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Response to critic of Creation Answers Book, Chapter 1

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David J. of Sweden politely takes issue with our online Chapter 1 of the Creation Answers Book, Does God Exist? In particular, he disagrees with our evidence for the divine origin of Scripture. Our book chapter by its nature had to be brief, and to be fair, we understand that David J.’s critique also had to be brief. We post his letter in its entirety first, then point-by-point response from one of the book’s co-authors, Dr Jonathan Sarfati, below.

Regarding the “social statistics for Australia”, some published analysis would be more convincing, that accounts for confounding variables (e.g. drugs, unemployment). From a skeptical point of view, on the unity of the Bible, one must take into account that only consistent books would be canonized and that some books may have been edited later to agree. Evidence for “make agree” edits are in the LXX. There are also plentiful surface contradictions in the Bible, which can be harmonized. In other words, a lot of consistency is due to a harmonizing methodology (i.e. it is not necessary from the text alone that they agree, e.g. on Judas’ death).

The quotes from the archaeologists are fine but not up to date. I believe Lev 17:11 means the soul is in the blood, thus science cannot be used to support its truth. Even if Lev would say heart or head instead of blood, one could with your reasoning say they support science. The health, diet and hygiene arguments are likewise weak: the Mosaic Law prohibited sowing two kinds of seeds in the same field, despite that it is often beneficial [Does Leviticus 19:19 prohibit the cross-breeding of horses and donkeys?]. You claim “People of old thought that the stars could be counted”, but no reference for that statement is given here nor in Gitt’s article. The Bible has passages that may sound a bit made up: talking snake; (the angel) talking through the donkey; water above the heavens (that’s why the sky is blue!); Lot’s daughters succeeded in getting pregnant; Jacob not recognizing who he had married before the next day; Samson slaying 1000 with a donkey jaw; giants (e.g. Deut 3:11).

Other religions have also inspired artists and sculptors (e.g. Hindu art). On “The Bible’s absolute honesty”, but the Greeks also admitted their gods erred greatly.

David J. writes:

Regarding the “social statistics for Australia”, some published analysis would be more convincing, that accounts for confounding variables (e.g. drugs, unemployment).

This would be reasonable, if they were independent. However, it is more likely that the rise in drug use and unemployment had a common cause. That is, the abandonment of objective meaning in life thanks to increased indoctrination that we are rearranged pond scum.

That the trends are real in America as well was shown by Dr Thomas Sowell in his book The Vision of the Anointed (1995). We outlined the reasoning in response to a similar criticism from Singapore, Refuting critic of a CMI church talk.

How did we get our Bible?

From a skeptical point of view, on the unity of the Bible, one must take into account that only consistent books would be canonized.

This presupposes that canonization conferred biblical status, instead of recognizing this status. Leading New Testament Greek scholar Bruce Metzger (1914–2007) pointed out:

You have to understand that the canon was not the result of a series of contests involving church politics. … . You see, the canon is a list of authoritative books more than it is an authoritative list of books. These documents didn’t derive their authority from being selected; each one was authoritative before anyone gathered them together.1

It’s notable that even secular experts recognize that the four biblical gospels really are the earliest biographies of Christ. It is still remarkable that books with such a wide disparity of authors and written over such a long time were so consistent. CMI published an earlier feedback response, Is the Bible our sole final authority? which further discusses how the Church recognized the canonical books. Later, CMI published the booklet How Did We Get Our Bible?

How authentic are our current Bibles?

and that some books may have been edited later to agree. Evidence for “make agree” edits are in the LXX.

However, with the NT, we have manuscripts dated to mere decades after authorship. No other document in the ancient world comes even close (see Should we trust the Bible?). We can also compare the OT manuscripts of Dead Sea Scrolls with Masoretic Text, and find that there is very little change in about a millennium (see Who wrote Isaiah?).

We agree that there has been some editing of the LXX, which is why we think that the Masoretic Text is mostly closer to the originals, which of course were mainly in Hebrew, whereas the LXX is a translation in Greek of the Hebrew OT. This criticism is like criticising the Bible on the basis of discrepancies in a translation such as the Latin Vulgate. We also agree that some later manuscripts of the NT were very slightly edited for harmonization and filling out OT passages. When I say “very slightly”, the differences are extremely small; about 75% of them make no difference to the meaning such as spelling variants, and no Christian doctrine depends on a disputable passage (see for example a New Testament specialist respond to a media attack on the Bible: Newsweek attacks belief in Scripture). But textual critics are aware of all this, and generally argue for the earlier and ‘more difficult’ readings as original. (Note that the term textual critic doesn’t mean someone who criticises the Bible, but someone who tries to reconstruct the original text from extant manuscripts.)

Bible contradictions?

There are also plentiful surface contradictions in the Bible, which can be harmonized. In other words, a lot of consistency is due to a harmonizing methodology (i.e. it is not necessary from the text alone that they agree, e.g. on Judas’ death).

I dispute that they are contradictions in the proper sense of the conjunction of the affirmation and denial of a premise, in the same time, place, and sense (i.e. p and not-p, or in symbolic form, p.~p). For any pair of contradictory premises, one must be true and the other false. The atheistic magazine New Scientist had a go with a decontextualized list of ‘Bible contradictions’ but fell flat on its face.

Certainly there are differences, as we would expect from different reports of the same events. Different themes and emphases would be expected. Further, some of the incidental details unintentionally reinforce each other, i.e. undesigned coincidences. As a previous feedback response explains:

E.g. why does John ask a relatively obscure disciple Philip about where to buy bread before He [Jesus] fed the 5,000 (John 6)? There are two incidental details that explain this: John had mentioned in passing that Philip came from Bethsaida (John 1:44), but a different Gospel, Luke, mentions that the feeding was near Bethsaida (Luke 9). If there had been intentional collusion, then John would have mentioned where the feeding was, and Luke would have mentioned Philip from the region. But as it is, it looks like two authentic accounts of a real historical event where different authors mentioned different things, which together add to the credibility.2

External evidence for biblical reliability

The quotes from the archaeologists are fine but not up to date.

But are they wrong?

I believe Leviticus 17:11 means the soul is in the blood, thus science cannot be used to support its truth. Even if Lev would say heart or head instead of blood, one could with your reasoning say they support science.

The word nephesh can mean soul in the sense of the non-material aspect that survives death. It can also mean a living creature (see Body, soul, and spirit). So the translation is reasonable. And accurate: we can’t do without blood. A heart surgeon explains further.

The health, diet and hygiene arguments are likewise weak: the Mosaic Law prohibited sowing two kinds of seeds in the same field, despite that it is often beneficial [Does Leviticus 19:19 prohibit the cross-breeding of horses and donkeys?].

More a difference of emphasis. There are indeed sound health insights in the Bible, which was the point of the CAB chapter. You are right that some of the laws are more about ritual purity, as explained in the article you cite, as well as Are we allowed to eat all animals today?

You claim “People of old thought that the stars could be counted”, but no reference for that statement is given here nor in Gitt’s article.

For example, Hipparchus of Nicaea (c. 190 – c. 120 BC), an outstanding observational astronomer and inventor of trigonometry, wrote the first star catalogue comprising 850 stars. The leading astronomer of the classical world, Claudius Ptolemy (c. AD 100 – c. 170), wrote Syntaxis, later called Almagest (meaning ‘the greatest’), which included an immense star catalogue. This comprised 1,022 stars, and he claimed that he “observed as many stars as it was possible to perceive, even to the sixth magnitude.”

Made up parts of the Bible?

The Bible has passages that may sound a bit made up: talking snake; (the angel) talking through the donkey;

Whether they are made up depends on your view of miracles. We know very well that snakes and donkeys ordinarily don’t talk—and so did the ancients! Indeed, most of the Bible doesn’t contain miracles; they are concentrated in particular stages of God’s working out His messianic plan in history.

water above the heavens (that’s why the sky is blue!);

This is related to an argument we refuted long ago: Is the raqîa‘ (‘firmament’) a solid dome? We see it resurfacing in flat earth agitprop today. Flat-earthism was almost absent in the history of the Christian church.

Lot’s daughters succeeded in getting pregnant; Jacob not recognizing who he had married before the next day;

The Lot episode was an example of the Bible not hiding the faults even of people called ‘righteous’ (2 Peter 2:7). Laban made sure Jacob was unaware of the identity of the bride. This included the cover of darkness (no electric lighting in those days) and a veil long enough to cover much of the body as well as the face (Genesis 29:21–30).

Samson slaying 1000 with a donkey jaw; giants (e.g. Deut 3:11).

The passage (Judges 15:16) doesn’t say that Samson slew them all in one go. 19th-century OT commentators Keil and Delitzsch note that the thousand can just be a rounding of a huge number, and there is also a play on the Hebrew eleph, which means both ‘thousand’ and ox, as in an oxload of men. The reference to heaps, first the singular then the dual form cḥămôr cḥămōrāṯāyim (one heap two heaps), implies that the victory was in stages. Samson makes another wordplay because chamor means both ‘ass’ and ‘heap’.

As for ‘giants’, people far bigger than the average Israelite soldier would be called ‘giants’. Do you have a problem with André René Roussimoff (1946–1993), 224 cm (7 ft 4 in) tall, being called ‘André the Giant’?

Other religions?

Other religions have also inspired artists and sculptors (e.g. Hindu art).

Of course, but nowhere to the same degree.

On “The Bible’s absolute honesty”, but the Greeks also admitted their gods erred greatly.

Yes, their gods could not be the foundation of morality, hence the Euthyphro dilemma. The difference is that the Bible was honest about the faults of even the people it called “righteous”. The OT was unique among ancient national writings in admitting defeats.

Jonathan Sarfati

Published: 5 March 2022

References and notes

  1. Metzger, B., interviewed in Strobel, L., The Case for Christ, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998. Return to text.
  2. McGrew, L., Hidden In Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, DeWard, 2017. Return to text.

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How Did We Get Our Bible?
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