Evidence, Proof and Belief – Part Two

In part one of this article I looked very briefly at the nature of proof, evidence, and the case for God’s existence. In this second part I wish to explore somewhat more personal and Scriptural concerns. I especially want to look at the issue of openness to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

I have told many atheists on many occasions that you can have all the evidence in the world, but if you don’t want to believe, you won’t. It is that simple. Many people simply do not want to believe in God. To do so would require too radical of a transformation.

It would mean putting God back in the driver’s seat and putting yourself back in the passenger’s seat. But too many people prefer being the boss, calling the shots, and being accountable to no one or nothing. And it was exactly the same in Jesus’ day.

Jesus said this clearly in John 3:19-21: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

In this passage it is not the evidence that is keeping people from coming to God; it is their selfishness and sin. They simply do not want to turn to God, and proofs for God’s existence are hardly the stumbling block here. Moral roadblocks, not intellectual roadblocks, are the real reason for unbelief for many people.

And Jesus also had to deal with those demanding evidence. For example, in Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Both have died and gone on to the next world, with the rich man in hell and Lazarus with Abraham in heaven.

The rich man wants Lazarus to be sent to his brothers back on earth to warn them, so they won’t share in his fate. But Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them”. The rich man answers, “No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent”. To which Abraham responds, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.

So hardcore evidence is not in itself necessarily enough to change a person’s mind. If a person is bent on rejecting God, no amount of evidence or supernatural signs will make any impact. Indeed, God will not waste his time on such people.

Indeed, many times in the Gospels we find that the display of miracles does not always lead to faith. People saw Jesus doing all sorts of mighty deeds, but still many chose to not believe. As but one example, consider John 12:37: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him”.

Of course Jesus at times could offer basic empirical proof when it was requested. In John 20:24-30 we have the story of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus and Thomas. When the disciples report that Jesus is alive, doubting Thomas blurts out, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it”.

A week later Jesus appears to him and says, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe”. Thomas answers, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus goes on to say, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Or consider what we find in Luke 7:18-22. Disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Then we read these words: “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor’.”

Here is solid empirical proof presented by Jesus: what they have “seen and heard”. So there is a place for such evidence, but God seldom relies on it. That is because there is also an important place for faith. God is not in the business of flashing his powers around to convince people of his existence. As Paul writes in Romans 1, there is enough evidence of God’s existence simply in the created order around us to convince people if they are open.

God of course will not force anyone to believe, and those who have their minds made up will never be convinced of anything to the contrary. Jesus could well stand before atheists today with his nail-pierced hands extended and many would still not believe. That is because they do not want to believe, and no amount of evidence will move them.

So when atheists demand evidence, one has to be suspicious. One can rightly ask: Just what sort of evidence are you looking for? And why do you want such evidence? If you had the evidence you are seeking, would you then bow the knee? Or is this merely a smokescreen for your unbelief?

At the end of the day, we know from Scripture that God rewards the diligent seeker, but not the casual inquirer. And we know that he resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So those who come to God with a list of demands about what sort of “proof” they expect are likely to leave empty handed.

God will always reveal himself to the honest seeker who is willing to let God be God. But he will never bow to the arrogant demands of haughty unbelievers who simply want to play their intellectual mind-games. As God says in Proverbs 8:1, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me”. Or as we read in Hebrews 11:6, God “rewards those who earnestly seek him”.

Part One of this article is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/03/23/evidence-proof-and-belief-part-one/

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41 Replies to “Evidence, Proof and Belief – Part Two”

  1. Good article Bill.

    It is interesting isn’t it, how often you hear demands for evidence and “proof” but how rarely they are willing to actually set goal posts in the stand for you to offer evidence against.

    Of course, in practice they dont want to do that because, at least as far as I can see, if they do it will show either that they are totally unreasonable in their demands, or else they have to show their true motivation when they try to look reasonable in the evidence they ask for, and it is provided for them.

    Jason Rennie

  2. An additional thought,

    Wouldn’t it just be simpler if atheists and the like would be honest and just say, “look I don’t care about the evidence, I don’t want to believe in god, I don’t want to change the aspects of my life that would require to be changed”.

    At least then it would save a lot of arguing when they have no desire to be intellectually serious about an endeavor. I’ve met the odd atheist like that but they are few and far between.

    Jason Rennie

  3. Hi Bill
    In some ways, the problem is even deeper in that ‘proof’ entails definition of words and worldviews. The word ‘triangle’ is defined as having three sides, so is not really a ‘proof.’ Likewise, two plus two equals four by definition of the words we use to describe our number system.

    When atheists ask questions like “Who put God there?” or “Prove God exists” their questions are actually invalid. They are implicitly changing the definition of the word “God” by suggesting He is not eternal or in fact doesn’t even exist. In essence, this is the equivalent of questioning the definition of the word ‘four’ and whether it really is the sum of two plus two.

    To compound the problem, when atheists talk of ‘science,’ their definition of the word specifically excludes the supernatural and so once again we have another crucial word that, in the minds of atheists, eliminates the possibility of God. By their definition, the two words ‘God’ and ‘science’ are mutually exclusive.

    So, whereas they ask for ‘proof,’ they set up their own rules in such a way that nothing we can provide is valid. To them, we have to prove the equivalent of 2 + 2 = 5. Because the rules they define for acceptable proof are impossible, it merely reinforces – in their eyes – that they are right!

    I might add that changing the definition of the word ‘God’ or, from a theological point, changing His attributes, causes many of the problems we see in liberal Christianity whereby God does not have the ability to say what He means in the Bible without it being ‘reinterpreted’ or the power the ensure the integrity of His Word is preserved throughout the ages.

    Your article is very valuable, and we should always be ready and equipped to answer the questions of genuine seekers. However, when people are so closed-minded that their understanding of the words they use precludes the very existence of God, the tragedy is that their own intellect actually becomes the problem. Genuine debate is extremely difficult as they have to accept the possibility of something that their worldview explicitly precludes.

    Roger Birch

  4. Yes quite right Jason and Roger

    By deciding (as a faith commitment) that only philosophical naturalism is allowable, they have already set the rules and limits for what can even be considered as admissible evidence. If I decide ahead of time that all atheists are chronic liars, then of course I will be forced to reject whatever evidence they may have to offer. I have already ended the debate before it has even begun.

    So two questions at least must always be asked of our atheist buddies: “What exactly do you mean by evidence, or proof?;” and, “What exactly do you mean by God?”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. I agree Bill, although I usually find it useful to ask “What exactly do you mean by evidence, or proof? Can you please provide examples”. Usually in my experience when people are asked a question like that, it quickly becomes apparent that either they have no idea at all of what they want, or else they are demanding things that are obviously ridiculous with a bar set at a point that could not be reached even in principle.

    Jason Rennie

  6. Thanks guys

    The brand new book by philosopher Paul Moser, The Evidence for God: Religious Knowledge Reexamined (Cambridge University Press, 2010) is well worth reading in this regard.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Bill,

    When I saw these threads I thought at last you might get around to discussing the evidence for God. But your “evidence” still boils down to two claims:
    – that the Bible proclaims itself to be true so it must be so.
    – that we need an explanation for the “created order”.

    In another thread I pointed out that millions of gullible Mormons have accepted the supernatural claims and witness statements of that religion, yet non-Mormons dismiss it as a load of rubbish. And yet the events described occurred less than two hundred years ago and we have names and signed statements of the witnesses.

    Why should we attach any more credibility to books written thousands of years ago by persons unknown based on hearsay from anonymous witnesses? We know that the Bible account of creation is simply untrue as a factual historical account. So Genesis must be either a work of fictional fantasy, or a God-inspired symbolic myth aimed at explaining a complex story to simple peoples from a less enlightened age. Either way, it is not historical truth. Now I know there will be some here who believe that Genesis is literally true. All I can say is I feel sorry for you. Read the science. The physical processes that create stars and planets are still going on and can be observed. Creation was never a seven day wonder.

    So if Genesis isn’t factual truth, why should the rest of the Bible be true?

    The same considerations apply to the “created order” as evidence for God. Surely no one today thinks that God fashions the molecules of every tree, every insect, every animal, every human into a living entity? Instead we know that living entities develop according to the laws of physics and chemistry. We also know that all living things evolved from a simple beginning. The story is written in the human genome.

    Again, I expect there will be furious rejections of evolution here. But if it is necessary to deny empirical, observable scientific facts in order to believe in God, then religion is in deep trouble. And most certainly it is unconvincing to anyone with a modicum of scientific literacy.

    Admittedly there are two areas where our knowledge is inadequate – the origin of life and the cause of the Big Bang. But it is certainly possible for life to come from non-life given that the simplest form of life is a self-replicating molecule, i.e. a simple virus. And there are scientific theories about the Big Bang. Unfortunately you need a mind like Stephen Hawking’s to fully comprehend them.

    I don’t reject the idea of God. I just find the basis for Christian belief to be lacking credibility and evidence, and contrary to observable facts. I’m even willing to concede that there might be a supernatural explanation behind the ultimate origin of the universe. But that’s a rather different concept that the Christian God.

    Jason,

    I could easily provide examples of hypothetical supernatural events that would demonstrate beyond all doubt that there was some supreme being beyond our understanding. But what would be the point? Your response would simply be that God doesn’t stoop to doing magic tricks to prove his existence. So why can’t you provide the evidence you believe does exist? If your only evidence is the Bible, well sorry but you’ll need to do much better, as explained above.

    Veronica Elliston

  8. Thanks Veronica

    But sadly you once again miss the point. I nowhere in these two articles stated that I intended to provide proofs for God’s existence. I simply wanted to have a very brief discussion about such things as the nature of evidence and proof. I was addressing the very issues that you continually misunderstand and refuse to face up to.

    Indeed, it appears that you did not even read the pieces, since the very fallacies, red herrings and straw men that you keep utilising are the very things I address in these articles. Consider your cavalier and lightweight dismissal of anything said here by theists.

    For example, spare us this silliness about dismissing old books. If you atheists were just as dismissive of any other ancient documents, we would have to dispense with history entirely. Most atheists I know are quite happy to accept that people such as Alexander the Great existed, or Caesar. They do not claim as you foolishly and recklessly do, “Why should we attach any more credibility to books written thousands of years ago by persons unknown based on hearsay from anonymous witnesses?” You simply exhibit chronological snobbery here, as if truth is determined by the mere pages of a calendar.

    All documents and historical events can be tested and evaluated by the normal means. But again, that is not the issue here. The real issue is the fact that you have already made up your mind, and show not the slightest openness to any other options than the one you have chosen for yourself. We have presented numerous arguments and lines of evidence here which you have basically refused to even acknowledge or reply to.

    Indeed, you once again simply reveal your biases and faith commitments. ‘The Bible is neither true nor historical, end of story’. Thanks for a convincing and rational argument, without the slightest bit of evidence. Just throw out wild claims without any substantiation, and think that you have somehow won an argument.

    You simply tell us you refuse to believe all sorts of things, and then you expect us to convince you, using the artificially narrow and reductionistic parameters that you insist upon. Sorry, you have already closed off debate here, so no amount of discussion will convince you of anything.

    In the same way, you arrogantly tell God, ‘I demand proof on my own terms. You submit to me and my demands’. If God exists, he of course has no obligation whatsoever to submit to your mere dictates. By definition, you are the one who needs to submit to him, and let him call the shots. But you have already turned your back on God, insisting that you will be the centre of the universe.

    So at this point I see very little reason for going on with you. It is quite clear that your mind is already made up, and you have not the slightest intention of even considering counter-evidence. I prefer discussing these matters with honest seekers who are open to at least being persuaded, instead of dealing with those who just want to play little mind games and go on ego trips. If you simply want to tickle your intellectual palette, please consider other sites.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. I could easily provide examples of hypothetical supernatural events that would demonstrate beyond all doubt that there was some supreme being beyond our understanding. But what would be the point?

    If it is so easy could you please provide some examples of what you are looking for. I don’t think you can without in reality revealing that you really dont care care about evidence and the only examples you would show are ones that show how unreasonable you are.

    Your response would simply be that God doesn’t stoop to doing magic tricks to prove his existence.

    No I just want to see what you consider evidence. It makes it easy to see if you are actually as reasonable and rational as you want to claim you are. I suspect you are far less reasonable than you claim.

    So why can’t you provide the evidence you believe does exist?

    Because until you show what sort of evidence would convince you, it is simply a waste of time. What is the point of thrashing around pursuing a blind alley when you can easily provide some criteria and examples of the sort of things you would find convincing?

    I suspect like many atheists you aren’t actually interested in evidence and have instead already made up your mind. The way to show otherwise would be to simply provide a few examples of what you would consider good evidence looks like. The danger of course is that you will show that you are not actually reasonable at all, but that is a risk you will need to take.

    Jason Rennie

  10. Hmmm … an additional thought Veronica,

    My experience with atheists is that in general, they are not reasonable or interested in evidence. That has been my experience talking to them as well as my experience from being one when younger. I’ve met atheists that are exceptions to that rule, but they are exceptions not the norm, and typically the more an atheist claims to be “rational” and “reasonable” while refusing to demarcate their criteria for evidence the less rational and reasonable they in reality are.

    What is wrong with marking out with a clear example or two what sort of things you would consider as compelling evidence? Instead of being evasive?

    Jason Rennie

  11. In particular, your use of Luke 16:31: “But Abraham said ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead.'” resonated with me. After all, isn’t this passage about acceptance of the greatest proof for the existence of God: the Cross and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ? A stumbling block to atheists, fence sitters and the like who, as you have rightly suggested, are all too proud to demean themselves by accepting the consequences which this Truth inevitably leads to.
    Dunstan Hartley

  12. Veronica, you have missed the point. Bill wasn’t trying to proof anything about God’s existence as he doesn’t have to. He was talking about “proof” in itself. How much can anyone prove God’s existence to someone like you, who are at the “God doesn’t exist” point? It is your mind (EGO) over your heart. Bill has done enough here in his way to get anyone who wishes to discuss faith. You, and anyone who denies the existence of God, however, life (God) will one day make you face things you dont want too, give you challenges in order to break that Ego and make us look at ourselves, really look deep within and WONDER. We have all been there and as long as we have breath in our being, we will face these challenges because it is a mechanism to bring us back to HIM and WONDER and REFLECT on our existence and purpose here. You have in a way started I suppose questioning but you are still resisting by your own mind (Ego).
    Siti Khatijah

  13. Bill,

    We know about Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar from multiple sources. We have busts and images of them from their lifetime. But more to the point no writer has claimed they had supernatural powers. Is it so unreasonable that an enquirer should ask for evidence of such an astounding claim? Not “proof”, just evidence?

    It would be helpful if you could address my questions instead of resorting to an ad hominem attack.

    Veronica Elliston

  14. At least Veronica got the logic right:

    “So if Genesis isn’t factual truth, why should the rest of the Bible be true?”

    Even though her premise is false:

    http://www.creation.com

    Mansel Rogerson

  15. Thanks Veronica

    I always have to chuckle when atheists carry on about being into reason and rationality, and then they throw out comments such as yours! Let me call your bluff on the issue of figures from antiquity and historical reliability.

    We have only a mere ten copies of manuscripts for the writings of Caesar. And these copies are a full 1000 years later than when the originals were written. So the manuscript evidence for him is very poor indeed. Yet you seem to have no problems at all accepting his existence and what we know about him.

    Compare that to the more than 5,600 manuscripts of the New Testament that we now have. Those numbers are increasing all the time, and they date from as early as just 40 years after they were first written. Thus the manuscript evidence for the reliability of the New Testament and the existence of Jesus beats hands down all the other works and figures of antiquity. And there are numerous extra-biblical sources which speak about Jesus as well. Yet you keep dragging up this baloney about Jesus and the Bible being just so much myth, etc. I will leave it to our readers to decide just who is being reasonable and rational in all this.

    And of course we have been addressing your questions all along. It has just that you have chosen to ignore everything we have said. All you do is just keep tossing out your lame and tired objections which have been adequately addressed time and time again. I have twice now offered some titles for further reading if you were even remotely interested in getting some answers on all this. Yet you have steadfastly refused, demonstrating to all of us here that all your chat about wanting to have some evidence is all just bluff and bluster. Of course no amount of evidence will persuade a mind that is already shut. So as I say, if that is the case, then you are very quickly wearing out your welcome here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Anyone ever wondered why the ‘rationalists’ require 100% proof for the existence of God, but are quite prepared to accept the drivel produced by the IPCC, CRU and others when they profess to prophesy what the climate of the world will be in 2100? Hmmm!
    Dunstan Hartley

  17. No has ever seen Heaven or anything beyond the universe. So to believe that heaven or parallel universes exist is subject to one’s interpretation of the nature of the universe and its origins, using primarily the inductive method. Weather heaven exists or not depends on whether the Biblical revelation and Jesus Christ are what they claim to be. As stated, this is based on probability, and also on the philosophical and scientific necessity of a non-dependent self-existing first cause.

    The first ( belief in the existence of God and heaven ) is based on the verifiable reality that everything ever observed in the universe is “dependent” in nature, including the dying universe itself, and therefore is unable to bring itself into existence. No scientist has ever observed an exception to this reality, and the ultimate Nobel Prize awaits any scientist who discovers anything. And this reality necessitates a non-dependent self-existing first cause – God. The alternative is an infinite regression of dependent causes, with nothing ever capable of bringing itself into existence, not ever.

    All of which means that a non-dependent self-existing first cause must of necessity exist in order to explain why anything exists. Moreover, this necessary self-existing first cause must exist in a domain beyond and apart from the dying universe. Thus, the existence of that heavenly domain is, like the self-existing first cause, a philosophical and scientific necessity.

    The second (the belief in existence of supposed parallel universes) is mathematically speculative and empirically unverifiable. This hypothesis and all related theories are based purely on naturalistic “presuppositions” that can never be vindicated. No one has ever seen, or is likely to visit, a parallel universe, not ever. The actual existence of parallel universes is therefore based on unverified assumptions in association with unverifiable mathematics. In short, all the evidence points to the validity of the theistic world view, with both God and Heaven a philosophical and scientific necessity. Otherwise, there is no basis for existence.

    John Heininger

  18. Hi Bill
    You are 100% correct in stating that the New Testament is by far the best attested ancient manuscript record which, as you state, “beats hands down” all other ancient texts.

    However, your comment about the 5,600 manuscripts needs clarification. There are in excess of 5,000 GREEK manuscripts which pre-date the printing press, although the dates of these range over 1,000 years. The earliest, a fragment of the Gospel of John, has been carbon dated to about 100-110 AD and the rest have various dates ascribed from that point through to the printing press.

    The uncials, i.e. manuscripts written in only capital letters, mainly date from the 2nd to 9th centuries with two complete manuscripts dating to the 4th century . The bulk of the miniscule Greek manuscripts, i.e. those in upper and lower case, date mainly from the 9th to 14th centuries.

    However, that’s not where the story ends in terms of the attestation of the text. There are also many Greek lexicons (i.e. daily readings and studies) available and it has been claimed that a complete Bible could be recreated from the Bible references in these.

    Furthermore, the New Testament was very quickly translated into other languages and many examples of these manuscripts are still extant (these are called Versions). The main source is Latin (there are probably in excess of 8,000 copies of the Vulgate alone) dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries, but in addition there are manuscripts in Syriac (dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries), Coptic (from the 3rd), Armenian (from the 5th), Georgian (from the 5th), Ethiopic (from about 500), and Slavonic (from the 9th century).

    If that is not enough, there is evidence and confirmation from the Church Fathers who support the Greek text (the earliest Church Father writings being just before 100 AD, but in terms of specifically being used to support the text, there are many in the 2nd Century) and also many Latin Church Fathers writing from the 3rd century onwards.

    The net effect of this is that scholarly research over the past 150 years, often by those hostile to the content of the Bible, has concluded that we can be more than 99.9% certain that the New Testament text we have today is as per the original. There are in fact only 40 verses in the New Testament where there is any real debate on the accuracy, and none affect basic Christian doctrine.

    I really do fail to understand how anyone who wishes to debate on this topic – and presumably to have their views taken seriously – can dismiss this weight of scholarly evidence on the grounds that it was written by ‘anonymous witnesses’ as suggested by Veronica above.

    If even more ‘evidence’ of the 1st century events is required, what about the effect that this ‘story’ had on the lives of those who have been prepared to die for it over the centuries? The early Church Fathers were all writing about it, but equally, if you go back to the 1st century, we have Christians being fed to the lions in Rome – but then maybe the Colosseum is also a myth and the current ruins were built as a tourist attraction.

    Veronica suggests we know about Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar from ‘multiple sources’ and that we have busts of them to know what they looked like. The only problem with that, of course, is that is assumes (albeit reasonably) that the busts are in fact lifelike. However, the fact that no writer has suggested they had supernatural powers is quite simple to answer – they didn’t! (even though some Romans did look to Caesar as being a deity).

    As I said earlier, the problem with atheists demanding ‘proof’ is that whatever you provide, it is inadequate. I wonder whether this response might assist in terms of meeting her watered down request for ‘evidence’? It will be interesting to see.

    Roger Birch

  19. Thanks Roger

    To summarise this important point, the contrast just could not be greater. How many surviving manuscripts do we have of Tacitus? Just three. Of Thucydides? Only 20. Of Livy? 27.

    Yet with the New Testament we have 5,700 Greek manuscripts, over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and more than one million quotations from the church fathers. As one expert puts it, “New Testament textual critics suffer from an embarrassment of riches when their discipline is compared with other Greek and Latin literature.”

    And yet our atheist buddies want to complain about knowing nothing about Jesus and not having anything reliable to go on! Sorry, but I just don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. All the evidence and data goes with Christianity here. So does reason and rationality.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  20. To Veronica Eliston

    You want proof! Look around you by the things that are created. And by His Grace (unmerited favor) you may stick around long enough to realize and come to your senses. Perhaps you never actually looked at what the Bible says. Here are just but a view references. The Bible teaches us eg:

    The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Psalm 19;1

    The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. 2 Thessalonians 1;7-9

    But there is still hope for you yet. God loves you Veronica and Jesus paid the highest price for you on the Cross.

    For the wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

    If thou shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man
    believeth unto righteousness;and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:9-10

    I prayed that God by His Grace will help you to make the right choice. Because

    The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

    Robert Seghers

  21. Veronica Elliston writes “… religion is in deep trouble. And most certainly it is unconvincing to anyone with a modicum of scientific literacy.”

    Then Veronica goes on to say “… it is certainly possible for life to come from non-life given that the simplest form of life is a self-replicating molecule, i.e. a simple virus.”

    Veronica’s understanding of science is inaccurate.

    Unfortunately, viruses are often described as “self-replicating” and people without “a modicum of scientific literacy” misunderstand that description. Viruses are “eaten” by cells but resist normal enzyme degradation by the cell; they then take over the genetic replicating mechanism of the cell and reproduce within the cell, often creating such a mass of virus that the cell lyses (splits open). Without the cell, the virus cannot self-replicate and hence cannot be a precursor of cells, requiring the existence of cells to reproduce themselves.

    This is not advanced biology. It is first year university biology. It is probably a shame that it is not high school biology as it would reduce this unfortunate common misunderstanding of biology. But I find it humourous that people with such a poor misunderstanding of science criticise Christians for their scientific illiteracy.

    Graeme Cumming

  22. Hi All,

    I am going through many troubles and self doubt at the moment. I do go to church most times but for me it is not a question of weather God exsist or doesn’t exist or about the claims of Jesus. But I am at a point where I am angry and depressed. Is it possible to believe in God and the Resurresction but hate him?

    Carl Strehlow

  23. Hi Carl,
    I was like that, angry that is. Last year i was getting near the end of my patience. 6 years a single christian man. I so wanted a christian partner to share
    our walk together and sharpen each others swords and all the nice things but no, not for me, 6 years of prayer. Anyway long story short, as usual God knows us better than we know ourselves and the truth is I needed quite a bit of maturing before God was going to let me enter into blessed partnership. I get it now. This may not be what’s happening to you, but I know for sure, God knows exactly What he’s doing.
    Bless you Carl.
    Daniel Kempton

  24. So, for a rough graphical representation of Veronica’s attempted disparagement of the historical reliability of the Gospel, suppose I write this:

    Caesar
    Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus

    …and then Veronica might say something like this: “Why Mark, I do believe you’ve written about Caesar, but I’ve never seen you mention Jesus…”

    I hope you wake up and shed the blindness to your incredible folly sooner rather than later, Veronica, because with such a wealth of evidence, all that is really left is your obvious rebellion against God. God is patiently waiting for you to stop and give it up, but if you won’t respond on His terms He will let you have that Godless state forever. I pray you get wise and take His offer of eternal life instead.

    I suggest you read 2 Corinthians 4. And let me introduce you to something the Bible does quite often – speak with profound and unshakeable wisdom on different subjects simultaneously.

    My recommendation is that you focus on v2-4, and Carl can especially consider v8-10 & v 16-18.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2%20Corinthians+4&version=NIV

    Mark Rabich

  25. Thanks guys

    Our friend Veronica has well and truly used up her nine lives here (and in other posts). Every time she gets a reply she just goes off on another tangent. She shows not the slightest interest in hearing anything other than her atheist dogma. Indeed, she provides a good example of the atheist M.O., one that is as predictable as it is tedious. It goes something like this: Throw out an outrageous objection; receive a fully appropriate response; then just change the subject as if nothing has been said, and throw out another outrageous objection; receive another reasonable response; repeat over and over, ignoring all the evidence and argument.

    On an on it goes: same old same old. So after numerous chances to show that she has a shred of sincerity here about getting honest answers, she has been set adrift. Life is too busy to spend time with those whose minds are slammed shut and who just get their jollies out of arguing for argument’s sake.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  26. Great reading here indeed!

    It all just goes to reinforce that those with minds closed to God will simply not find Him! What a shock!

    Time and time again, I’ve heard of Athiests who have found God say the same sort of thing, that they had to get to a point where they said “Okay if you exist God, I want to see You” OR “Okay God I put my trust in You” and then.. Wham, God is seen by them.

    “Seeing is believing!” the Athiests scream, “Give us your proof!” they scream, but they will struggle to find God if they don’t accept what most Christians know deeply, that ‘believing is seeing!’

    I hope and pray that Veronica has the courage to take that step.

    George Kokonis

  27. Thanks Daniel

    It is mainy my selfishlness and personal troubles etc that do get in the way and annoyance that things in my life have not gone the way I want. this forum is not the place to go into spefics; But not the sort of really awful things that some people do go through.

    But I do have a problem with hell. I often wonder that there are really some lovely people out there who don’t believe in God or who choose to reject him, do they deserve the same punishment as a Himmler or Stalin? There are also sadly some Christians who are really nasty people. I am sure Bill would have written some article on the subject here.

    thanks Carl Strehlow

  28. Thanks Carl

    Yes I have written on hell before. A few thoughts if I may. The biblical view is that we are all at heart selfish and sinful. While people may seem “lovely” on the outside, they will still be full of ugly self-centeredness on the inside.

    But more importantly, God sends no one to hell. People send themselves there, by refusing to bow the knee to the one true God. It is as Milton said, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” If people insist on rejecting God in this life, then God is enough of a gentleman to allow them to take their decision with them for all of eternity.

    But as I so often tell people who raise the objections of hell and of those who have not heard the gospel: if you are really concerned about this, then make sure you are a Christian, and then tell everyone you can the good news of what Christ has done on our behalf.

    And if people who claim to be followers of Christ are indeed really “nasty” then we have a right to ask if they are in fact really true believers.

    The biblical view is that we are saved by grace through faith, not by our own good works or our own righteousness. But yes, a person who comes to Christ should experience gradual transformation as Christ works in him to become less selfish and more Christlike.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  29. Thanks for writing Bill,

    This will be last time I will write on the issue of hell or speak to you anyone else about it. You have been consistant with what I have read about Lee Strobel on the subject and with several people including a friend who will be ordained as a Lutheran pastor at the end of the year. I guess I knew the answer all along and you have put that issue to rest. I like the way you write and challenge people to look deep into themselves.

    As for telling of the gospel or God in general, I guess I am saddened that many points of view of God and relgion is bassed on Dawkins’ best selling book and John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’. All I can do is suggest them the works of Alister Mcgrath and Dinish D’ Souza. I have done so on a couple of occasions. There is plenty of good in relgion, especially Christianity which has done much good as I found out by Thomas Woods book ‘How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilisation’.

    Christianity has been a HUGE influance in our culture and how we all see the world, even science. I am now trying to refine my faith to know the good reasons for it and how to explain it in simple terms.

    Thanks Bill and Daniel too.

    Carl Strehlow

  30. Hi Bill,

    Regarding Julius Caesar we do have many contemporary witnesses. I guess the most famous is Marcus Tullius Cicero whose many writings exist to this day. There is correspondence about and with Caesar. Many of these were penned with his own hand so there is no doubt that Julius Caesar was real.

    I find it odd that with the 100’s or 1000’s of people Jesus and or the apostles met (while Jesus was alive) no correspondence was ever done between anyone. And of the people at that time, there is also no correspondence from them regarding Jesus, the apostles or Christianity for that matter. We need only look to Philo of Alexandria who lived at the same time as Jesus and in the same area. He was a prolific writer and well connected in the Jewish community. Yet not a word.

    I would be interested in your references for Jesus outside the bible as long as they are not the standard Josephus et al.

    The history to the bible is very interesting. Sadly many Christians that I discuss this with are quite ignorant to its path through time but without understanding how it came to be, how can one put the content into context?

    For those wanting a context to the Gospel of Mark and you have the time

    http://www.michaelturton.com/Mark/GMark_index.html

    It is an interesting read.

    Ben Green

  31. Thanks Ben

    But respectfully you are not really up to speed here: “no correspondence was ever done between anyone”?? Please spare us!

    In one sense it is true to say that the early disciples were basically going around risking their necks in seeking to spread the gospel, not just sitting around writing “correspondence”. Yet having said that, what in the world do you think the 27 New Testament documents are? Most are letters, correspondence! And there are plenty of others not found in the NT. And what do you think the more than one million quotations from the church fathers were all about? How many do you need Ben? Maybe you need to go back and read the latest Mark Rabich comment to get some perspective here.

    And what is wrong with Josephus? He is an invaluable extra biblical reference source about Jesus, as are Tacitus , Suetonius, Julius Africanus, Origen , Pliny the Younger.

    Given the kind of foolishness atheists keep digging up, I have to repeat: I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  32. Bill,
    You have written a little essay on evidence and proof then go on to make claims about Hell without a shred of evidence. That at least vindicates Veronica’s skepticism in part. Obviously she was not arguing for the sake of it.

    “While people may seem “lovely” on the outside, they will still be full of ugly self-centeredness on the inside”

    Is that always the case? As far as character goes, the most impressive person I have known is my own wife, a missionary’s daughter. Not only is she lovely as a person on the outside, she is lovely on the inside. She is not FULL of ugly self-centredness. If people were full of ugly self-centredness, then how would virtue and high character arise at all? There is a noble side to human nature and in some it brims over.

    John Snowden

  33. Hi Ben,

    Is that link you point to meant to be taken seriously? I only got a little bit into it and realized it has practically no credibility. For example, the quote “This means that the writer of Mark probably did not believe that Jesus was born the Son of God, but presents him as an ordinary human being whom God adopted as his Son.” Or this, “The story as it is presented is of course impossible; demons do not exist and disease cannot be cured by an instant of touch.” And this, “The miraculous aspects of this story rule it out as a historical event.” And then, one of the most ridiculous ones, “Nor is there any hard evience (sic) that the early church ever knew of Jesus’ grave’s being empty.”

    Oh really? Well that clears up all those pesky historical facts about the disciples running away at his arrest and hiding scared after his death, but still managing somehow to found the greatest faith in the history of the world. Because that can easily be explained without the resurrection of Jesus…

    You seem to be oblivious to this – such approaches create far more problems than they solve, which makes them highly improbable. But some people will do anything rather than face up to who Jesus really is. They’ll write nonsense like that, or they’ll swallow it uncritically. There’s plenty of gullible people out there, Ben, and it seems you might be one of them too. I mean, you’ve already effectively admitted to us how ignorant you are of early church writings! Honestly, why do you even consider such obviously convoluted rubbish passing itself off as worthy of your time? It certainly isn’t worthy of mine.

    Mark Rabich

  34. Thanks John

    I am quite happy to admit that my point of reference is Biblical Christianity. I find the gospels to be reliable accounts of a person who claimed to be God and who rose from the dead. Thus when he speaks about the next life I find his words to be credible and reliable. Of course all that can be argued for, but this is not the place.

    So that is the position I am coming from. I do not know where you are coming from. But I take the biblical pronouncements seriously, which include the teaching that we are all sinners, with a disposition to self and away from God.

    And I of course do not know anything about your wife. and don’t wish to drag personalities in here. But having Godly parents as a role model would explain some things. And if she is a believer then she has Christ living in her, reflecting his life through her.

    And if not, I have already answered your questions about the “noble side” elsewhere, eg.,: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/03/30/on-progress-and-human-goodness/

    The biblical doctrines of being made in God’s image and common grace explain why people can seek to be moral, even if not followers of Christ. And I take it that if your wife is a good as you say she is, then she would be the first to admit her many faults and imperfections.

    But Scripture makes it clear that “there is none that is righteous” and that “all of our righteousness is as filthy rags”. Until we agree with God about our actual condition and admit that we are all sinners, we will never be in a place to receive the forgiveness that Christ came to offer us. He said that he came to save sinners, and that the doctor does not come for the well, but those who are ill and know it. Of course all this cuts across human pride, and it is the chief stumbling block for so many who just cannot admit that they are in need of help. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. And the greatest sin is pride: claiming that we have no sin and therefore no need of salvation.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  35. Hi Ben
    To add to Mark Rabich’s comments above, I too started reading the so-called “Historical Commentary” on the Gospel of Mark provided in your link. Like Mark, I also didn’t get very far without listing numerous issues with it and so terminated my reading for no other reason than any response would be way, way beyond Bill’s word limit!

    So, I just did a Google search on Michael A Turton, the author of this “Commentary” whom I had not come across previously and found he is listed on the Secular Web website, a site “dedicated to defending and promoting a naturalistic worldview on the Internet.”

    In itself, that doesn’t make his comments wrong, but what it most certainly does is highlight the worldview of the author. What DOES put into question his work is the actual contents which are just so far from any scholarly consensus.

    It is one thing for you to cite this work, but another thing altogether to suggest that the writings of one individual on a site dedicated to its stated goals can, in themselves, overturn the work of the numerous scholars over the past 150 years, many of whom as I mentioned in an earlier post, have been antagonistic to the actual content of the Bible.

    You also state “many Christians that I discuss this with are quite ignorant to its [the Bible’s] path through time.” For what it’s worth, I agree! BUT… I might also add two riders: 1. in itself, such ignorance on behalf of the average Christian in church does not negate the Bible; and 2. I find the ignorance of most atheists with whom I talk on this topic even more disturbing! The major difference between the two is that the Christians may simply not know the background, whereas the atheists quote invalid information as being ‘gospel’ (pardon the pun!).

    With the greatest of respect, to cite the work you have done merely gives credence to Bill’s statement that it is you who is not up to speed on this topic.

    Roger Birch

  36. Thanks Roger

    Yes there is a wealth a NT scholarship to utilise here, and all our atheist buddies can do is come up with another lame theological liberal who simply wants to deny all the basics of historical Christianity. If atheists are genuinely interested in pursuing truth instead of just pushing agendas, they would avail themselves of such scholarship. Yet every time I offer to send out recommended reading lists, I never get any takers from these atheists. So much for genuine inquiry and openness to truth and evidence.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  37. Ben and others,

    A nice, easy to read, introduction to the evidence for the historicity of the New Testament is Lee Strobel’s book or DVD ‘The Case for Christ’.

    Lee, a legal journalist and atheist, tells how he set out to investigate the claims of Christianity by questioning high-profile orthodox New Testament Scholars. What began as his attempt to disprove the Bible led to him being convinced by the evidence that the New Testament is true and ended with his conversion to Christ.

    Available as a very inexpensive paperback:
    http://orders.koorong.com/search/product/view.jhtml?code=0310226554

    Mansel Rogerson

  38. Thanks Mansel

    Yes there are many dozens of such books which can be recommended. The trouble is, instead of truth-seekers we seem to have atheist fundamentalists who have already made up their minds and are therefore closed to any alternate evidence. But for the rare bird who is genuinely seeking, let me mention just one recent volume:

    Craig Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Eerdmans, 2009.

    If the honest seeker were to just read this one volume (and it is a big one – nearly 900 pages) they would find that most of the silly and shallow atheist objections simply melt away like so much morning frost meeting the rising sun.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  39. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for the link. Google books has some 100 or so pages available to read which I have now done. His views on the theoretical “Q” document are interesting. I will endeavor to get a copy of it. Much of what he says is good to read though he can be a bit wordy.

    Regarding the correspondence during the time of Jesus, You have taken me out of context. Of course there are many writings on Jesus but they all happen some years later after his death. My questions pertains to the time when Jesus was alive and hence my reference to Philo. I just find it odd that there were hundreds of thousands of Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Jews etc around at that time (up to AD33) yet no one thought to put pen to paper? On the other hand maybe they did but it is now lost??

    In regards to Josephus, there are many that do not think his writings carry much weight. Craig Keener also made mention of this. I think there is almost no argument that there has been “additions” made to his quotes. He wrote Antiquities in around 93 C.E so he also could have been exposed to Christianity in some form leading him to make mention. If he had written this before the writing of the first Gospel it would have been very interesting.

    As to the other outside sources you mention, I am familiar with them but yet again, their birth dates are outside the death of Jesus and in all honesty they do not have much to say.

    The link. The intention was to show a different view of a text (true or not??) but apparently it has not been received that way.

    Ben Green

  40. Thanks Ben

    The point is simply this: we have plenty of evidence for the historicity of Jesus, and no serious NT scholar questions his existence. We also have a wealth of evidence for the reliability of the NT in general and the gospels in particular – far more so than almost any other writing from antiquity. Atheists do not get all bent out of shape by other figures and writings in antiquity. But they do about Jesus and the gospels. That just tells us about their biases and predjudices, not their seriousness in seeking truth.

    And we are all well aware of atheists, sceptics and theological liberals who seek to deconstruct Jesus and Scripture. You don’t need to point them out. We deal with them on a regular basis. They are a dime a dozen.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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