May 03, 2016

Dear Christians: Answers to Questions for Atheists, Part XVIII

Today, we'll be doing two sections again: Bible and Prophecy. First, a few thoughts.

Again I'm encountering the author's belief that an atheist can't have read the Bible. As a former Christian, this is something that frustrates me. I encounter it fairly frequently. As I was raised in the church, I'm quite familiar with scriptures, and I've read the Bible itself several times, both before and after I left my religion.

When it comes to prophecy, I'm just at a loss. It's not my area of expertise, so I'm relying a good bit on other sources for this portion. I strongly encourage you to check out the links. They are excellent material!

That said, let's get to it, shall we?

1.    Have you ever actually read the Bible?

Multiple times.

2.    If the Biblical God DOES exist, could a lack of Biblical knowledge explain good atheism?

This doesn't even make sense. What is good atheism? Atheists who are good? Wouldn't they need to know what the Bible says in order to know what's right and wrong? You'd think the author would be making the opposite point--that atheists coming from a Christian background explain good atheism, but no, they went here...

Most atheists I know are more familiar with the Bible than the Christians I grew up with, for the record.

3.    Would you be willing to read the Gospel of John, just once, as if it were true and Jesus was smart?

I did this multiple times as a believer, and yet here I am, an atheist. So no, I'll pass.

When I read John, it wasn't just as if Jesus was smart. It was as if Jesus was God, because that's what I believed.

1.    Since absolutely no Bible prophecy has ever failed (and there are hundreds), how can one realistically remain unconvinced that the Bible is of Divine origin?

That...that escalated quickly.

I often hear this claim that no biblical prophecy has every failed. I even believed it as a Christian. But I have to be honest, after further investigation, I am surprised that anyone can make this argument with a straight face. Here's a few failed biblical prophecies, courtesy of the Failed Prophecies website:

Genesis 26:4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.
Here God tells Isaac that his descendents (Hebrews) will be as numerous as the stars.  Considering the number of stars there are in the universe, that would have to be on the order of 1020 Jewish people.

Isaiah 17:1 The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.
Damascus is still inhabited today with over a million people, and hardly a ruinous heap.

Matthew 2:23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
Nowhere in the Old Testament is such a prophecy found, so how could such a one be fulfilled?

And that's just three of them. Check out the site for a whole bunch more.

2.    How do you explain David's graphic portrayal of Jesus' death by crucifixion (Psalm 22) 1000 years before Christ lived?

Here's the chapter in question for those playing along at home:

22 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord's: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
This is a pretty standard psalm. They often describe the author in a state of despair, and they're not prophetic--they are metaphorical.

3.    How do you explain that the prophet Daniel prophesied the exact YEAR when the Christ would be presented as Messiah and also prophesied that the temple would be destroyed afterwards over 500 years in advance (Daniel 9:24-27)?

I'm going to hand this over to Rational Wiki:

Daniel's Seventy Weeks Prophecy
Dispensationalists claim the seventy weeks prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 predicts the crucifixion of Jesus and the Antichrist, in which the Antichrist will enter a third temple and commit a blasphemous act. This is false. According to Daniel 12, the Day of Judgement was supposed to happen 3 and a half years after Antiochus' persecution of the Jews in the 2nd Century BC. This would make Daniel a false prophet but most Christians still insist that it's describing a future Great Tribulation. 
Instead of predicting Jesus, most contemporary scholars think The Messiah in verse 26 (In Hebrew Translations, Messiah is translated as Prince) is Onias the third, a pious religious leader who opposed the Hellenization of the Jews and was murdered. Jews considered religious leaders and rabbis to be "annointed ones". 
The coming prince that will destroy Jerusalem and commit the Abomination of Desolation is describing Antiochus Epiphanes' reign of terror against the Jews during the Maccabean Revolt, not the Antichrist. Historical data shows that Antiochus committed the "abomination that causes desolation" when he sacrificed a pig to a statue of Zeus in the 2nd temple and forced the Jews to end their daily sacrifices. This occurred 3 and a half years after he established a covenant with the Jewish people and subsequently annulled it. The Books of Maccabees describes Antiochus Epiphanes in greater detail and goes so far as to describe Antiochus in the same manner as the coming prince in the seventy weeks prophecy. The entire chapter of Daniel 11 is obviously describing Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus considered himself divine and God incarnate. 
All references to the Abomination of Desolation in the New Testament are basically rehashes of the Book of Daniel. Paul wrote an epistle around 50 AD that said the "man of lawlessness" would enter the second temple and declare himself divine. However, since the temple was destroyed in 70 AD and none of Paul's prediction came true as Paul said it would, Christians have reinterpreted the prophecy to mean that the Antichrist would enter a revived 3rd temple and declare himself divine. This proves that Paul was oblivious about the temple's imminent destruction and was probably a false prophet.

Part of the issue here comes from not using the entire Hebrew scriptures (like the Books of the Macabees mentioned here) in Christian cannon.

4.    How could any mere human pinpoint the precise birth town of the Messiah seven full centuries before the fact, as did the prophet Micah?

Well, first you have to establish that this is a messianic prophecy, and no one has done that to my satisfaction. Given the contemporary events, it's far more likely that Micah was discussing a political leader, not a future Messiah. All references are to a military leader to combat the Assyrian threat.

However, beyond that, there's dispute as to whether this refers to a town or a clan. RationalWiki points out that authoritative, respected translations of Micah actually don't refer to a town at all, but to a people.


I'd like to leave you today with these criteria for defining an accurate, fulfilled prophecy, from RationalWiki:

  1. It must be accurate. A statement cannot be Biblical foreknowledge if it is not accurate, because knowledge (and thus foreknowledge) excludes inaccurate statements.
  2. It must be in the Bible. A statement cannot be Biblical foreknowledge if it is not in the Bible, because Biblical foreknowledge definitionally can only come from the Bible itself.
  3. It must be unambiguous. A statement cannot be Biblical foreknowledge if multiple outcomes could fulfill the foreknowledge, because ambiguity prevents one from knowing whether the foreknowledge was intentional or not.
  4. It must be improbable. A statement cannot be Biblical foreknowledge if it reasonably could be the result of a pure guess, because foreknowledge requires a person to actually know something true, while a correct guess doesn't mean that the guesser knows anything. This also excludes contemporary beliefs that happened be true but were believed to be true without solid evidence.
  5. It must have been unknown. A statement cannot be Biblical foreknowledge if it reasonably could be the result of an educated guess based off contemporary knowledge, because foreknowledge requires a person to know a statement when it would have been impossible, outside of supernatural power, for that person to know it.

These are strict, but really, they're not unusual. We'd apply the same standards to contemporary psychics or others claiming a knowledge of the future. Consider a horoscope. Here's mine for today:

You're raring to go and you'll feel really frustrated if you can't do something interesting or unusual at some point. You're starting to get itchy feet, too, so ideally you should make plans for a forthcoming journey or holiday. Even if you can't go away at the moment you'll enjoy dreaming about where you'd go if you could.

Now, let's apply the four relevant criteria from above.

1. It must be accurate.

Well, I have been feeling antsy. I recently joined a new atheist group, and I missed two meet-ups last week. I'm feeling lonely because it just occurred to me that in nearly a year in this place, the only adults I have talked to are my family, my spouse, and my best friend. I've made no friends. So yes: I'm raring to go. There's a meet up later this week, and I can't wait.

Not only that, but just yesterday, my husband asked me where I would go if I could go anywhere. As a huge horse racing fan, I naturally said Louisville, Kentucky, on next Saturday FOR THE DERBY! And it was very enjoyable to dream about picking out my hat, having mint juleps, and watching the ponies run.

So is it accurate? Relatively--BUT....

2. It must be unambiguous.

These statements could apply to anything. How many people born between June 22 and July 22 do you think are experiencing similar feelings? Even if you factor out those that already have those feelings, how many people through power of suggestion alone would be nodding their heads along to this horoscope?

3. It must be improbable.

How improbable is it that people would feel antsy and ready for something new? When that something new could be a trip or a relationship or a job...any of those are incredibly probable.

4. It must have been unknown.

Contemporary knowledge could more than explain this horoscope prediction. People are often unsatisfied with where they are and dream about doing something different--it's a really basic human instinct.

So, all of that said--these criteria are pretty useful for sorting out what's useful or not in the realm of prophecy. I'd encourage the authors of these questions to take a look at them and really consider what it means to prophesy something...

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