Apologetics in the information age
Published: 20 October 2016 (GMT+10)
In today’s world, it is easy for someone to perform a few simple web searches and become a virtual ‘expert’ in atheism, with ready-made lists of supposed Bible contradictions. When such a person confronts their Christian friends (who often haven’t heard these objections before), parents (who are often not trained in sciences or theology), or pastor (who also may not have a broad educational experience), they often decide quickly that the evidence for atheism trumps the Bible. The lack of what they perceive to be an intellectually satisfying answer can serve as confirmation that the Bible really doesn’t have answers.
Today, it is more important than ever that Christians be equipped to “give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15). It can seem daunting. It is not possible to be prepared for all the possible attacks on Scripture. But it will help to remember that attacks often fall into one of several categories. Once you know how to identify and answer that category of objection, it becomes much easier to deal with a range of challenges. Some common types of objections include:
1. A priori rejection of the supernatural
When someone objects to the virginal conception of Christ because, “We know virgins don’t become pregnant,” or claims that there’s no way someone could walk on water, they are assuming naturalism. Everyone knows that virgins don’t normally become pregnant (that’s why Joseph was about to divorce Mary!) and that people will always break the surface tension of any body of water anytime they step on it. But one of the foundational claims of Scripture is that God can, at will, do unexpected things in creation. Miracles are not a violation of the natural laws God set up since God is not bound by them.
2. Argument from silence
When someone claims that “there is no evidence for the Exodus from Egypt”, or pretty much any isolated event from the history of Israel in the Old Testament, they are making an argument from silence. First, the Bible itself is a historical record, so the Bible’s record of the event is historical evidence. And Scripture has a good track record of historical accuracy, so it should be trusted on that level even before bringing in the fact that it is inspired and inerrant (which of course it is).
However, when we examine whether there is extrabiblical evidence for a particular event recorded in Scripture, we have to ask: What evidence would we expect to have been generated, and what would we expect to survive today? So when someone says “There’s no evidence for Israel’s Exodus from Egypt”, are they expecting a trail of footprints, debris, and graves from the nation to have survived thousands of years? There are two simple answers for this. First, the Bible specifically says their shoes and clothes did not wear out during their 40-year sojourn. This removes one set of potential evidences (not that organic material like this would be expected to last out in the open for 3,500 years, under most conditions). But people have also been living in the desert regions of the world for thousands of years and have left hardly any trace behind. So instead of conceding that the Bible must be wrong, we should turn the question around and question the questioner. “What evidence would one reasonably expect?” In reality, when looking for reasonable evidence in the right places, the Bible is the most historically verified ancient document ever written.
3. Equating differing details with contradiction
In the Gospels, sometimes two authors will record the same event with different details. For example, how many blind men were healed (Matthew 9:27–31 vs. Mark 10:46–52)? And what exact wording did the rich young ruler use in his question to Jesus (Matthew 19:16 vs Mark 10:17)?
In these cases, the Gospel authors, like all historical writers, choose which details to include and which to leave out. They were writing to different audiences for different purposes, and so tailored their accounts, while remaining completely accurate, to emphasize the parts of the story most important for their audience.
4. Confusing issues of textual transmission or translation with contradiction
For thousands of years, Scripture was copied by hand. While this process was generally very accurate, copyist errors did occur. Skeptics often cite these instances while trying to make the case that the Bible cannot be inspired. For instance 2 Samuel 10:18 states that David killed 700 charioteers, while 1 Chronicles 19:18 says that it was 7,000 charioteers. This is the result of a textual error that occurred sometime during the nearly 3,000 years since Samuel and Chronicles were written (1 Chronicles almost certainly preserves the correct number). Small variations in non-essential details are common among handwritten documents. However, we have better evidence for the accurate transmission of Scripture than for any other ancient writing. And, when considering all the different readings in the available manuscripts, there is no evidence for any significant doctrinal deviations. Errors in spelling and short duplications make up most all of the differences, and these are expected due to the nature of handwriting.
5. Moral outrage resulting from failure to appreciate the context
“If God was good, He wouldn’t have commanded/allowed X!” Whether it’s the slaughter of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1–9), the exclusion of physically ‘imperfect’ men from serving in the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 21:16–24), or Elisha setting two bears on a gang of youth (2 Kings 2:23–24), the skeptic has an almost unhindered ability to express moral outrage about the Bible’s events and commands. However, in every case, there is important context in which the command or event makes sense. In one sense, the skeptic is actually engaging in a form of cultural snobbery by importing modern sensibilities into his interpretation of ancient events. In another sense, they are ignoring the fact that God, the Creator, has the right to judge people.
Keeping these simple principles in mind can help as you engage unbelievers in conversation. And of course, when dealing with specific objections, searching sites like CREATION.com can be a great help. And when skeptics see that Christians have intelligent answers for their objections, that can be an excellent opening to share the Gospel!
I came across an article online about the errors of the bible. There was a list of maybe twenty or more. Each one I researched had very good answers to, supporting the inerrancy of scriptures. In my attempt to respectfully respond to the author I challenged his bias and understanding of supposed "errors." There was a couple of polite exchanges and then him and web master turned vulgar and deliberately offensive and told me to: well you know. Seems it's OK for them to try and unravel our faith but don't mess with theirs!
A very good article. It is important to remember that 'evidence' for the Exodus also includes the oral histories of the descendants of the eyewitnesses. Some years ago our National Broadcaster in Australia telecast an Easter special of the program 'Compass' featuring the 'evidence for the Exodus'. They went into detail about interviews with the bedouin whose ancestors witnessed the Children of Israel encamped at the foot of Mt Sinai, the making of the golden calf, Moses descending the mountain, his anger at the idolatry of his people, and his final descent with the sacred tablets of stone. Since that time the bedouin have considered Sinai to be a holy place and go there for healing. The indigenous people of the regions surrounding Petra were also interviewed. They told how their ancestors witnessed the Children of Israel passing through their regions. They also have a 'memory' of Mary and Joseph's flight into Egypt.
1. Very good reply, Peter P
2. We must be careful that we don't become 'puffed up' with our knowledge (remember Eve)!
3. Re pastors: they need to be educated in Bible Colleges, not temples of atheism (universities). Yes I know that universities were Christian inventions, but they have been captured by atheists.
Your point #4 about the chariots is actually disturbing. If there is even one error in the Bible, then it is not inerrant. It sounds like you are saying there is definitely one error, but you dismiss it.
If there is even one error in the (still available) original manuscripts of the Bible, then it could not be called inerrant, regardless of how it got there. And if there is one error, how do you know there are not others? It's an extremely steep and slippery slope.
How do you address this issue?
OK, so here is where it is important to define what we mean by inerrancy. We believe that the Bible is inerrant in the original copies. We believe that they've been transmitted faithfully, but in a few places, like this example, there has been a small textual error that affected the number. Examples like this are very rare.
With #3 it also needs to be noted that differences in the witness's should be expected. Since Luke was a doctor, he alone noted Jesus saying "physician heal thyself". If all their testimonies were the same we would suspect collusion.
I would like to see more articles like this. I appreciate the science papers, but they're often way "over my head", and I can't exactly explain them to non-believers. This article breaks things down to simpler terms that I can understand.
This is a good warning for Christians as well who spend a few hours doing web searches for apologetic defenses. There is a LOT of misinformation out there on both sides, so it is very wise for Christians to be careful what they read and accept as truth and try to use to convince others.
There are many very convincing articles, videos, etc that can ensnare the unwary quite easily into false assumptions and belief in deception--a good example of this is the articles CMI has recently posted concerning the flat earth. I'm also dealing with this with a Christian friend of mine who has been utterly convinced of several fantastical conspiracy theories because of a poor understanding of the topic at hand and from spending many hours on the computer watching videos and reading articles that sound plausible when one doesn't truly grasp the fine details of the subject matter, such as how DNA actually works.
If I have a question on a particular topic or hear something claimed to be true that I don't know much about, I always start researching at places I know to have sound, Biblical judgement such as CMI. Oftentimes, especially on scientific claims, I'll find at least some mention of the subject and will get a clearer picture of what is truth and what is distortion. Even when the claim sounds plausible, if I can't find much about it, especially on bigger sites such as CMI, I always maintain my skepticism.
Thank you very much for this timely article. May God bless your ministry's efforts always.
Awesome article Lita as always! I would like to add a point to part #5. "If God was good, He wouldn’t have commanded/allowed X!" Man is not omniscient and is not the Creator of life. How can a person of limited knowledge(the skeptic) raise an objection against an omniscient God, who is the omniscient Creator and Who's nature is good by attempting to use an objective moral standard of what is good? It seems only logical to me that if one wants to use an objective moral standard against God, one must first acknowledge that an objective moral standard, hence what is objectively good, must exist in a non-subjective manor. The instant one acknowledges that an objective moral standard exists, it must have an objective source: a Moral Law Giver: God. It's a self defeating argument for the skeptic to raise.
More and more archeology is supporting the Bible. And films like "Patterns of Evidence -- Exodus" do a good job of making them public.
Rather than viewing the healing of the blind man/men as the same historical incident, why not view them as 2 separate events? The biblical context is different, and Jesus surely healed blind people more than once in his ministry. The same goes for similar parables like the wedding feast (lk 14:15 vs. Mt.22:2-14). As a traveling preacher/healer, He probably is not doing "one-off" healings and teachings but healing lots of blind, deaf, etc. and repeating his teaching to different people in different places. cf. John 20:30.
Some commentators do view them as separate incidents. But there is this same sort of 'two vs one' multiple times when we look at accounts in the Gospels. I.e. two demoniacs (Matthew 8:28) or one (Mark 5:2)? Two angels at the tomb (John 20:12) or one (Matthew 28:2)? It is a recurring feature, so we must explain it.
A-priori rejection of the supernatural is hypocrisy. Naturalism has no feasible natural explanation for 'nature' but relies on what can only be described as miracles contrary to nature.
In order to 'explain' the origin of the universe and life, naturalism insists that nothing became everything, then dead stuff became alive - all for no reason whatsoever. Such beliefs is blind faith - wilfully ignoring known laws of 'nature' that nothing remains nothing, dead stuff remains dead, and nothing happens without a cause.
So naturalism relies on what can only be called un-natural meaningless miracles. I much prefer to trust in a rational all-powerful God who says he created the universe as a home for us.
And of course this list is just scratching the surface. There seems to be no end to the weird and wonderful—no, scratch wonderful—objections they come up with.
Another I often encounter is a form of begging the question, but which CreationWiki wonderfully calls "Your theory does not work under my theory, so your theory must be wrong".
A typical example is that the Flood couldn't have happened when the Bible says it did (if at all), because we know of some civilisations (e.g. China) that have been around since well before that time.
The problem, of course, is that the dates they are citing have been derived using naturalistic (evolutionary) thinking, so the biblical account is being judged by how well it fits evolutionary dates!