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Paul Helm debates William Lane Craig on Calvinism and Reformed theology

Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!
Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!

I listened to this excellent discussion between Dr. William Lane Craig and Oxford University Calvinist philosopher Dr. Paul Helm. I think this is a useful discussion in general because atheists often bring up problems with Calvinism as objections to Christianity in general, such as:

  • If God knows the future, then I don’t have free will
  • If God controls everything, then I am not responsible for my sinning
  • If God has to override my free will to be saved, then I am not responsible for being damned if God doesn’t choose me

Details:

If God ordains the future, can humans have free will? Are people predestined for salvation? And what does the Bible say on the matter? William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher and leading proponent of Molinism, a view of divine sovereignty that seeks to reconcile God’s fore-ordination with human free will. Paul Helm is a leading Calvin Scholar. He defends the view that  God predestines the future, limiting human freedom.

MP3 of this show

Or listen on YouTube:

I was surprised because my Calvinist friend Dina thought that Dr. Helm won this debate, but I thought that Dr. Craig won. So without further ado, here is the snark-free summary of the discussion. I also sent the summary to Dina to make sure that it was reasonably fair and accurate. She said it was biased, but she was predestined to say that.

Summary: 

JB: Has Lewis had any impact on your apologetics?

Craig: Not as a scholar, but more as a model of a scholar who leaves a legacy through his published work

JB: How did you become interested in Calvinism?

Helm: Starting from childhood, and lately writing more on Calvinism from a philosophical point of view

JB: How do you view God’s sovereignty?

Helm: Strong view of divine sovereignty, God is sovereign over all events, but that doesn’t mean that they are determined by him

JB: What is Calvin’s legacy?

Helm: He amplified an existing concept of predestination, and wrote on many other topics

JB: What is Molinism?

Craig: Molina affirms divine sovereignty as Paul Helm does, but he also affirms libertarian free will

Craig: Every event that occurs happens by God’s will or by God’s permission

JB: What about open theism?

Craig: Paul and I both oppose open theism

JB: How does Molinism reconcile human free will and divine sovereignty

Craig: God has knowledge of what would happen under any set of circumstances

Craig: God has knowledge of everything that COULD happen, and he has knowledge of everything that WILL happen

Craig: God knows what each person freely choose to do in any set of circumstances and he can place people in times and places where he is able to achieve his ends without violating creaturely freedom and creaturely responsibility

JB: How does this apply to the issue of salvation?

Craig: The circumstances in which God puts a person includes God leading people to him and he foreknows who will respond to his leading

Craig: God has ordered the world in such a way that he foreknows the exact people who will free respond to his leading if he puts them in certain circumstances

JB: Does God want to save the maximum of people?

Craig: My own view is that God does order the world in such a way that the maximum number of people will respond to God’s drawing them to himself

JB: Is the Molinist view gaining ground?

Craig: Yes, Calvinists and open theists are both moving towards it, and Molinism is the dominant view among philosophical theologians

JB: Why has Molinism not convinced you?

Helm: It’s an unnecessary theory, God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge covers what middle knowledge covers

Helm: Calvinism has a stronger view of sin, such that God has to act unilaterally and irrestibly to save them

JB: Are creatures free on your view?

Helm: My view of free will is weaker than Craig’s view of free will

Craig: For the Calvinist, grace is irresistible, but for the Molinist, grace is effective when it is met with a response from the creature

Craig: The Bible affirms the strong view of free will, when it says that in certain circumstances people can freely choose to do other than they do

Helm: But if a person is in circumstances X and they are free, then why don’t they choose something that isn’t what God can foresee

Craig: In identical circumstances, a person has the freedom to choose, and God doesn’t determine what they choose, he just foreknows what they choose

Helm: How can God foreknow what people will freely do if people have this strong view of freedom that allows them to do anything? God would not know what people can freely do if they really are free

Craig: God has knowledge of what his creatures would freely do in any set of circumstances, he has knowledge of subjunctive statements

Craig: The Scripture is filled with statements that show that God has this knowledge of what people would do in other circumstances (e.g. – 2 Cor 2:8)

Helm: I am not denying that the Bible is full of subjunctive statements, but if humans have real libertarian free will, then God cannot know what they will do

Craig: I think God does preordain everything, Molinism has a strong sense of divine sovereignty BUT the foreordaining is done with the knowledge of what humans would do in any circumstances, so that what God ordains achieves his ends, but without violating creaturely free will

Craig: I take at face value the passages of the Bible where it says that God wants all persons to be saved

Craig: When the Bible says that God wants ALL persons to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), the Bible means that God wants ALL persons to be saved

Craig: So either universalism is true OR there is something that stops all from being saved outside of God

Craig: the something that prevents all from being saved is creaturely free will

Helm: Most people don’t have the opportunity to hear the gospel, so God doesn’t want all to be saved

Helm: People can still be responsible for what God “fore-ordains”

JB: Can a person really be responsible for wickedness if they didn’t freely choose it?

Helm: Even though God is the only one who can act unilaterally to make save people, the people who act wickedly are still responsible

Craig: Molinism provides an answer to the problem of why not all people have heard the gospel, because by using middle knowledge he is able to know who would respond to the gospel if they heard it and he places those people in the times and places where they will hear it

Craig: That solution means that NO ONE is lost because they have not heard the gospel

Craig: There is Biblical support for (Acts 17:27) God choosing the times and places where people will live SO THAT they will be led by him and be able to respond to his leading

JB: Is God the author of sin, on Calvinism?

Craig: If Calvinists define providence to mean causal determinism, then he is the cause of every effect including human actions, and he is the one who causes people to sin

Craig: This view (determinism) impugns the character of God

Helm: I don’t think that sovereignty requires determinism

Helm: God has mysterious resources – which I cannot specify – that reconcile his sovereignty with human responsibility for wickedness

JB: But if God is the cause of people doing wrong things, then how can they be responsible for it?

Helm: Well, humans do cause their own actions

Craig: Helm is right to say that God has resources to reconcile God’s sovereignty with free will and human responsibility, and that resource is not an unknown mystery, it’s middle knowledge

Craig: I can affirm everything in the Westminster Confession except for the one clause where they expressly repudiate middle knowledge as the mechanism for reconciling divine sovereignty and free will

Helm: Well, Calvinists have a strong view of sin so that humans cannot respond to God’s leading

Craig: Yes, and that’s why humans need prevenient grace in order to respond to him

Craig: God has to take the initiative and draw people to himself or they cannot be saved, but that grace is resistible, and that’s what the Bible teaches (Acts 7:51), so humans are still responsible if they resist God

Helm: My view of grace is that it is monergistic and irrestible, it is a unilateral action on the part of God, like pulling someone out of an icy pond which they can’t get out of

JB: If humans freely choose to respond to God’s drawing and leading, does that diminish grace?

Helm: Many are called but few are chosen

Craig: Molinism does not require synergism – which is the idea that humans are partly responsible for their salvation

Craig: In Eph 2:8, Scripture is clear that faith opposite to works, and responding to God’s drawing is not meritorious

JB: So receiving a gift is not meritorious?

Craig: It’s the passive acceptance of what someone else has done for you

Helm: But doesn’t this mean that you can lose your salvation, because you can accept and resist the gift of salvation?

Craig: That’s a separate question that Christians can differ on, but if the Holy Spirit indwells a person and seals them, then that would argue for the view that salvation cannot be revoked

JB: Doesn’t Romans 8 teach Calvinism pretty clearly?

Helm: This is called the “golden chain”, and it does support Calvinism

Craig: Actually, this text is no problem for Molinists because the first link in the chain is foreknowledge, which, if it incorporates middle knowledge, is no problem for Molinists

Craig: What God is electing in Romans 8 is a specific group of people that he knows in advance of creating the universe will freely respond to his drawing them to him

Craig: In Acts 4:27-28, it is talking about God’s foreknowledge, which involves and incorporates knowledge of what any individual would freely choose if placed in those circumstances

JB: If God actualizes a set plan with set circumstances for everyone, isn’t that very similar to Calvinism?

Craig: Yes! It’s a strong statement of divine sovereignty

Helm: Foreknowledge doesn’t mean that God knows what people would do, it’s just refering to God “knowing his own mind” about what he wants to do

JB: How do you respond to the fairness of God unilaterally and specifically choosing some people for salvation and choosing other people for damnation (because he refuses to act unilaterally for them)?

Helm: God ordinarily bypasses other people in the Bible, like when he chooses the Jews as his chosen people

Craig: The problem with that is that the Bible clearly teaches that God has a genuine will that all will be saved and he makes a genuine offer of salvation to all people

Craig: Also, just being a Jew and a member of the chosen people doesn’t mean you were saved, because some Jews rebelled against God

Craig: And there were also people outside of the Jewish people who were righteous and in a relationship with God, like Job

Helm: “the fabric of our faith” depends on God’s choice and his not-choice, it is fundamental to the Bible and to God’s character, and choosing them “effectively” (irrestibly and unilaterally)

Helm: The idea of God considering “possible worlds”, some of which are feasible and not feasible, with conflicts between the wills of free creatures in different circumstances, and then actualizing one world that achieve these ends is very messy

Craig: Some worlds may not feasible for God to create, for example a world in which everyone is saved – it is logically possible, but may not be feasible

Craig: God will not exercise any divine coercion to force people to go to Heaven against their own will

Helm: If God chooses a world because it is feasible, then he doesn’t love me directly, he is choosing a world, not individuals

Craig: Well, when God actualizes a world, he specifically knows which individuals will be saved within that world, but without disrespecting free will

Craig: The world isn’t primary, the individuals are primary

Helm: I think that middle knowledge can he included in God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge

Craig: The knowledge of what people would do in different circumstances is based on the freedom of the individuals

JB: Make your conclusions!

Craig: Molinism is a Biblical model for reconciling divine sovereignty with human freedom

Helm: It is intellectually mystifying to introduce this strong view of human freedom and it is not Biblical

Book review of R.C. Sproul’s “If there’s a God, why are there atheists?”

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Brian Auten has a book review posted up at Apologetics 315.

The book is “If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?”, by theologian R.C. Sproul. R.C. Sproul is one of my favorite theologians. The book in question has a very, very special place in my heart, because I think that it is one of the major reasons why I was able to resist pernicious ideas like religious pluralism and postmodernism for so long. Once you put on the glasses of Romans 1 and see for the first time what man is really doing with respect to God, you can never see things the same again. I’ll say more about this at the end, but let’s see what Brian wrote first.

The review

So often, you hear atheists complaining about religion is nothing but wish-fulfillment or some sort of crutch for people who are frightened by a variety of things. They think that God is invented to solve several problems. 1) how does the world work?, 2) is there meaning to suffering and evil?, 3) why should I be moral?, and 4) what will happen to me and my loved ones when I die?. On the atheistic view, God is just a crutch that people cling to out of weakness and ignorance. But is this really the case?

Sproul starts the book by investigating three atheists who sought to explain religious belief as a result of psychological factors.

Brian writes:

Before tackling the psychology of atheism, Sproul spends a chapter on the psychology of theism, from the perspective of Freud’s question “If there is no God, why is there religion?”11 What follows is an overview of various psychological explanations of theistic belief: Feuerbach’s “religion is a dream of the human mind.”12 Marx’s belief that religion is “due to the devious imagination of particular segment of mankind.”13 And Nietzche’s idea that “religion endures because weak men need it.”14 The author properly reiterates: “We must be careful to note that the above arguments can never be used as proof for the nonexistence of God. They can be useful for atheists who hear theists state that the only possible explanation for religion is the existence of God.”15 That being said, Sproul also reveals what these arguments presume:

Their arguments already presupposed the nonexistence of God. They were not dealing with the question, Is there a God? They were dealing with the question, Since there is no God, why is there religion?16

Sproul points out the weaknesses of each of these approaches and says “there are just as many arguments showing that unbelief has its roots in the psychological needs of man.”

Wow, could that really be true? What are the real reasons why people reject God? Does the Bible have anything to say about what those reasons are?

Brian cites Sproul’s contention:

The New Testament maintains that unbelief is generated not so much by intellectual causes as by moral and psychological ones. The problem is not that there is insufficient evidence to convince rational beings that there is a God, but that rational beings have a natural hostility to the being of God.

[…]Man’s desire is not that the omnipotent, personal Judeo-Christian God exist, but that He not exist.

In Romans 1:18-23, the apostle Paul explains what is really going on:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

On this blog, I regularly present many, many arguments for theism in general, and Christian theism in particular:

Sproul explains why atheists cannot allow themselves to live according to the evidence that is presented to them:

The cumulative effect of this knowledge that is clearly seen is to leave men ‘without excuse.’ Herein lies the basis of the universal guilt of man. No one can claim ignorance of the knowledge of God. No one can cite insufficient evidence for not believing in God. Though people are not persuaded by the evidence, this does not indicate an insufficiency in the evidence, but rather an insufficiency in man.

[…]The basic stages of man’s reaction to God can be formulated by means of the categories of trauma, repression, and substitution.

[…]If God exists, man cannot be a law unto himself. If God exists, man’s will-to-power is destined to run head-on into the will of God.

And this is the force that is animating atheists today. They don’t want to be accountable to God in a relationship, no matter what the evidence is. They have to deny it, so that they can be free to get the benefits of a universe designed for them, without having to give any recognition or acknowledgement back. If they have to lie to themselves to deny the evidence, they will do it. Anything to insulate themselves from the Creator and Designer who reveals himself in Jesus Christ.

The rest of the book review, and the book, deals with explaining in detail how atheists respond to an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator/Designer. I encourage you to click through and read the whole book review. You can read the review, and the book, and then investigate for yourself whether atheists really are like that.

My survey of atheists

By the way, did you all see my survey of atheists that I did a while back? It’s relevant because one of the questions I asked to my volunteers was “How you begin to follow Christ if it suddenly became clear to you that Christianity was objectively true?”. I got some very strange responses that dovetail nicely with Sproul’s book.

Here are a few of the responses:

  • I would not follow. My own goals are all that I have, and all that I would continue to have in that unlikely situation. I would not yield my autonomy to anyone no matter what their authority to command me.
  • I would not follow, because God doesn’t want humans to act any particular way, and he doesn’t care what we do.
  • I would not follow. Head is spinning. Would go to physician to find out if hallucinating.
  • I hope I would be courageous enough to dedicate my life to rebellion against God.
  • I would not have to change anything unless forced to and all that would change is my actions not my values.  I would certainly balk at someone trying to force me to change my behavior as would you if you were at the mercy of a moral objectivist who felt that all moral goodness is codified in the Koran.
  • He would have to convince me that what he wants for me is what I want for me.

This is all part of my series discussing whether morality is rationally grounded by atheism.

Well Spent Journey did a similar survey of atheists, inspired by mine, and got this result on the relevant question:

12. How would you begin to follow Jesus if it became clear to you that Christianity was true?

– Would follow (5)
– Wouldn’t follow (6)
Might follow the teachings of Jesus, but that isn’t Christianity (2)
– It would depend on how this truth was revealed (3)
– Christianity can’t be true (3)
– No answer given (4)

…What would be the hardest adjustment you would have to make to live a faithful, public Christian life?

– Adjusting wouldn’t be that difficult; would eagerly welcome knowing that Christianity was true (2)
– Praying, since it seems weird, creepy, and strange
– Trying to figure out how the Bible became so corrupted

– Trying to convince myself that the God of the Bible is deserving of worship (2)
– Don’t think it would be possible to adjust

– No clear response, or not applicable (16)

Yes, they really think like that! Just ask an atheist questions and you’ll see how “objective” they really are. Atheism is entirely psychological. It’s adopted in order to feel sufficient and to operate with autonomy, with the goal of self-centered pleasure-seeking above all. Evidence has nothing to do with it.

William Lane Craig debates Austin Dacey: Does God Exist?

Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!
Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!

Here is the video and summary of a debate between Christian theist William Lane Craig and Austin Dacey at Purdue University in 2004 about the existence of God.

The debaters:

The video: (2 hours)

The video shows the speakers and powerpoint slides of their arguments. Austin Dacey is one of the top atheist debaters, and I would put him second to Peter Millican alone, with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in third place. This is the debate to show people who are new to apologetics. The debate with Peter Millican is better for advanced students, and that’s no surprise since he teaches at Oxford University and is familiar with all of Dr. Craig’s work. The Craig-Dacey debate is the one that I give to my co-workers.

By the way, you can get the DVDs and CDs for the first Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Sinnott-Armstrong debate. The Peter Millican debate is not available on DVD, but the link above (Peter Millican) has the video and my summary.

Dr. Dacey’s 5 arguments below are all good arguments that you find in the academic literature. He is also an effective and engaging speaker, This is a great debate to watch!

SUMMARY of the opening speeches:

Dr. Craig’s opening statement:

Dr. Craig will present six reasons why God exists:

  1. (Contingency argument) God is the best explanation of why something exists rather than nothing
  2. (Cosmological argument)  God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe
  3. (Fine-tuning argument) The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos
  4. (Moral argument) God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and objective moral duties
  5. (Miracles argument) The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  6. (Religious experience) God’s existence is directly knowable even apart from arguments

Dr. Dacey’s opening argument:

There are two ways to disprove God’s existence, by showing that the concept of God is self-contradictory, or by showing that certain facts about ourselves and the world are incompatible with what we would expect to be true if God did exist. Dr. Dacey will focus on the second kind of argument.

  1. The hiddenness of God
  2. The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
  3. The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
  4. Naturalistic evolution
  5. The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering

One final point:

One thing that I have to point out is that Dr. Dacey quotes Brian Greene during the debate to counter Dr. Craig’s cosmological argument. Dr. Craig could not respond because he can’t see the context of the quote. However, Dr. Craig had a rematch with Dr. Dacey where was able to read the context of the quote and defuse Dr. Dacey’s objection. This is what he wrote in his August 2005 newsletter after the re-match:

The following week, I was off an another three-day trip, this time to California State University at Fresno. As part of a week of campus outreach the Veritas Forum scheduled a debate on the existence of God between me and Austin Dacey, whom I had debated last spring at Purdue University. In preparation for the rematch I adopted two strategies: (1) Since Dacey had come to the Purdue debate with prepared speeches, I decided to throw him for a loop by offering a different set of arguments for God, so that his canned objections wouldn’t apply. I chose to focus on the cosmological argument, giving four separate arguments for the beginning of the universe, and on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. (2) I reviewed our previous debate carefully, preparing critiques of his five atheistic arguments. In the process I found that he had seriously misunderstood or misrepresented a statement by a scientist on the Big Bang; so I brought along the book itself in case Dacey quoted this source again. I figured he might change his arguments just as I was doing; but I wanted to be ready in case he used his old arguments again.

[…]The auditorium was packed that night for the debate, and I later learned that there were overflow rooms, too. To my surprise Dr. Dacey gave the very same case he had presented at Purdue; so he really got clobbered on those arguments. Because he wasn’t prepared for my new arguments, he didn’t even respond to two of my arguments for the beginning of the universe, though he did a credible job responding to the others. I was pleased when he attacked the Big Bang by quoting the same scientist as before, because I then held up the book, specified the page number, and proceeded to quote the context to show what the scientist really meant.

Dr. Craig is always prepared!

Is the text of the Bible we have today different from the originals?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

I thought it might be a good idea to write something about whether the Bible is generally reliable as a historical document. Lots of people like to nitpick about things that are difficult to verify, but the strange thing is that even skeptical historians accept many of the core narratives found in the Bible. Let’s start with a Christian historian, then go to a non-Christian one.

First, let’s introduce New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace:

Daniel B. Wallace
Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies

BA, Biola University, 1975; ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; PhD, 1995.

Dr. Wallace… is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Society of Papyrologists, and the Evangelical Theological Society (of which he was president in 2016). He has been a consultant for several Bible translations. He has written, edited, or contributed to more than three dozen books, and has published articles in New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum, Biblica, Westminster Theological Journal, Bulletin of Biblical Review, the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and several other peer-reviewed journals. His Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament is the standard intermediate Greek grammar and has been translated into more than a half-dozen languages.

Here is an article by Dr. Wallace that corrects misconceptions about the transmission and translation of the Testament.

He lists five in particular:

  • Myth 1: The Bible has been translated so many times we can’t possibly get back to the original.
  • Myth 2: Words in red indicate the exact words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Myth 3: Heretics have severely corrupted the text.
  • Myth 4: Orthodox scribes have severely corrupted the text.
  • Myth 5: The deity of Christ was invented by emperor Constantine.

Let’s look at #4 in particular, where the argument is that the text of the New Testament is so riddled with errors that we can’t get back to the original text.

It says:

Myth 4: Orthodox scribes have severely corrupted the text.

This is the opposite of myth #3. It finds its most scholarly affirmation in the writings of Dr. Bart Ehrman, chiefly The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture and Misquoting Jesus. Others have followed in his train, but they have gone far beyond what even he claims. For example, a very popular book among British Muslims (The History of the Qur’anic Text from Revelation to Compilation: a Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments by M. M. Al-Azami) makes this claim:

The Orthodox Church, being the sect which eventually established supremacy over all the others, stood in fervent opposition to various ideas ([a.k.a.] ‘heresies’) which were in circulation. These included Adoptionism (the notion that Jesus was not God, but a man); Docetism (the opposite view, that he was God and not man); and Separationism (that the divine and human elements of Jesus Christ were two separate beings). In each case this sect, the one that would rise to become the Orthodox Church, deliberately corrupted the Scriptures so as to reflect its own theological visions of Christ, while demolishing that of all rival sects.”

This is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. Even Ehrman admitted in the appendix to Misquoting Jesus, “Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.” The extent to which, the reasons for which, and the nature of which the orthodox scribes corrupted the New Testament has been overblown. And the fact that such readings can be detected by comparison with the readings of other ancient manuscripts indicates that the fingerprints of the original text are still to be seen in the extant manuscripts.

Here is the full quote from the appendix of Misquoting Jesus:

“Bruce Metzger is one of the great scholars of modern times, and I dedicated the book to him because he was both my inspiration for going into textual criticism and the person who trained me in the field. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him. And even though we may disagree on important religious questions – he is a firmly committed Christian and I am not – we are in complete agreement on a number of very important historical and textual questions. If he and I were put in a room and asked to hammer out a consensus statement on what we think the original text of the New Testament probably looked like, there would be very few points of disagreement – maybe one or two dozen places out of many thousands. The position I argue for in ‘Misquoting Jesus’ does not actually stand at odds with Prof. Metzger’s position that the essential Christian beliefs are not affected by textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”

Finally, I think that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows us that religious texts don’t change as much as we think they do over time.

Look:

The Dead Sea Scrolls play a crucial role in assessing the accurate preservation of the Old Testament. With its hundreds of manuscripts from every book except Esther, detailed comparisons can be made with more recent texts.

The Old Testament that we use today is translated from what is called the Masoretic Text. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars who between A.D. 500 and 950 gave the Old Testament the form that we use today. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, the oldest Hebrew text of the Old Testament was the Masoretic Aleppo Codex which dates to A.D. 935.{5}

With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now had manuscripts that predated the Masoretic Text by about one thousand years. Scholars were anxious to see how the Dead Sea documents would match up with the Masoretic Text. If a significant amount of differences were found, we could conclude that our Old Testament Text had not been well preserved. Critics, along with religious groups such as Muslims and Mormons, often make the claim that the present day Old Testament has been corrupted and is not well preserved. According to these religious groups, this would explain the contradictions between the Old Testament and their religious teachings.

After years of careful study, it has been concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls give substantial confirmation that our Old Testament has been accurately preserved. The scrolls were found to be almost identical with the Masoretic text. Hebrew Scholar Millar Burrows writes, “It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.'”{6}

A significant comparison study was conducted with the Isaiah Scroll written around 100 B.C. that was found among the Dead Sea documents and the book of Isaiah found in the Masoretic text. After much research, scholars found that the two texts were practically identical. Most variants were minor spelling differences, and none affected the meaning of the text.

One of the most respected Old Testament scholars, the late Gleason Archer, examined the two Isaiah scrolls found in Cave 1 and wrote, “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”{7}

Despite the thousand year gap, scholars found the Masoretic Text and Dead Sea Scrolls to be nearly identical. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide valuable evidence that the Old Testament had been accurately and carefully preserved.

I hope that this post will help those who think that we can’t get back to the text of the original New Testament documents.

Christopher Hitchens debates William Lane Craig at Biola U: Does God Exist?

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to university students

Here is the video of the debate:

TOPIC: DOES GOD EXIST?

MY NOTES ON THE DEBATE: (WC = William Lane Craig, CH = Christopher Hitchens)

WC opening speech:

Introduction:

WC makes two contentions:
– there are no good arguments for atheism
– there are good arguments for theism

These topics are IRRELEVANT tonight:
– social impact of christianity
– morality of Old Testament passages
– biblical inerrancy
– the debate is whether god (a creator and designer of the universe) exists

1. cosmological argument
– an actually infinite number of past events is impossible
– number of past events must be finite
– therefore universe has a beginning
– the beginning of the universe is confirmed by science –  universe began to exist from nothing
– space, time, matter, energy began at the big bang
– the creation of the universe requires a cause
– the cause is uncaused, timeless, spaceless, powerful
– the cause must be beyond space and time, because it created space and time
– the cause is not physical, because it created all matter and energy
– but there are only two kinds of non-physical cause: abstract objects or minds
– abstract objects don’t cause effects
– therefore must be mind

2. teleological argument
– fine-tuned constants and ratios
– constants not determined by laws of nature
– also, there are arbitrary quantities
– constants and quantities are in narrow range of life-permitting values
– an example: if the weak force were different by 1 in 10 to the 100, then no life
– there are 3 explanations: physical law or chance or design
– not due to law: because constants and quantities are independent of the laws
– not due to chance: the odds are too high for chance
– therefore, due to design
– the atheist response is the world ensemble (multiverse)
– but world ensemble has unobservable universes, no evidence that they exist
– and world ensemble contradicts scientific observations we have today

3. moral argument
– objective moral values are values that exist regardless of what humans think
– objective values are not personal preferences
– objective values are not evolved standards that cultures have depending on time and place
– objective moral values and duties exist
– objective moral values and duties require a moral lawgiver

4. argument from resurrection miracle
– resurrection implies miracle
– miracle implies God
– 3 minimal facts pass the historical tests (early attestation, eyewitness testimony, multiple attestation, etc.)
– minimal fact 1: empty tomb
– minimal fact 2: appearances
– minimal fact 3: early belief in the resurrection
– jewish theology prohibits a dying messiah – messiah is not supposed to die
– jewish theology has a general resurrection of everybody, there is not supposed to be a resurrection of one person
– jewish theology certainly does not predict a single resurrection of the messiah after he dies
– therefore, the belief in the resurrection is unlikely to have been invented
– disciples were willing to die for that belief in the resurrection
– naturalistic explanations don’t work for the 3 minimal facts

5. properly basic belief in god
– religious experience is properly basic
– it’s just like the belief in the external world, grounded in experience
– in the absence of defeaters, those experiences are valid

Conclusion: What CH must do:
– destroy all 5 of WC’s arguments
– erect his own case in its place

CH opening speech:

1. evolution disproves biological design argument
– evolution disproves paley’s argument for a watchmaker

2. god wouldn’t have done it that way
– god wouldn’t have waited that long before the incarnation
– mass extinction and death before Jesus
– god wouldn’t have allowed humans to have almost gone extinct a while back in africa
– why insist that this wasteful and incompetent history of life is for us, that’s a bad design
– the universe is so vast, why would god need so much space, that’s a bad design
– there is too much destruction in the universe, like exploding stars – that’s a bad design
– the heat death of the universe is a bad design
– too many of the other planets don’t support life, that’s a bad design
– the sun is going to become a red giant and incinerate us, that’s a bad design

3. hitchens’ burden of proof
– there is no good reason that supports the existence of god
– all arguments for god can be explained without god
– atheists can’t prove there is no god
– but they can prove there is no good argument for god

4. craig’s scientific arguments don’t go far enough, they only prove deism, not theism
– the scientific arguments don’t prove prayer works
– the scientific arguments don’t prove specific moral teachings of christianity

5. if the laws of physics are so great then miracles shouldn’t be allowed
– good laws and miracles seem to be in contradiction

6. extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence
– none of craig’s evidence was extraordinary

7. science can change, so craig can’t use the progress of science
– it’s too early for craig to use the big bang and fine-tuning
– the big bang and fine-tuning evidences are too new
– they could be overturned by the progress of science

8. craig wrote in his book that the internal conviction of god’s existence should trump contradicting evidence
– but then he isn’t forming his view based on evidence
– he refuses to let evidence disprove his view
– but then how can atheists be to blame if they don’t believe
– so evidence is not really relevant to accepting theism

9. the progress of science has disproved religion
– christianity taught that earth was center of the universe
– but then cosmology disproved that

Response to the big bang and fine-tuning arguments:
– was there pre-existing material?
– who designed the designer?

WC first rebuttal:

Reiterates his 2 basic contentions

CH agrees that there is no good argument for atheism
– then all you’ve got is agnosticism
– because CH did not claim to know there is no God
– and he gave no arguments that there is no God

CH’s evolution argument
– irrelevant to christianity
– Genesis 1 allows for evolution to have occurred
– christianity is not committed to young earth creationism
– the origin of biological diversity is not central to christianity
– st. augustine in 300 AD said days can be long, special potencies unfold over time
– also there are scientific reasons to doubt evolution
– cites barrow and tipler, and they say:
– each of 10 steps in evolution is very improbable
– chances are so low, it would be a miracle if evolution occurred

CH’s argument that god is wasteful
– efficiency is only important to people with limited time or limited resources
– therefore god doesn’t need to be efficient

CH’s argument that god waits too long to send Jesus
– population was not that high before jesus
– jesus appears just before the exponential explosion of population
– conditions were stable – roman empire, peace, literacy, law, etc.

CH’s argument that Craig’s scientific arguments only prove deism, not theism
– deism a type of theism, so those scientific arguments work
– all that deism denies is miraculous intervention

CH’s argument that Craig has a burden of proof
– theism doesn’t need to be proven with certainty
– must only prove best explanation of the evidence

CH’s citation of Craig’s book saying that evidence should not overrule experience
– there is a difference between knowing and showing christianity is true
– knowing is by religious experience which is a properly basic belief
– showing is done through evidence, and there the evidence does matter

CH’s rebuttal to the big bang
– there was no pre-existent material
– space and time and matter came into being at the big bang
– the cause must be non-physical and eternal
– cause of universe outside of time means = cause of universe did not begin to exist
– this is the state of science today

CH’s rebuttal to the fine tuning
– CH says scientists are uncertain about the fine-tuning
– craig cites martin rees, an atheist, astronomer royal, to substantiate the fine tuning
– the fine-tuning is necessary for  minimal requirements for life of any kind
– the progress of science is not going to dethrone the fine-tuning

CH’s argument about heat death of the universe
– duration of design is irrelevant to whether something was designed
– cars are designed, yet they break down
– design need not be optimal to be designed
– ch is saying why create if we all eventually go extinct
– but life doesn’t end in the grave on christianity

CH’s rebuttal to the moral argument
– CH says no obj moral values
– but CH uses them to argue against god and christians
– but CH has no foundation for a standard that applies to God and Christians

CH’s rebuttal to the resurrection argument
– empty tomb and appearances are virtually certain
– these are minimal facts, well evidenced using standard historical criteria
– best explanation of these minimal facts is the resurrection

CH’s rebuttal to religious experience
– prop basic belief is rational in the absence of defeaters
– so long as craig has no psychological deficiency, experience is admissible

CH first rebuttal:

it’s not agnosticism
– if there are no good arguments for theism
– then there is no reason for belief in god
– that is atheism
– everything can be explained without god

god wouldn’t have done it that way
– homo sapiens is 100K years old
– for 98K years, they had no communication from God
– lots of people died in childbirth
– disease and volcanos are a mystery to them
– life expectancy is very low
– they die terrible deaths
– their teeth are badly designed
– their genitalia are badly designed
– why solve the problem of sin by allowing a man to be tortured to death
– that’s a stupid, cruel, bumbling plan

lots of people haven’t even heard of jesus
– many of them die without knowing about him
– they cannot be held responsible if they do not know about jesus

the early success of christianity doesn’t prove christianity is true
– because then it applies to mormonism and islam, they’re growing fast

objective morality
– belief in a supreme dictator doesn’t improve moral behavior
– i can do moral actions that you can do
– i can repeat moral positions that you can say

religious people are immoral
– genital mutilation
– suicide bombing

moral behavior doesn’t need god
– we need to act moral for social cohesion
– it evolved for our survival
– that’s why people act morally
– it’s degrading to humans, and servile, to require god for morality

free will
– i believe in free will
– i don’t know why, because i can’t ground free will on atheism
– a bossy god seems to reduce free will because then we are accountable to god

WC cross-examination of CH:

WC why call yourself an atheist when you have no reasons?

CH because absence of belief is atheism

WC but agnosticism, atheism, verificationism all don’t hold that belief, which are you?

CH i think god does not exist

WC ok give me an argument for the claim you just made to know god does not exist

CH i have no argument, but i don’t believe in god because it depresses me to think he might be real

WC would you agree that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?

CH no i don’t agree

WC moral argument: it’s not epistemology it’s the ontology – have you got a foundation for moral values and duties?

CH i do not, it’s just evolution, an evolved standard based on social cohesion

CH cross-examination of WC:

CH you said that the historical reports of jesus doing exorcisms are generally accepted – do you believe in devils?

WC i commit to nothing, what I am saying there historical concensus on the reports that jesus did exorcisms

CH what about the devils going into the pigs, do you believe that?

WC yes i do, but the main point i’m making is that the historical reports show that jesus acted with divine authority

CH do you believe in the virgin birth?

WC yes, but that’s not historically provable using the minimal facts methods, and i did not use the virgin birth in my arguments tonight, because it doesn’t pass the historical tests to be a minimal fact

CH do you believe that all the graves opened and dead people all came out?

WC not sure if the author intended that part as apocalyptic imagery or as literal, i have no opinion on it, have not studied it

CH do exorcisms prove son of god?

WC no, i am only saying that the historical reports show that jesus exercised authority and put himself in the place of god

CH  are any religions false? name one that’s false

WC islam

CH so some religions are wicked right?

WC yes

CH if a baby were born in saudi arabia would it be better if it were an atheist or a muslim?

WC i have no opinion on that

CH are any christian denominations wrong?

WC calvinism is wrong about some things, but they are still christians, i could be wrong about some things, i do the best i can studying theology so i’m not wrong

WC second rebuttal

Response to CH arguments:

no reasons for atheism
– no reasons to believe that god does not exist
– ch withholds belief in god

why wait so long before contacting humans with jesus
– population matters, not time – jesus waited until there was about to be a population explosion
– there is natural revelation (Romans 1) for those who lived before christ

what about those who never heard
– (Acts 17:22-31) god chooses the time and place of each person who is born to optimize their opportunity to know him based on how they will respond to evidence (this is called middle knowledge)
– those who haven’t heard will be judged based on general revelation

WC re-assess the state of his five arguments:

cosmological argument
– heat death of the universe won’t happen on christianity

moral argument
– if no objective moral standard, can’t judge other cultures as wrong
– no transcendent objective standard to be able to judge slavery as wrong

name an action argument
– e.g. – tithing
– the greatest command – love the lord your god your god with everything you’ve got
– atheists can’t do that, and that is the biggest commandment to follow

moral obligations
– there are no objective moral obligations for anyone on atheism
– on atheism, you feel obligated because of genetics and social pressure
– on atheism, we’re animals, and animals don’t have moral obligations

resurrection
– the belief in resurrection of 1 man, the messiah is totally unexpected on judaism
– they would not have made this up, it was unexpected

religious experience
– experience is valid in the absence of defeaters

CH second rebuttal:

faith and reason
– Tertullian says faith is better when it’s against reason

it’s easy to start a rumor with faith-based people
– mother teresa: to be canonized she needs to have done a miracle
– so there was a faked miracle report
– but everybody believes the fake miracle report!
– this proves that religious rumors are easy to start
– the resurrection could have started as a similar rumor by people wanting to believe it

name an action
– tithing is a religious action, i don’t have to do that

moral argument
– i can be as moral as you can without god
– i can say that other cultures are wrong, there i just said it
– without god, people would still be good, so god isn’t needed

religious people did bad things in history
– this church did a bad thing here
– that church did a bad thing there
– therfore god doesn’t exist

religion is the outcome of man’s struggle with natural phenomenon
– that is why there are so many religions

WC concluding speech

no arguments for atheism presented

What CH has said during the debate:
– god bad, mother teresa bad, religion bad

atheism is a worldview
– it claims to know the truth
– therefore it is exclusive of other views

what does theism explain
– theism explains a broad range of experiences
– origin of universe, CH has dropped the point
– fine-tuning, CH has dropped the point
– moral, CH says that humans are no different from animals – but an evolved standard is illusory, there are no actual moral values and standards, it’s just a genetic predisposition to act in a certain way – that’s not prescriptive morality
– resurrection, CH has dropped the point
– experience, craig tells his testimony and urges the audience to give it a shot

CH concluding speech

HITCHENS YIELDS HIS ENTIRE CONCLUDING SPEECH!

A question & answer Period followed end of the formal debate

Further study

Check out my analysis of the 11 arguments Hitchens made in his opening speech in his debate with Frank Turek.

Positive arguments for Christian theism