS, love to attack the integrity of apologists while employing low-level personal attacks like this.” The emotionally-driven attacks throughout his video are not a good sign he is being unbiased and fair with the data. Rather it is a red flag he is being driven by his emotions. Constantly insulting your opponent doesn’t make you look unbiased or not emotionally invested.

But putting this aside, does he successfully respond to this blog and show Tall el-Hammam is not the Biblical Sodom? Not really, and you will see why. Most of his arguments are nit-picky and do not show that Tall el-Hammam does not fit the site of Sodom. In fact, the main thrust of his argument is to only show the Bible could place Sodom in a different location, which is missing the point entirely.

Before getting to his main errors, he takes issue with when I called him out for attacking Steven Collins. He spent a section of his original video attacking Collins for not having the proper credentials and adhering to a statement of faith. He suggests I may be embarrassed by this. Well, I am not and I do not care, which is why I barely mentioned it. I prefer to focus on the evidence, not commit the fallacy known as “poisoning the well”, which is all TBS’s attack on Collins is. It still does nothing to refute the case for Tall el-Hammam and is still a low-level personal attack. 

In his second video, TBS says that I may not like the fact that my source (Collins) is exposed. He is merely speculating without evidence. Again, my point, as was before, is that this is all irrelevant information. Collins is not the only archaeologist who works on the site. Phil Silvia also does and has a Ph.D. in Archaeology and Biblical History, and he has co-authored papers with Collins. But again, what is convincing is the evidence they offer, not who they are personally. So why not focus on the evidence? “Exposing Collins” does nothing to discredit the case for Tall el-Hammam. It is only a distraction from the data and is poisoning the well. There are more fallacies in TBS’s video.

Not a More Northern Location

TBS starts by, once again, taking things out of context. He tries to defend his claim that he was right to attack proponents of Tall el-Hammam when he said apologists claim the kikkar north of the Dead Sea can be the only oval-shaped area. He first brings up Norman Giesler says in his book,

“…the kikkar of the Jordan can only refer to the disk-shaped alluvial plain north of the Dead Sea…” (p. 384)

I am not really a fan of Giesler, so I would have no problem brushing this aside, but I noticed this is a brief quote TBS pulled, so I was very curious to see the full context, and of course, TBS is taking things out of context. Remember in TBS’s original video, TBS tried to argue there were other oval-shaped areas around the Dead Sea, which is true, but Giesler is not saying there is only one oval-shaped area around the Dead Sea (not even in the quote mine from TBS). He is specifically referring to the “kikkar of the Jordan” River. Geisler never claims there is only one kikkar around the area. He is talking about where the Jordan flows through. You can see for yourself on page 384 of the book linked here. Giesler even says on the same page there are “13 rare geographical uses of kikkar, found exclusively in the Old Testament…” Giesler then focuses on the Kikkar of the Jordan, and that there is only one place around the Dead Sea where the Jordan flows, which is a kikkar

The ironic part is that up until this part of the video, TBS has been suggesting I do not want my audience to know the full truth about certain issues, yet here he is quote-mining Geisler.

Next, TBS takes Collins out of context. He cites this article where Collins says:

“When the Bible uses the term ‘the Kikkar’, it is only referring to the roughly circular area immediately north of the Dead Sea.”

But even in this quote, Collins is not saying there are no other kikkar areas around the Dead Sea. Collins is referencing all the evidence that implies Sodom is around the kikkar of the Jordan. Nowhere in this short quote is Collins saying there are no other oval-shaped areas around the Dead Sea.

Like Giesler, Collins is referring to the kikkar of the Jordan. Just before this in the article, it reads:

“The geographical point at issue, according to Collins, is how the text in Genesis describes the region of the Kikkar, understood as “the disk of the Jordan,” usually mistranslated “plain of the Jordan.”

So oddly enough, in TBS’s attempt to show he was not being dishonest, he quote-mines, giving us more evidence of his dishonest tactics. 

TBS then clarifies himself from his original video, “I just said apologists, like Jones, carefully make it seem as though only the northern region fits the description.”

I find it odd that the words I spoke do not mean what I actually said, and TBS knows that (without evidence) the real meaning of something I said is a clever trick. In reality, he is taking things out of context. We argue for the northern location from a collection of verses given to us in the Bible, not just where it says Sodom was in the region of the kikkar. I even said above:

“We obviously need actual geographic correlations to align with the Biblical description, regardless of if one could find those elsewhere.”

Given the data, I say the Northern location is more likely, but unlike TBS, I am not closed to the possibility of other sites. If the data archaeological data suggests Sodom is somewhere else I have no problem changing my view.

TBS attempts to cite my original video on Sodom to show I am being dishonest because he says I only highlighted the kikkar of the Jordan and didn’t note there could be other oval-shaped areas. But TBS is quote-mining me as well. I never argued from just the description of a kikkar. I opened my video with a bunch of northern correlations. Just because someone could find a kikkar in another region, that doesn’t threaten a cumulative case. TBS really needs to stop quote-mining.

Moving on, if you read my analogy above of someone who moved east from Los Angeles and traveled as far as Dallas, you likely understand it is an analogy. TBS thinks I picked two cities that fit my agenda. Well, yes…. That is what one does when they use an analogy. One provides an example to help explain or clarify the case one is making. What on earth are analogies for if not that? Focusing too much on the analogy misses the point. If I say I am traveling east and stop at a place, you likely would assume it is due east of where I started, not too far south or too far north. 

TBS says:

“What if someone said they traveled east of Los Angeles and then settled as far as Houston, or Corpus Christi, or Laredo? Would that place these Texas cities directly east of L.A.? They aren’t.” 

Yeah, but they are roughly east, unlike Mexico City, which is much further southeast. Remember, above I only said, “Genesis 13 strongly implies Sodom was off in the east of Bethel and Ai.” I never said it could not be southeast or northeast. My point is that the latter stretches the text. The simplest reading is “in the direction of the east from Bethel you will find Sodom, without going too far north or south”. The idea that Genesis 13 says Lot moved east and settled all the way at the southern end of the Dead Sea doesn’t fit with the simplest reading of Genesis 13. Is it possible? Sure, but one has to stretch the text.

Ezekiel 16:46

This is an bad section of his response because it has little substance. I thought he would do better here and I was expecting more. He provides no additional data to support his reading. He really only doubles down on his odd interpretation of what ‘right’ and ‘left’ mean. TBS is insistent that this verse can only mean Sodom is to the south of Jerusalem. He begins by restating his main argument. If you face east from the standpoint of Jerusalem, what is off to the left (Samaria) would be to the north, and then what is off to the right would have to be in the south, which must be where Sodom was.

TBS then takes issue with my analogy above of Dallas being off to the left of Houston and New Orleans being off to the right. He says Dallas would have to be west of Houston if it was off to the left, but this is intuitively wrong. If I came to a fork in the road with one direction going north and the other going east, it would not be unreasonable to say one direction is ‘off to the left’ and the other is ‘off to right.’ Right and left directions do not just have to be a 180-degree difference (as I explained above). TBS is straining a common sense understanding of ‘right’ and ‘left’ to make Ezekiel 16:36 say what he wants. Ironically, he accuses me of making passages fit my interpretation.

So despite TBS’s protest, he adds no evidence to support his odd interpretation of what ‘right’ and ‘left’ can mean. His argument reduces to him just exclaiming ‘it can only mean a 180-degree difference!’ 

Furthermore, Biblical words are often not cardinal directions, like we see in English translations. In 1 Samuel 26:1 we read:

“Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, ‘Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?’”

But Hachilah is actually west of Jeshimon. The word that translates to ‘east’ in English does not mean the cardinal direction of east. The word “paneh” means ‘opposite’ or ‘facing.’ 

The point being made is simple, biblical directions are not always exactly what they are as translated in an English Bible. They often are rough estimates. Saying Sodom was off to the right is not a cardinal direction as TBS wants his audience to think. It often just means off to the right in some way. Ezekiel is also mentioning Sodom to make a theological point, not to give you an exact location. Genesis 13 is providing more geographical details on the location of Sodom, and I noted that in my original video. I never once argued from one correlation alone, but a collection of data points suggesting a northern location.

Where was Zoar?

This is one of the worst sections of TBS’ video because he ignored my main arguments on this point. Odd, considering he claims I do not want to present the full truth. TBS doesn’t really provide much data to support his claim that Zoar should be at the southern end of the Dead Sea, and he seems to have missed the entire point of my response. As I said above: 

“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 region that Israel territory was supposed to extend to. Nor does the passage claim to be listing the city associated with the area furthest to the south.”

So again, Deuteronomy is not claiming to give geographical markers for the extent of Israel’s territory. TBS has read this into the text to fit his interpretation. His response now is that it is reasonable to conclude Zoar was at the southern end of the Dead Sea as it would at least represent a city in the southern region of Israel’s territory. So in other words, the three cities (Dan, Jericho, and Zoar) give a general estimate of the length of Israel’s territory from north to south.

But again, this would not make sense if this is indeed what the verse means, as Israel’s territory extended much further to the region of Kadesh. More importantly, the southern end of the Dead Sea is also not even part of Israel’s territory, but part of Edom. Why list a city, supposedly at the southern end of the Dead Sea, to give an estimate of the extent of Israel’s territory if Israel did not even control that region?  If they are geographical markers, it makes more sense to place Zoar more towards the north of the Dead Sea at the end of the tribe of Rueben’s territory, and represent the edge of Israel’s territory east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea (like Dan is to the north). All this was explained above and TBS ignored this section and didn’t even make this aware to his audience. Ironically, he says multiple times I am ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit my view. In reality, since the southern end of the Dead Sea is part of Edom and not Israel, it would make zero sense to use a city in this area as a general marker of Israel’s territory.

As for his reference that Josephus clams Zoar was at the southern end of the Dead Sea, Josephus is likely just wrong on this issue. He is not infallible and I have noted in some of my videos other errors Josephus has made.

Altering Biblical Chronology

TBS takes issue with me presenting the scholarship on Biblical dating, which suggests that dates are rarely exact and that we have misunderstood the cultural context on biblical dates and ages. He claims:

“I know new chronologies have been invented to fix biblical problems by shortening or elongating dates and ages in the text.”

This is a very uncharitable representation of what is going on. Biblical scholars have studied the context and found that the dates and ages in their cultural background are unlikely to be literal, and I covered this extensively in my video on Genesis 5. For TBS to represent this subject this way shows how uncharitable he can be to anyone who disagrees with him.

He cites others who claim the ages and dates are literal, which is irrelevant to the evidence. I don’t care what they say unless they offer good evidence that ages are literal, and TBS cites none of this. Oddly enough, he even uses arguments for the literal ages young-earth creationists have used, and have been addressed here.

TBS then takes issue with me pointing out that long before Tall el-Hammam was discovered, Kenneth Kitchen had already placed Abraham around the time of Sodom’s destruction. Instead of exposing me, he only proves my point. Above I wrote:

“Kenneth Kitchen was already claiming that Abraham lived in the Middle Bronze Age II (sometime between 1850–1700 BC).”

To be fair, I meant to write “1850–1550 BC” for the Middle Bronze Age II. I think I mentally slipped and wrote the middle-range estimate for the destruction of Tall El-Hammam of 1700 BC. But nonetheless, TBS only supports my point, by noting that Kitchen did indeed believe Abraham would have lived in the Middle Bronze Age II. Yes, Kitchen does place him further back in time from the destruction of Sodom around 1700 BC. But Kitchen also says on page 358 of the book TBS quotes from:

“Can we date the Patriarchs? In light of the total evidence, in general terms at least, the answer is a clear yes.”

Again, Kitchen’s dates are “general terms” by his own admission. Kitchen also notes prior to this, on page 351, that Joseph’s age of 110 is likely an idealized age, not his literal age. So this is hardly an issue with moving them around in the general range. Remember, I said Kitchen claims Abragam lived in the MBII, and TBS only supports my point on this. He is being delusional if he thought this was a good point for his argument. 

The timing Kitchen gives us is much later than around 2150 BC, the rough time Abraham would need to have been born if the ages were literal. So again, as I said above, “Apologists didn’t scramble and frantically re-date Abraham after Tall el-Hammam was discovered. Kitchen had already placed Abraham in this exact time period.” TBS only supported my point in his response.

TBS then moves on and tries to argue it doesn’t make sense that I would argue the ages of the patriarchs are figurative, but then also argue the patriarchs were real historical people. It seems he is implying that special pleading is going on when really he is committing a fallacy of composition. First, he clearly didn’t pay attention in my video on Genesis 5, where I cited people like Sargon II who gave himself a figurative number (16,283). I can believe the number he assigns to his name to be a symbolic number but still think Sargon II was a real person. What is true for this figurative number of Sargon II is not true for the whole of Sargon. Once again, this is a cultural context issue. Just because we can show ages were used for symbolic purposes, that doesn’t mean the people and their stories were not historical. This is a composition fallacy. What is true of a part is not necessarily true of the whole. 

TBS really devolves into dishonesty after thisshows his dishonesty and uncharitably when he says:

“If apologists, like Jones, could fit Tall el-Hammam into the biblical narrative without assigning the given ages to myth, they’d do it in a heartbeat. You know it, I know it, and they know it. Don’t let them kid you.” 

Wow, TBS is really resorting to Donald Trump-level reasoning here. You know it, and everyone knows it! Never mind evidence, or what people actually state they believe based on the evidence. TBS just knows what we would do if the circumstances were different. Do you wonder why I have stated numerous times he is dishonest? Never mind all the scholarly evidence, TBS just knows what apologists are thinking and then he says on his channel that we believe in things without evidence. 

TBS then goes on to quote Collins, who admits he changed his mind on the dating of Sodom and the ages of the patriarchs because the evidence suggested it. Only TBS could turn this into a bad thing. I thought it was a good thing when people changed their views based on evidence instead of holding dogmatically to prior beliefs.

Ironically, TBS does a disfavor to his case and contradicts himself. Throughout his videos, he has constantly been saying apologists make the data fit their preconceived notions, but now, TBS cites Collins admitting he changed his view based on new evidence. So which is it? Do apologists change the data to fit their views or do they update their views based on new evidence? TBS has shot himself in the foot once again.

Never to be Inhabited Again

TBS really stoops to low levels here with his personal attacks. He says:

“Michael waves his magic apologetic wand stating these passages can be easily addressed by noting that the prophets often use hyperbole. So now we have a historical Sodom, mythic ages for otherwise historical patriarchs, and prophetic hyperbole. Whatever an apologist can find to cook their apologetic gets thrown into the pot when they’re in the kitchen.”

TBS is being incredibly uncharitable. Books often contain facts and hyperbole in the same breath. For example, if I said “I saw a car flying down the road,” are you going to lose your mind if I clarified and said the road and the car are literal things, but by ‘flying’ I meant it figuratively to mean it was going very fast? Anyone with common sense would understand this statement. But apparently, the Bible cannot write about history and use figurative and hyperbolic statements as well. When I say atheists are never charitable with the Bible, this is a good example. 

TBS then tries to note that the prophecies still say Sodom and Gomorrah became a wasteland and could not be inhabited, but there were villages in the area during the Iron Age. But I already addressed this above, and he does nothing to deal with my examples of how prophetic language is often hyperbolic. He just ignored them as he did my arguments against his location of Zoar. 

The prophets rarely give geographical information, as that is not the point of their writings. They are making theological claims. When I read the passages TBS originally cited, they read like hyperbolic comparisons for theological messaging. The prophets likely read about the destruction of Sodom in the Pentateuch and said these other cities will be destroyed and made into wastelands like what happened in this account from Genesis. TBS is forcing uncharitable readings to fit his conclusion. 

TBS then says something dumbfounding:

“If there was no evidence of later habitation of Tell el-Hammam, would apologists, like Jones, read the prophetic passages as hyperbole? You bet your last dollar they wouldn’t. The prophetic passages would be clear descriptions of the everlasting devastation that laid Tell el-Hammam bear. Remember folks. Jones is the one saying I demonstrate dishonesty here.”

It is odd to see him claim that he is being called dishonest while making such a dishonest statement. He is able to magically know what I would say or believe in a hypothetical universe because of the feelings he has about apologists. It is not because of evidence, but because of his hatred for apologists. TBS’s evidence is often just the way he feels, not a proper exegesis of the text, or actual concrete evidence he can cite. I am starting to think his constant cries of dishonesty are instances of projection.

Conclusion

TBS makes claims that simply are not true. He says:

“When an apologist, like Jones, makes a video and blog post announcing that Sodom has been found, he isn’t merely reporting about an interesting archaeological or scientific discovery. He’s using these discoveries, disingenuously, to bolster a particular brand of religious faith, and frankly, to try to bash skeptics over the head with them.”

Where is the evidence I have done this?  Merely reporting that Genesis gets the destruction of a city right is not bashing skeptics over the head. Is TBS so emotionally driven that he thinks a biblical discovery is an attack on his skeptic identity? I never even hinted in my video that I thought this one find refutes biblical skepticism. I merely noted the archaeological correlation strengthening one aspect of biblical reliability. If arguing Tall el-Hammam is Sodom translates in TBS’s mind to mean apologists are attacking his skepticism, then it is a red flag he is emotionally invested in the Bible being wrong (ironic, once again).

I also love how he implies I am doing all this for donations after he opens his video asking people to check out his Patreon account (again, ironic). But when you’re emotion-charged in your response, these types of double standards often come out.

TBS then ends his video with more disrespectful assertions and claims about my motives and beliefs that he could never substantiate. For example, he says:

“You see, the apologist doesn’t approach the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah with the question ‘Is this fact or fiction?’ They assume from the start that the story is a historical fact.” 

This is not true, for example, I do not think the book of Job is historical. I think it is an Ancient Israelite Epic about fictional characters. I also do not think Genesis 1 is about a literal 6-day creation. If the evidence suggests the stories of the patriarchs were fiction as well, I would have no problem taking such a view, but the evidence does not suggest that. I am accusing him of being dishonest because he is being dishonest, and also I might add, very disrespectful and biased against Christians. 

Ultimately, his argument is that the story of the destruction of Sodom could have come from oral traditions and legends about the destruction of Tall el-Hammam, but that the account in Genesis is still a legend. But this is being uncharitable with the evidence and with the case we have made. No one said this proves the whole account in Genesis. If the evidence is accurate, it is merely a correlation that helps to strengthen Genesis’ reliability. We add this along with all the other correlations we have and we have a strong historical case for the accounts in Genesis, as it would be strange for the authors to get so much right about the time period of MBII if they were just writing fiction or legends. TBS seems to think unless the archaeological evidence confirms every detail of the account in Genesis it cannot be the real Sodom, but this is such an uncharitable standard it is hard to even take seriously. 

Let’s review. 

  • TBS’s arguments against Tell el-Hammam being Sodom boil down to the claim that some verses could suggest a different area (if we interpret them the way he demands). We have shown this is based on flimsy arguments and ignoring the primary data we laid in in the original video. Just because oddly interpreted verses could possibly mean another location that does nothing to threaten the case from the primary evidence.
  • TBS spends a lot of time arguing that this doesn’t confirm every detail in the Genesis account. This is true and I never denied this, but I did note it is a good correlation supporting the reliability of Genesis. History doesn’t work on proof, it works on probability, and we have given several other data points that support the reliability of the account of Abraham. None of this proves the account, but it does strengthen the reliability of the account, as it would for any other historical source. 
  • TBS rants endlessly about how dishonest apologists are, while quote-mining, committing logical fallacies, telling his audience what he knows I am thinking (without evidence), and what would happen in a hypothetical universe. I guess it is okay to believe things without evidence when you are not a Christian. 
  • TBS takes a jab that I only do this for money while asking for people to donate on his Patreon account. 
  • TBS says apologists will do anything to confirm the Bible while doing everything he can, in an incredibly biased and emotional way, to show the Biblical Sodom could not be real. Remember, he has made two graphic-driving videos arguing Tall el-Hammam cannot be the Biblical Sodom. He should not accuse others of being invested after he has invested so much time in being right about the Bible being wrong.

In TBS’s attempt to show he is being fair with the data, he only solidifies he cannot be. He cannot even be charitable when it comes to the hyperbole in the prophets or with the meaning of the words in Ezekiel 16:46. If this is the best TBS can do, and he cannot even do it without being incredibly rude and dishonest, then I only feel more confident in Christianity. 

Again, let me reiterate, if new data comes out showing Tell el-Hammam doesn’t fit the Biblical city of Sodom then I can update my view, despite TBS saying I am biased and force the evidence to fit my conclusions. The problem is his case against Sodom is riddled with problems.

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.

de Ronde, Christian. (2020). Unscrambling the Omelette of Quantum Contextuality (Part I): Preexistent Properties or Measurement Outcomes?. Foundations of Science. 25. 10.1007/s10699-019-09578-8. 

Glattfelder, J. B. (2019). Information—Consciousness—Reality: How a New Understanding of the Universe Can Help Answer Age-Old Questions of Existence. Germany: Springer International Publishing.

Gröblacher, S., et al. (2007). An experimental test of non-local realism. Nature 446, 871–875. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05677

Hossenfelder, S. (2015). No, Loop Quantum Gravity has not been shown to violate the Holographic Principle. Backreaction. http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2015/09/no-loop-quantum-gravity-has-not-been.html.

Hockenberry, J. (2014, December 29). A Thin Sheet of Reality: The Universe as a Hologram. World Science Festival. other. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnETCBOlzJs.

Huang, Y. F., Li, C. F., Zhang, Y. S., Pan, J. W., & Guo, G. C. (2003). Experimental test of the Kochen-Specker theorem with single photons. Physical review letters, 90(25 Pt 1), 250401. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.90.250401

Imannezhad, P., Ahanj, A. A Quantum Cognition Analysis of Human Behaviour by Hardy’s Non-locality Argument. Axiomathes (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10516-020-09502-x

Jacques, Vincent & Wu, E. & Grosshans, Frédéric & Treussart, François & Grangier, Philippe & Aspect, Alain & Roch, Jean-François. (2007). Experimental Realization of Wheeler’s Delayed-Choice Gedanken Experiment. Science (New York, N.Y.). 315. 966-8. 10.1126/science.1136303. 

Kastrup, B. (2019). The Idea of the World: A Multi-Disciplinary Argument for the Mental Nature of Reality. United Kingdom: John Hunt Publishing.

Kuttner, F., Rosenblum, B. (2011). Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness. United States: Oxford University Press.

Lapkiewicz, R., Li, P., Schaeff, C. et al. (2011). Experimental non-classicality of an indivisible quantum system. Nature 474, 490–493. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10119.

Ma, Xs., Zotter, S., Kofler, J. et al. Experimental delayed-choice entanglement swapping. Nature Phys 8, 479–484 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys2294

Pusey, M., Barrett, J. & Rudolph, T. (2012) On the reality of the quantum state. Nature Phys 8, 475–478. https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys2309

Ringbauer, Martin & Duffus, Ben & Branciard, Cyril & Cavalcanti, Eric & White, Andrew & Fedrizzi, Alessandro. (2014). Measurements on the reality of the wavefunction. Nature Physics. 11. 10.1038/nphys3233. 

Romero, Jacquiline et. al. (2010). Violation of Leggett inequalities in orbital angular momentum subspaces. New Journal of Physics. 12. 123007. 10.1088/1367-2630/12/12/123007. 

Simon, Christoph & Zukowski, Marek & Weinfurter, Harald & Zeilinger, Anton. (2000). Feasible “Kochen-Specker” Experiment with Single Particles. Physical Review Letters. 85. 10.1103/PhysRevLett.85.1783. 

Stapp, Henry P. (1999). Attention, intention, and will in quantum physics. _Journal of Consciousness Studies_ 1–37.

Susskind, L. (2008). The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics. United States: Little, Brown.

Vazza, F., & Feletti, A. (2020). The Quantitative Comparison Between the Neuronal Network and the Cosmic Web. Frontiers in Physics, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphy.2020.525731

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.

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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:

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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. 

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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.

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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.