RESPONDblogs: Have Scientists Just Disproved a Major Biblical Event?

The LADbible reported on a cool scientific discovery that was made recently.

LADbible – Science Has Just Disproved a Major Biblical Event

 

Their report says the scientific discovery shows that a well known event mentioned by the Old Testament – that Richard Dawkins has famously mocked – did not happen. The event is the Israelite invasion of Canaan.

 

The LADbible article:

  1. Reports that Lebanese people share 90 percent of their genetic material today with 5 ancient Canaanite human remains from the city state of Sidon.
  2. Refers to the Bible passage where Israel destroyed all the Canaanite cities and annihilated its people.
  3. Suggests that if the Canaanite peoples were annihilated, they could not have directly contributed genetic material to the region’s present-day population. So, the Bible claim is false.
  4. Suggests if the Canaanite cities were destroyed, there would be archaeological evidence of this mass destruction dated to between the Bronze and Iron Ages. But there isn’t any. Again…the Bible claim is false.

 

So is the article right; does the science disprove the Bible? Or does it reveal Professor Dawkins’ famous rant to be nothing more than empty rhetoric?

 

I’m taking my lead here from Paul Copan, PhD. He’s the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

 

Here’s my response:

1.Reports that Lebanese people share 90 percent of their genetic material today with 5 ancient Canaanite human remains from the city state of Sidon.

Ok. It’s incredibly cool that scientists can parse our generic material this way and detect geographic markers in the code. Amazing stuff…I want to read more.

 

2. Refers to the Bible passage where Israel destroyed all the Canaanite cities and annihilated its people.

I’d like to make 3 points here:

2.1 – The historical Yahweh Canaanite wars were unique for Israel.

The Old Testament records that Israel attacked three Canaanite cities – Hazor, Jericho, and Ai.[1]

Unlike other ancient near eastern nations, Israel was conspicuous for its humane treatment of foreigners. Its neighbours were not normally to be attacked, and foreigners who lived in Israel were respected and had the same rights as the Israelites themselves. They were not known for being a xenophobic people.

The Canaanite attack happened for a specific purpose at a point in time.

Further, scholars believe these three fortified cities were essentially military forts manned largely by soldiers rather than the general Canaanite population.[2]

 

2.2 The ancient historical setting takes some sting out of the language.

For example:

“Joshua…destroyed the Anakites from the hill country…totally destroyed them.”[3]

Yet a couple of chapters later:

“the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified…”[4]

But weren’t the Anakites (a Canaanite tribe) destroyed? Not so much!

 

There are loads of examples like this thru the Canaanite period.

For example, elsewhere talking about the conquest of Canaan, it says “you must destroy them totally….Do not intermarry with them.”[5] How do you intermarry with people who you have totally destroyed?

 

Scholar Paul Copan explains that, what’s happening in the Bible text is it is using traditional ancient near eastern language of the time. He calls it hyperbole…a bit like when we say, “Rangers played Celtic at the football today and slaughtered them.” They didn’t literally kill all of them…but they beat them soundly. The Bible’s not misleading or showing Israel up to be inept…it’s just using the language that the other nations used at the time for war. Again, Copan has specific examples of the other nations talking like this.[6]

 

So, if the Canaanite cities were military bases, then why does it say it was “destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.”[7] Copan opines that this was a stock phrase that doesn’t imply non-combatants were there, the language was used to mean take the military installation.[8]

 

 

2.3 The Old Testament texts of Joshua and Judges do not therefore claim that Israel annihilated everyone in Canaan.

When we read the Bible text all the way through, rather than stop at the difficult bits, we find that while a military engagement did occur and Canaanite soldiers and leaders were killed, these people were not totally wiped out by Israel. As Copan says, “The people’s who had apparently been wiped out reappear in the story. Many Canaanite inhabitants simply stuck around.”[9]

 

 

3. Suggests that if the Canaanite peoples were annihilated, they could not have directly contributed genetic material to the region’s present-day population. So, the Bible claim is false.

But who’s saying the Canaanite people were totally annihilated? As we’ve seen, it’s not the Bible. No, it’s Professor Dawkins who says this.

The cool genetic data actually confirms what the Bible has been saying all along, that the Canaanites stuck around and became part of the Israelite nation after they invaded.

If anyone is challenged by the science, it’s actually Professor Dawkins, not the Bible.

 

4. Suggests if the Canaanite cities were destroyed, there would be archaeological evidence of this mass destruction dated to between the Bronze and Iron Ages. But there isn’t any. Again…the Bible claim is false.

Where’s the evidence of mass destruction? Well – there wasn’t any mass destruction. Israel had very specific battles in three fortified cities. Archaeologists are working to identify these areas and they have some clues as to where they were. But the destruction was minimal and contained.

Copan again – “The archaeological language support the biblical text…minimal observable material destruction in Canaan as well as Israel’s gradual infiltration, assimilation and eventual dominance there.”[10]

Besides, there is other archaeological evidence that Israel was in Canaan at this time. So, the invasion’s not really in doubt historically.[11]

 

 

Conclusion

The LADbible are right – the science is disproving something here. But I would suggest it’s not the Bible. The science doesn’t reveal Bible deficiencies, but it does ironically show up Professor Dawkins and his faulty understanding of the Bible. So, can we lay his well-worn, false rhetoric to rest now?

The science affirms the Bible’s claim that the Canaanite people gradually became part of the Israelite nation[12] following Israel’s invasion. God’s not shown to be an “ethnic cleanser” in the Bible.

 

But does it still bug you that Israel invaded Canaan in the first place? Me too. But, again, Copan has some ideas on that that are worth exploring…

”think along the lines of the Sicilian police invading a Mafia stronghold to remove a corrupting network of crime so that citizens can live in peace, rather than fear.”[13]

 

Image is Public Domain.

[1] Joshua 8:18-19, Joshua 9:3, Joshua 11:10-11.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 176.

[3] Joshua 11:21-22.

[4] Joshua 14:12-15.

[5] Deuteronomy 7:2-3.

[6] Copan, 172.

[7] Joshua 6:21

[8] Copan, 176.

[9] Copan, 171.

[10] Copan, 185.

[11] The Merneptah Stele: Earliest evidence for Israel in Canaan? Bible Apologetics, https://bibleapologetics.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/the-merneptah-stele-earliest-evidence-for-israel-in-canaan/, accessed 31st July 2017.

[12] Joshua 13:1-7.

[13] Copan, 167.

RESPONDblog: Do the Gospel Writers Speak the Truth?

pexels1

The Gospel writers claim to have recorded what Jesus said and did. How do we know they haven’t embellished history beyond the bounds of ancient biography as they did so? Should the Gospels be trusted or rejected as hopelessly un-historic?

 

Professor Simon Greenleaf didn’t think they were un-historic.

He lived in the 19th century, practiced law throughout his life, held the Royal Professorship of Law and Dane Professorship at the Harvard Law School, and played a major part in forming Harvard’s coveted reputation. The London Law Journal of 1874 said of Greenleaf, “It is no mean honour to America that her schools of jurisprudence have produced two of the first writers and best esteemed legal authorities of this century…Judge Story…and…Professor Greenleaf.”[1]

 

Greenleaf believed that the New Testament Gospel writers would be taken as reliable witnesses in a court of law. Their writings should be viewed as historic. Greenleaf proposed five tests that led him to that conclusion:

 

Greenleaf Test #1 – Are the Witnesses Honest?

Do they honestly say what they believe to be true? The Gospels show many instances of the writers’ openness and sincerity. Historians sometimes call this the criterion of embarrassment.

The writers deal with such uncomfortable situations such as:

  • The many failures of Jesus’ disciples.
  • The occasional harshness of Jesus’ teaching.
  • Jesus’ anguish as he faced his own death.

Greenleaf concluded the gospel writers were, “good men, testifying to that which they had carefully observed and considered, and well knew to be true.”[2]

 

Greenleaf Test #2 – Do the Witnesses Have Ability?

Did they have the opportunity to observe the situations they record? How well were they able to evaluate what they had seen and researched from other eyewitnesses? What about their ability to remember things?

Peter (Mark), John and Matthew had many opportunities to observe these events first hand. All three claim to have seen the resurrected Christ.

Luke was a physician and Matthew a tax collector. Both occupations required exactness in evaluation and reporting.

There’s no reason to question their mental abilities.

“the writings…indicate…mental vigour, as well as cultivated intelligence. The Gospels…reveal that elegance of style and lofty imagery which are invariably characteristics of intellectual depth and culture. The ‘ignorant fishermen’ idea is certainly not applicable to the Gospel writers…”[3]

 

Greenleaf Test #3 – Are there Sufficient Numbers of Witnesses and are they Consistent?

Greenleaf reports that the number and authenticity of the witnesses would satisfy any court.

“There is enough of a discrepancy (their own form and style) to show…no previous concert among them…[yet] substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction.”[4]

 

Greenleaf Test #4 – Does the Testimony of the Witnesses Conform to Our Experience?

This might be where things get tricky. After all, the Gospels report various miraculous events, culminating in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Who’s seem a real miracle in their lives?

It turns out, MANY people have experienced what they believe are miracles. Craig Keener has done one of the biggest studies into miracle claims of all sorts in every human culture, and has come to this conclusion on miraculous physical healing:

“Hundreds of millions of people worldwide claim to have experienced or witnessed what they believe are miracles. Eyewitness claims to dramatic recoveries appear in a wide variety of cultures, among Christians often successfully emulating models of healings found in the Gospels and Acts. Granted, such healings do not occur on every occasion and are fairly unpredictable in their occurrence; yet they seem to appear with special frequency in cultures and circles that welcome them.”[5]

 

Greenleaf himself urges an attitude of following the facts to their conclusion, even if the testimony is unusual. On the Gospel reports of Jesus healing miracles, he states:

“In every case of healing, the previous condition of the sufferer was known to all; all saw…restoration…these…were facts, plain and simple…comprehended by persons of common capacity and observation.

If they were separately testified to, by different witnesses…the jury would be bound to believe them”[6]

These witnesses were credible.

 

Greenleaf test #5 – Does the Testimony of the Witnesses Coincide with Contemporaneous Facts and Circumstances?

There are various instances where the Gospel writers clearly speak accurately about the geography, history and social factors at work in their day.

For example:

1 – The Pavement

Jesus trial before Pontius Pilate is reported to have occurred in an area known as “the Pavement.”

“When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.”[7]

If the pavement is fabricated, maybe the whole trial is?

But there’s good evidence to suggest that the pavement is not fabricated, because the archaeological evidence suggests it has most probably been located.[8]

 

2 – The Pool of Bethesda

This is mentioned in John chapter 5 with reference to a healing miracle of Jesus. This pool is apparently not referenced by any other historical document, yet was excavated and identified recently.[9]

 

 

In summary, dishonest witnesses tend to be guarded in what they say, avoiding detail that might reveal them as dishonest. Yet the Gospel witnesses are refreshingly open with details that are cross checked with what else scholars have learned about life in those days.

 

The evidence suggests therefore that the Gospel writers speak the truth.

 

 

Image courtesy of http://www.pexels.com.

[1] Cited in Ross Clifford, Leading Lawyers’ Case for the Resurrection, (Edmonton: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, & Public Policy, Inc), 43.

[2] Clifford, 45.

[3] Cited in Clifford, 46.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Craig S. Keener, Miracles The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), Kindle Edition, 2012, Loc 5814.

[6] Cited in Clifford, 48.

[7] John 19:13, NRSV.

[8] Pavement Stone at Fortress of Antonia, Bible History, http://www.bible-history.com/past/jesus_trial_pavement.html, accessed 26th July 2017.

[9] The Bethesda Pool, Site of One of Jesus’ Miracles, Bible History Daily, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/the-bethesda-pool-site-of-one-of-jesus%E2%80%99-miracles/, accessed 26th July 2017.

RESPONDblogs: PART 2 – Isaac Newton – Scientific Revolutionary…and…Theologian?

isaac newton two

In part 1 of this blog, I presented a case based on Isaac Newton’s published writings. I said that he was both:

  1. a brilliant scientific revolutionary and
  2. a passionate, counter-cultural believer in God

He passionately grappled with both Nature and Scripture to understand the God who’s influence he saw there. Even though his conclusions put him at risk from 17th century society’s heresy laws. He studied both of these revelations (nature and scripture) to the glory of God.

Why does this matter today? Well, I would suggest it matters for three reasons.

First, mankind’s greatest scientific mind believed passionately in God.

Newton’s influence can’t be understated in scientific terms. He laid the foundation of optics, he formulated the law of universal gravitation, and he invented calculus. His book Principia, “was one of the most important single works in the history of modern science.”[1]

And he embraced the theological implications of science. Faith and reason were not opposites to the brilliant mind of Isaac Newton. We cannot brush his religious faith under the carpet or frame it as simple and empty self-serving political posturing. Why? Because of the evidential passion of his belief in God that overflows in his private theological writings.

Since 2008, the Newton Project at Oxford University have been publishing the 2.2 million words of Newton’s religious works online. “The papers demonstrate that in this field Newton was a thinker of the highest calibre and intellectual daring, though our respect for his courage may well be tempered by the fact that he published almost nothing of it in his lifetime. “[2] We looked at that in more detail in part 1.

Holding both scientific and Christian perspectives on life made sense to Newton.

 

Second, Newton challenges us to follow his example.

He searched the scriptures trying to understand who his Creator was. He worked hard at it, and he held the Bible in high regard; he devoted his life to it. He spent more years writing Theology works than his works on nature.

If the greatest scientific mind can apply his reasoning abilities to God, then, why shouldn’t we? Are we saying we know better than him? Are we saying that belief in God is evidentially less reasonable in the 21st century than it was in the 17th century?

Some might suppose that, if Newton was alive today, he would be part of the ranks of the enlightened atheistic thinkers. After all, science has discovered so much more about how the Universe works now. Yes, it has. And as it has done so, it has stood atop Newton’s shoulders. In modern times, we do understand more about the Universe we live in. But one thing hasn’t changed. In fact, one thing is becoming much more pressing with each scientific discovery that we make. Newton understood that thing at his time, and he would no doubt have seen it more clearly now. What is that thing?

Evidence for God’s work is found in what we DO understand…not what we DON’T understand.

In speaking of the planets and their motion, Newton observed:

“To make this system therefore with all its motions, required a Cause which understood and compared together the quantities of matter in the several bodies of the Sun and Planets and the gravitating powers resulting …to compare and adjust all these things together in so great a variety of bodies argues that cause to be not blind and fortuitous, but very well skilled in Mechanics and Geometry….[this] system was the effect of choice rather than of chance”[3]

In other words, the fine-tuned mechanics of this system requires the influence of a skilled designer. Chance and natural alone is unable to account for the universe. Newton didn’t find evidence for God in the 17th century gaps of scientific knowledge. He found the evidence in the whole system of this universe. There’s no reason to suggest he would think any differently today.

Someone might complain, “But Stuart, he didn’t even agree with your basic tenants of Christianity! Are you saying he was right to do that?” He disagreed with the Christian belief in the Trinity for sure; God as Father, Son and Spirit. Personally, I’ve wrestled with various Christian doctrines throughout my life. I know what wrestling feels like. I’m not trying to somehow portray Isaac Newton as an evangelical Christian from the 21st century. What I am saying is that his reason led him to embrace and passionately wrestle with a personal belief in God as Creator involved with his creation. Newton was no deist. And he chose to spend his life diligently trying to understand the God who is present and active.

How about us?

 

 

3 – Newton puts a stake through the heart of the notion that science and God are incompatible

John Lennox, Professor of mathematics at Oxford University, says it so well.[4] He describes the supposed antipathy between science and religion as a myth. The real conflict is not between science and religion. It’s between theism and naturalism.

We can see that as we review the winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics. There have been winners who are Christians; there have been winners who are atheists. If belief in God is irrational, then what’s a Christian doing winning a Nobel Prize?  Clearly the battle does not involve science.

Actually, it is a battle of opposing world views. It’s a conflict between two beliefs:

  • naturalism (the universe is all there is) and
  • theism (God created the universe with creatures who are both material and spiritual at the same time)

The point is that neither theism or naturalism are statements of science, they are both statements of belief. When Newton makes a case for God, that’s not science speaking, it’s Newton. When the brilliant Richard Hawking, famed modern scientist, makes a case for atheism that’s not science speaking, it’s just Hawking.

The reality is, faith is essential to science. I come to a place of trust in a position, and I reason on the basis of my trust. Faith and reason closely work together. And in Newton, we see that faith in God is the motor that drove science forward.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this; is there evidence for my belief? How trustworthy is my belief? Why do I believe it? Because it’s going to influence my life.

And it’s here we reconnect with Isaac Newton.

“Don’t doubt the Creator, because it is inconceivable that accidents alone could be the controller of this universe.”

Science and belief in God are not enemies; theism and naturalism are.

 

4 – Newton’s big question is – how good is the evidence for my belief?

Here’s a final example, again from Lennox[5].

Stephen Hawking has until recently held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge. And he’s an atheist. He believes that the Universe came from nothing. The existence of gravity, naturally will result in the formation of the universe. From nothing.

Do you know who the second holder of that chair was? Isaac Newton.

Here’s the irony. Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity and believed in God. Stephen Hawking, who also occupied Newton’s chair at Cambridge, uses gravity as a reason not to believe in God.

Looking at both these men, it’s clearly not science that is incompatible with belief in God. It’s the belief we bring to our science. So – do we have evidence for our beliefs?

Do we believe with Newton that God created the Universe? Or do we believe with Hawking that nothing created the Universe? We have a belief, whether we like it or not. Once we’ve picked a side, it’s time to look at the evidence. And in that…Isaac Newton helps us. I imagine he would strongly reject Hawking’s “nothing” explanation for the Universe to this day. Why?

Because the original evidence, that Newton patiently observed and pointed towards, hasn’t changed:

“When I wrote my treatise about our System, I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose. But if I have done the public any service this way ’tis due to nothing but industry and a patient thought.”[6]

 

 

Isaac Newton is a refreshing revolutionary in matters of science and faith. He challenges us to own up to our convictions, and to seek to evidence them. I think he really has done us a great service today.

 

 

 

[1] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Sir Isaac Newton: English Physicist and Mathematician, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Isaac-Newton, accessed 22nd July, 2017.

[2] Introduction to the Texts, The Newton Project, http://www.newtonproject.ox.ac.uk/texts/introduction, accessed 20th July 2017.

[3] Stephen D. Snobelen, The Theology of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica: A Preliminary Survey, https://isaacnewtonstheology.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/theology-of-the-principia.pdf, 7.

[4] John Lennox, Are God and Faith Anti-Science and Anti-Reason? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKzizwPwNWU, accessed 19th July, 2017, summarized.

[5] Lennox, Faith Anti-Reason? summarized.

[6] Snobelen, Theology of the Principia, 7.

RESPONDblogs: Isaac Newton – Scientific Revolutionary…and… Theologian?

newtonTim Peake is a British hero. He’s one of our most recent astronauts, spending about six months about the International Space Station (ISS) in 2016. Tim’s a passionate scientist, and he longs to inspire children to follow his lead.

When it came time to select a name for his mission, do you know what Tim called it?

“Principia”

Weird name, eh? Why choose that name? “To honour Isaac Newton’s ground-breaking text on physics, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which described the principle laws of motion and gravity on which all space travel depends.”[1]

Who was Isaac Newton? He lived in the 17th century, he started the scientific revolution, and his brilliance inspired later scientists such as Albert Einstein.

“He was intellectually daring…His achievements were so momentous that the term ‘scientific genius’ was invented to describe him” – Professor Robert IIiffe, Director, The Newton Project.[2]

Here’s the thing. When we look at Newton’s life, we find that he was not only a brilliant thinker and communicator of scientific principles that have changed how we look at the universe. He also believed in God.

Is it helpful to look at the Christian backdrop of Isaac Newton? Does this help make the case for belief in God today?

Some would suggest not. After all, “the Protestant faith of the Bible was a standard part of the upbringing of children at that time and Newton was no exception to this rule…. a certain amount of sincere religious piety…is to be expected…”[3]   There’s no guarantee Newton was a “Christian”. Isn’t it more likely that the brilliant Newton was canny enough to work out how to climb the ladder of academic achievement? In his day, this involved public agreement with Christianity. Maybe he didn’t want to suffer like Galileo did at the hands of the Catholic Pope? Maybe he was a brilliant thinker who played the religion game to get ahead.

Yet there’s a problem here. We can so easily view Newton thru the spectacles of our own atheism. A brilliant thinker, tip-toeing thru the powerful, irrational Western religious minefield of the 17th century. Newton was too smart to be a Christian. Surely Newton’s outward religious statements were simply a survival strategy. Newton was just as godless inside his head as so many are today! Right?

 

No – I suggest the evidence doesn’t leave this option open to us.

If we lay down our comfortable presuppositions and look at that evidence, we find a different picture of Isaac Newton that challenges atheistic worldview assumptions to the core.

 

 

1 – Newton wrote the most significant science book in human history.

I mentioned it in my introduction.

The head of the Royal Society library said of Principia Mathematica, “It’s not just the history and development of science; it’s one of the greatest books ever published…influential in terms of applying mathematics to basic physical problems.”[4]

 

2 – All editions of Principia combine BOTH scientific principles and theology together.

I’ve heard people say that you simply cannot bring God into science. Well, that’s evidentially false. Newton was way ahead of us and doing just that centuries ago.

His ground-breaking Principia opens with the statement:

“Behold the pattern of the heavens, and the balances of the divine structure. Behold Jove’s calculation and the laws That the creator of all things, while he was setting the beginnings of the world, would not violate; Behold the foundations he gave to his works.”[5]

Newton blends the discussion about God and physics together seamlessly.

“No being exists or can exist which is not related to space in some way. God is everywhere, created minds are somewhere, and body is in the space that it occupies…So the quantity of the existence of God is eternal in relation to duration, and infinite in relation to the space in which he is present”[6]

 

He added additional theological principles Principia in his second and third editions.

 

3 – He intended for Principia to help connect the dots between the natural world, and its Designer.

When a young clergyman named Richard Bentley once approached Newton and asked about ways his scientific arguments pointed towards God, Newton responded:

“When I wrote my treatise about our System, I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose. But if I have done the public any service this way ’tis due to nothing but industry and a patient thought.”[7]

To someone called Halley, who verbally tore down Christianity in Newton’s presence, he was quick to respond. “Mun, you had better hold your tongue; you have never sufficiently considered the matter.”[8]

He fully intended his work to have application beyond the scientific disciplines, clearly pointing men to the Designer of this universe. And he was quick to challenge atheistic views that were clearly common in the 17th century.

 

4 – Newton wrote theology for longer than he wrote science.

Strange, given his scientific influence. But true.

He might be known for his scientific works, and he dabbled in alchemy too. But a lifetime of Bible study shows he was no reluctant church pew filler, or resentful, closet atheist. From his early thirties, Newton wrestled with complex theological issues writing works that deal with understanding Biblical prophecy, the Christian creeds, the Jewish religion and much more. He was no nominal religious observer. He was active and engaged. If we didn’t know that, it’s because his writings were not published until 2008 by Oxford University![9]

If it’s true that Newton was more than a scientific survivor, but a passionate believer in God, then we would expect to see, “sincere religious piety and Biblicism on the part of a Cambridge scholar like Newton living when he did…more…passionate than common piety…and when we look at the decade before the composition of the Principia this is precisely what we find.”[10]

Newton was a scientist and a passionate, God fearing theologian. But he was an interesting type of theologian. He was a Christian heretic, at odds with the Christian establishment.

Newton was so invested in scripture that he came to very different conclusions about the nature of God. Raised Anglican, he robustly rejected Roman Catholicism, but he also rejected a central part of Anglican Christianity as well; “[he broke] with almost all his contemporaries in condemning the concept of the Holy Trinity as the central doctrinal plank of that antichristian religion that came to dominate the Western world.”[11]

Christianity has traditional held that scripture teaches God is three persons, yet one in essence. One God, three separate coexisting persons. Newton rejected this teaching, and risked life and limb in the process. People were either hanged or imprisoned for rejecting the Trinity at that time.[12] Yet Newton held to his convictions.

Even though his religious writings remained unpublished until very recently, there is some evidence that towards the end of his life he was gearing up to more actively spreading his understanding of true Christianity; some observe this creeping into to the second and third editions of the Principia itself.[13]

Newton passionately believed that Christianity, “was a simple religion, preached to ordinary people, whose central feature was the principle of charity (or the Golden Rule) rather than any abstruse claim about the nature of Jesus Christ or about the precise manner in which he had redeemed humanity by his suffering.”[14]

 

 

 

 

 

What can we conclude from his religious writings and his unorthodox, risky spiritual convictions? It’s wrong to downplay Isaac Newton’s religious convictions as “simply expected and therefore meaningless.” Not at all. He stood apart from his contemporaries and he risked his life given his beliefs in God.

 

So…Newton was a scientific revolutionary and a passionate believer in God and the Bible. So what? So, he challenges how we approach and live our lives today.

How?

More in part2.

 

 

[1] Principia mission, UK Space Agency, https://principia.org.uk/the-mission/, accessed 20th July 2017.

[2] Isaac Newton: The man who discovered gravity, BBC iWonder, http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/zwwgcdm, accessed 20th July 2017.

[3]Stephen D. Snobelen, The Theology of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica: A Preliminary Survey, https://isaacnewtonstheology.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/theology-of-the-principia.pdf, 13.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/05/principia-sir-isaac-newton-first-edition-auction-christies-new-york.

[5] Snobelen, Theology of the Principia, 9.

[6] Ibid, 18.

[7] Ibid, 7.

[8] Stephen D. Snobelen, Isaac Newton, heretic: the strategies of a Nicodemite, https://isaacnewtonstheology.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/heretic.pdf, 31.

[9] Introduction to the Texts, The Newton Project, http://www.newtonproject.ox.ac.uk/texts/introduction, accessed 20th July 2017.

[10] Snobelen, Theology of the Principia, 13.

[11] Introduction, Newton Project.

[12] Snobelen, heretic, 15.

[13] Snobelen, heretic, 26.

[14] Introduction, Newton Project.

 

RESPONDblog: Christianity’s Not As Mysterious As You Think

I found myself at Vasquez Rocks National Park this weekend. Actually – this was completely intentional. I was hunting for a shooting location used by the makers of the Original Series of Star Trek from the 1960s. What can I tell you…? I’m nerdy like that.

The episode I was thinking of is called “Arena”; Captain Kirk finds himself facing the war like Gorn creature on the surface of an asteroid with a suspiciously “earth-like” atmosphere. Which is handy. A superior race, the Metrones, have decided that Kirk must fight his adversary to the death. Not so superior, eh? In reality – William Shatner was acting his socks off with a poor guy sweating in a green rubber suit.

I wanted to find the spot where their iconic battle happened. After all…I remember watching the episode as a child.

My strategy on arriving at Vasquez Rocks National Park was to launch myself “Kirk like” into the mysterious and rugged countryside…to explore various trails and various rock formations in the 35 degree heat. “That looks kinda familiar…maybe they filmed it there? Oh no – hang on – maybe it was here? Man…I’m hot.”

After an hour or so trudging around in the oven like heat…I returned to the visitors centre for a rest. I sensed that I hadn’t really found what I was looking for. Walking back to the car…I noticed a big sign that I had driven past an hour ago when I first entered the park. It read, “To the Rocks” – with a big arrow pointing up a well built road to my left.

Genius that I am – I asked myself – “Hang on. Why don’t I follow that arrow…and just drive up that road? I wonder what’s up there?” I jumped into the car…drove up the signposted road…and eventually arrived at a large visitors car park. Exiting the car…I looked around. I was already hot…but I was getting warmer. I recognised these rock formations.

I began chatting on Twitter with my friend Alan. I explained what I was doing and – very helpfully – he sent me an image of the Star Trek episode that showed the location I was looking for. I gulped at the image on my phone screen. Raising my head, I looked again at the entrance to the visitors car park I had just driven through.

Would you believe it?

Star Trek had filmed the iconic Gorn battle scene HERE – within the visitors car park at the end of the road!! Of course. With so much equipment…the lights and cameras transported by truck…the film crew needed a wide space to set things up. It made perfect sense to use the car park. It’s slightly disappointing to me though that the scene was captured…in a car park. This Star Trek episode has lost some of its mystique to me now…

On reflection – I made this trip much much harder for myself than it needed to be. I hadn’t actually rewatched the episode on Netflix before travelling to the location…I was working from memories and assumptions in my head about what the location looked like. Life would have been easier…if I’d just googled a picture first. Worse – when I arrived at the park…I didn’t follow the clear and obvious signage that was provided and staring me in the face! I decided to purposefully wander off into the countryside instead.

In the end…finding what I was looking for was really easy and straightforward. It just required me to look at the source material…and follow the obvious instructions that were available.

It occurred to me as I reflected on these hilarious mistakes, that this might not be too different from how many people approach Christianity. One friend…sceptical of Christianity… said to me recently, “Why don’t I get it like you, Stuart?”

Well – maybe its like me hunting for the iconic Kirk vs the Gorn location without watching the episode first? We’re relying on our half remembered ideas about what Christianity is about…but why don’t we just go back and look at what it actually IS all about? The life of Jesus as documented in the New Testament. How about we actually read what, say, the Gospel of Mark actually records that Jesus said and did?

Further, so many people I’ve spoken to assume that the claims of Christianity are unreliable today. Their starting assumption is that the history of Christianity is very complicated…and so one needs to dig really deeply to work out what actually happened to cause the Christian church 2000 years ago. And frankly – that is too much work for most people. Well – perhaps we are missing the clear and obvious signpost that is staring us right in the face? We’ve dived off into the countryside…and come up with nothing useful as a result. And we’ve probably given up. Instead – why don’t we come back to the starting point and follow the clear signage that has been provided to lead us to what we’re looking for? Stop assuming its hard and complicated – and just follow the road and see where it takes us?

You know, historians have identified that the oldest and so the earliest description of Christian belief is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15. There’s an ancient creed written there in this letter that predates all of the layer gospel biographies of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) by decades. The creed itself may date to just a few months after Jesus’ crucifixion…capturing what the first Christians stood for. This is the clear and obvious signage that I’m talking about. What does it say?

“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born”

1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV

It’s not complicated. Its laid out clearly. Just follow the signpost. Jesus was raised from the dead – this fact was widely accepted and assumed by both friends and enemies of Christianity during the 1st century. The first Jesus followers worked to help other people become friends and followers of this Jesus too. He was crucified on a cross, but he’s not a dead, ancient figure of history. He’s a vital and real person who is still alive today.

So why don’t we get this? Possibly because…we think we know better. Can I suggest to you…from experience…that we don’t know better. Christianity is worth “getting”. It really is. And it’s not hard to do. It just requires us to lay aside our wrong thinking…and follow the evidence provided.

As I drove away from Vasquez Rocks and pointed my car to home, I laughed out loud as I joined highway I-14. What did I find funny? You can actually plainly see the Star Trek shooting location as you drive up the highway! It’s SO obvious. It’s clearly laid out for all to see…it’s not mysterious..not hidden away in some obscure spot in the desert.

All you have to do to find what you need…is first not convince yourself that finding it is just too hard. And second, follow those signs that point to Jesus Christ.

RESPONDblog: The Danger of Scientific Consensus

When discussing scientific theories, it can be tempting to appeal to the consensus view of scientists when we want to silence a new theory that we don’t like. This has been done to me in online discussions by people who disagree with my position. And – frankly – I’ve not really known how to respond beyond just saying, “okay…if you say so!” However – I’m coming to think that an  appeal to consensus is not only unjustified, but its also dangerously unscientific.
In his book “Undeniable”, the biologist Doug Axe recounts his experience as an undergraduate student sitting one of his first University exams. One test question asked which macro molecule was most apt to have been the first “living” molecule. Doug decided to give the correct answer to the question, but he then decided to continue his answer by pointing out why he felt that no molecule actually had what it takes to “start life off” by itself. He did this anticipating extra credit from his professor for his creative thinking.

What he got – was marked down.

Why?

Because, “we students were expected not only to know current thinking in biology but also to accept it without resistance. We were there as much to be acculturated as educated.” (1)

Axe goes on to point out that in the conclusion of the first edition of Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species”, Darwin voiced his hope that scientists would stop rejecting his theory of evolution, and one day they might gradually take it on board. To Darwin’s surprise (I’m sure), within a period of just three years, we read in the sixth edition of the book that

“Now things are wholly changed, and almost every naturalist admits the great principle of evolution.” (2)

What caused the change? Was it a scientific discovery? No – because as Axe points out, Darwin would have recorded the discovery and attributed the change to it. (3) No, instead “peer pressure is a part of science…scientific interests compete against one another for influence…might the sudden change in Darwin’s favour have been more like a change of power than a change of minds.” (4)

Human influence and power turned the tide opinion. Not scientific discovery. Ironically – it was Darwin at the time of his book’s first edition who was the one straying from the herd…not complying with the consensus view at the time on the origin of biological life. Consensus doesn’t move us forward. As Axe says, “those rare people who oppose the stream are the ones to watch.” (5)

In other words – scientists from the past were influenced by human factors as well as data factors. Possibly more so. Our deference to consensus seems to be about sticking with the herd and not straying too far from it. And discouraging others from straying from the consensus view. If that was true for scientists back then – its sure to be true now. Arthur Koestler talks about this principle in play during the formation of cosmology. It’s also present in biology too. 

Now – I’m not suggesting accountability is wrong. Not so – our colleagues keep us honest. What I am criticising – is consensus. Or to put it another way – “group think” holds creative scientific discovery back. It hurts scientific understanding by slowing the formation and adoption of new theories.

Here are three observations about the scientific process and the dangers of group think:

First – this suggests to to me that it takes courage to be the one to stand up and disagree with the consensus – and propose a new idea. It takes courage to put forward a new theory, and back that theory up with evidences. Courage is required because, inevitably, rejection will follow from your peers.

Second – it also suggests to me that scientific consensus does not equate to truth. I wish Darwinians today could wrap their heads around this. Just because the consensus of scientists agree on something does not make their theory true, however scientifically orthodox it may currently be. Rather – the consensus is simply that. The widely held public view of qualified people today. Tho in private – they may say something else entirely.

Thirdly – it suggests to me that anyone who rejects a new theory based on the views of scientific consensus is missing the point of science, and actually behaving in an unhelpful and non-scientific way. Consensus is just the current status quo. Humanity needs people of courage to stand up and propose something that’s new so it can be examined and tested. To simply reject this on the basis of personal and consensus led bias…seems unscientific and harmful to the scientific enterprise as a whole.

The answer to a new scientific theory is not, “Don’t be so silly. No one else believes that because its stupid.” Rather – the answer should be, “That’s an interesting idea. Let’s test it together.”

Scientific consensus is harmful to the progress of scientific understanding.

Michael Crichton, who went to Medical school and taught anthropology before he authored books like Westworld and Jurassic Park, stood against scientific consensus much more strongly then either Doug Axe or myself. He calls the notion of scientific consensus “pernicious…and the refuge of scoundrels, because it’s the way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.” Oh – how familiar that problem is to me today.

I’ll end with a Crichton quote.

“I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.

Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period. . . .

I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way. .” (6)

(1) Douglas Axe, Undeniable How Biology Confirms our Intuition That Life Is Designed, (Harper One, 2016), 3.

(2) Online Variorum of Darwin’s Origin of Species: first British edition (1859) comparison with 1872, http://test.darwin-online.org.uk/Variorum/1859/1859-483-c-1872.html

(3) Axe, 5.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Axe, 6.

(6) Michael Crichton, “‘Aliens Cause Global Warming’Links to an external site.,” reprinted in Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2008.

RESPONDblog: Were the New Testament Authors Biased?


Introduction

I often hear something like this from sceptics:

“Christians always appeal to the Bible. But I don’t trust the Bible because it was written by authors who were biased. If the text is untrustworthy, the foundation of Christianity is therefore suspect.” 

The sceptic claims a lack of objectivity in the New Testament record. Because the authors were Christians, the sceptic assumes they were therefore not objective in their assessment of the events. Because they weren’t objective, they must therefore make claims that are biased, suffering from “unreasoned judgement.” (1)  Let’s look at the 3 primary motives for personal bias to see whether any evidence for this exists for the apostolic authors. Is there evidence the New Testament authors were intentionally misleading their readers?


Relating the Primary Motives to the Apostles

What exactly is the cause of their supposed bias? What were the authors to gain from misleading their audience? This question can be approached by considering the three most common motives for human misdemeanour.

First, the driving force of financial greed commonly leads to wrong behaviour. Yet there is no historical evidence the apostles had financial wealth, or a motivation toward amassing it. We can appeal to both the New Testament books of Acts, the letter of James and non biblical history to support this claim.

In Acts, the apostle Peter responded to a lame man, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” (2)  Clearly Peter’s life as an apostle did not allow him to engage in much paid work; his priority was spreading Christ’s message.

The apostle James goes further, stating not only were the followers of Christ financially poor, but that their perspective was such that they prioritised eternal matters over financial ones; “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.” (3)

We must also appeal to other sources to demonstrate the trustworthiness of the biblical claim of apostolic poverty; “All the non biblical accounts related to the lives of the apostles, whether legitimate or legendary, affirm the poverty of the disciples.” (4)

Sexual or relational desire is a second driving force for immoral action. Helpfully, we know from the writings of the disciple Clement of Alexandria, that all the apostles were men who held, “sexual purity in high regard.” (5) The record shows they were all married and some had children. While Clement suggests that they chose to deny themselves sexual contact for a time, they were known as people who would, “live their sexual lives in a manner that was beyond reproach.” (6) And their attitude to these matters is clearly seen in the counterculture requirement that men had only a single wife. (7)

The third driver is the pursuit of personal power. Often, critics of Christianity point to this as a motivating factor behind much of what went wrong during church history. To an extent, church history documents the Roman Catholic Church’s power, and its corrupting influence on the lives of some popes. It is critical, however, to distinguish this later period of church history from the earlier apostolic period. One cannot criticise the apostles for the mistakes and sinful choices made by church leaders who lived hundreds of years after they died. Rather, the apostles must be measured by their own choices.

Looking at the historical record demonstrates that during the apostles’ time, “leadership within the Christian community was a liability rather than an asset.” (8)  The extra-biblical historical record from Roman historians like Tacitus and Josephus records that the first century Christians experienced uniform persecution.

Importantly, although their leadership role led to persecution rather than power, they did not change their message to lessen their persecution. Instead, they went to their deaths preaching Christ; most of them were martyred.

I have laid out important reasons why the apostles were free from the motivating factors of finances, relationships and power. Because the apostles were free from ulterior motives, the case for them as reliable witnesses is strengthened. This gives both a clear and a thoughtful response to the sceptic who dismisses the New Testament as the product of biased sources.

The burden of proof is on the sceptic to show evidence of bias.

  [1] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, (David Cook), 245.

  [2] Acts 3:6.

  [3] James 2:5.

  [4] Wallace, 242.

  [5] Wallace, 244.

  [6] Ibid.

  [7] 1 Timothy 3:2.

  [8] Wallace, 245.