Tag Archives: Suffering

Peter J. Williams debates Bart Ehrman on his book “Misquoting Jesus”

Dr. Peter J. Williams, an expert on New Testament reliability
Dr. Peter J. Williams, an expert on New Testament reliability

I have to re-post this debate between Bart Ehrman and Peter J. Williams, because Dr. Williams just followed me on Twitter. I noticed that he had re-tweeted one of the two senators I follow on Twitter, so I re-tweeted him. I like Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, and he re-tweeted Senator Hawley talking about free speech.

Bart Ehrman posted the debate audio on YouTube:

Details:

Bart Ehrman is the US author of the bestselling book “Misquoting Jesus” (In the UK “Whose word is it?”).  He calls into question the authority of the New Testament as scribal changes over time have changed the documents.

So can we trust the scripture? Bible scholar Peter Williams believes in the reliability of the New Testament and that Bart’s prognosis is far too pessimistic.

This post is a re-post from 2011. I have been listening to this lecture by Peter J. Williams on “Misquoting Jesus” this week, and it reminded me to re-post this debate. (I checked to make sure the MP3 link is still good, and it is)

Summary of the Williams-Ehrman debate:

Note: this summary is snarky. If you want an accurate view of the debate, then listen to it. My summary is meant to be humorous.

Ehrman:

  • I had a mystical experience in childhood and became an evangelical Christian
  • I went to Moody Bible Institute, and they told me that the Bible was inerrant
  • For a while, I was committed to the view that there are no mistakes in the Bible
  • At Princeton, I was taught and graded by professors who did not accept inerrancy
  • By a strange coincidence, I began to see that the Bible did have errors after all!
  • We don’t have the original documents written by the original authors, we only have thousands of copies
  • if the words of the Bible are not completely inerrant, then none of it is historical
  • if all of the words in all the copies of the Bible are not identical, then none of it is historical

Williams:

  • I would say the New and Old testaments are the Word of God
  • We don’t need to have the original Greek writings in order to believe in the authority of the Bible
  • I believe in inerrancy, but doesn’t mean there are no problems
  • the doctrine of inerrancy has always referred to the original Greek copies, not the translations

Moderator:

  • what are the main points of Misquoting Jesus?

Ehrman:

  • we don’t have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament
  • we have copies that are much later, sometimes even centuries later!!1!
  • the copies we have all differ from one another – they were changed by scribes!!1!
  • we have 5000 manuscripts in the original Greek language
  • there are hundreds of thousands of differences!!1!
  • most of the differences don’t matter
  • some differences are significant for meaning or doctrine
  • errors are propagated because the next scribe inherits the mistake of their source copy
  • a large gap between the time of writing and the first extant copy means more errors have crept in

Williams:

  • the reason we have so many variants is because the number of manuscripts is large

Angry Jesus or compassionate Jesus in Mark

Ehrman:

  • most manuscripts say that Jesus was compassionate when healing a leper, but one says he was angry
  • it makes a huge huge huge really really big difference if Jesus is compassionate or angry
  • the whole Bible needs to be thrown out because of this one word between different in one manuscript

Williams:

  • this variant is important for understanding the passage, but it has no great meaning
  • the change is probably just an accident – the two words are very similar visually in Greek
  • it’s just an accident – it emerged in one manuscript, and it impacted a few more
  • the tiny number of manuscripts that have the error are geographically isolated
  • I’m pretty sure that WK prefers the angry Jesus anyway – so who cares?

Ehrman:

  • no! someone changed it deliberately! it’s a conspiracy! you should buy my book! it’s a *big deal*!!!!!1!!1!one!!eleventy-one!

The woman caught in adultery in John

Ehrman:

  • it is isn’t in any of the earliest manuscripts
  • this is an apocryphical story that some scribe deliberately inserted into the text
  • most people don’t even know about this! it’s a cover-up! you need to buy my scandalous book!

Williams:

  • that’s right, it’s a late addition by some overzealous scribe
  • and it’s clearly marked as such in every modern Bible translation
  • the only people who don’t know about this are people who don’t read footnotes in their Bible
  • and in any case, this isn’t a loss of the original words of the New Testament – it’s an addition

Grace of God or apart from God in Hebrews

Ehrman:

  • well this is just a one word difference, but it makes a huge huge really really big difference!
  • the words are very similar, so it’s could be an accident I guess
  • but it wasn’t! this was a deliberate change! it’s a conspiracy! it’s a cover-up! scandal!
  • buy my book! It’s almost as good as Dan Brown!

Moderator:

  • hmmmn…. I kind of like “apart from God” – why is this such a big scandal again?

Ehrman:

  • you don’t care? how can you not care? it has to be inerrant! or the whole thing is false!
  • Moody Bible Institute says!

Williams:

  • yeah Bart is always saying that every change is deliberate but it’s just an accident
  • the words are very similar, just a few letters are different, this is clearly an accident
  • I have no problem with apart from God, or by the Grace of God
  • please move on and stop screaming and running around and knocking things over

Moderator:

  • but what if pastors try to use this passage in a sermon?

Williams:

  • well, one word doesn’t make a big different, the meaning that appears is fine for preaching
  • it’s only a problem for people who treat the Bible as a magic book with magical incantations
  • they get mad because if one word is out of place then the whole thing doesn’t work for their spell
  • then they try to cast happiness spells but the spells don’t work and they experience suffering
  • the suffering surprises them since they think that fundamentalism should guarantee them happiness
  • then they become apostates and get on TV where they look wide-eyed and talk crazy

Ehrman:

  • hey! are you talking about me? a lot of people buy my books! i am a big success!
  • it is very important that people don’t feel bad about their sinning you know!

Is Misquoting Jesus an attack?

Williams:

  • it’s rhetorically imbalanced and misleading
  • it tries to highlight change and instability and ignore the majority of the text that is stable
  • he makes a big deal out of 5 or so verses that are different from the mainstream text
  • he says that scribes deliberately changed the scriptures, but he doesn’t prove that
  • it’s just as likely that the differences are just scribal errors made by accident

Ehrman:

  • well, maybe the variants aren’t a big deal, but what about one angel vs. two angels?
  • that’s a significant issue! significant enough for me to become an apostate – a rich apostate
  • if one word is different because of an accident, then the whole Bible cannot be trusted
  • it has to be completely inerrant, so a one word difference means the whole thing is unreliable
  • we don’t even know if Jesus was even named Jesus, because of one angel vs two angels!!!1!
  • buy my book! you don’t have to read it, just put it on your shelf, then you’ll feel better about not having a relationships with God – because who’s to say what God really wants from you? Not the Bible!

William Lane Craig explains how Christianity explains evil and suffering

A long journey through the night
A long journey through the night

A lot of people in the West complain too much about any little suffering they have to experience. But sometimes, when a very harsh suffering is felt by someone who has tried to follow Jesus, an explanation is necessary. I found something very good on the Reasonable Faith web site, written by Dr. William Lane Craig.

He makes the following points:

  1. We are not in a good position to assess the probability of whether God has morally sufficient reasons for the evils that occur.
  2. The Christian faith entails doctrines that increase the probability of the co-existence of God and evil.
  3. Relative to the full scope of the evidence, God’s existence is probable.

I’ve written before about point #1, in which Dr. Craig’s describes the limitations of human knowledge that make it hard for us to know for certain that a specific evil or suffering does not have a good reason for God to allow it. And I’ve written about #3, in which Dr. Craig makes some arguments for God’s existence. But #2 might be new to some of you, so let’s look at that.

He makes four sub points in section 2 about Christian doctrines that make the existence of evil and suffering more reasonable.

  • 2. a)The chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God.
  • 2. b) Mankind is in a state of rebellion against God and His purpose.
  • 2. c) The knowledge of God spills over into eternal life. 
  • 2. d) The knowledge of God is an incommensurable good.

My favorite one is 2. a), so let’s look at that one. He says:

2. a. The chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God. One reason that the problem of evil seems so puzzling is that we tend to think that if God exists, then His goal for human life is happiness in this world. God’s role is to provide comfortable environment for His human pets. But on the Christian view this is false. We are not God’s pets, and man’s end is not happiness in this world, but the knowledge of God, which will ultimately bring true and everlasting human fulfillment. Many evils occur in life which maybe utterly pointless with respect to the goal of producing human happiness in this world, but they may not be unjustified with respect to producing the knowledge of God. Innocent human suffering provides an occasion for deeper dependency and trust in God, either on the part of the sufferer or those around him. Of course, whether God’s purpose is achieved through our suffering will depend on our response. Do we respond with anger and bitterness toward God, or do we turn to Him in faith for strength to endure?

You know, I always get confused when I see Christians trying to follow the script of the world and trying to make themselves feel good with consumer purchases, travel, fun experiences, showing off to others, etc. When I read the story of Jesus, it’s pretty clear that the normal Christian life, if the person is following Jesus at all, is about suffering the disapproval and opposition of non-Christians while you remain faithful and obedient to God. Today, there’s probably no better example of this than defending unborn children from adult selfishness. Although, defending born children from selfish adults who seek to deprive children of their biological mother and father is pretty bad, too. Nobody is going to like you for restricting their fun (i.e. – abortion, divorce, adultery, homosexuality, etc.), but being willing to take the heat from non-Christians for the sake of promoting what God thinks is right is true Christianity. It’s what Jesus would do.

Anyway, the one I’ve been thinking about more lately is 2. d), where Dr. Craig writes this:

2. d) The knowledge of God is an incommensurable good. To know God, the source of infinite goodness and love, is an incomparable good, the fulfillment of human existence. The sufferings of this life cannot even be compared to it. Thus, the person who knows God, no matter what he suffers, no matter how awful his pain, can still say, “God is good to me,” simply by virtue of the fact that he knows God, an incomparable good.

I sometimes feel pretty stressed out about Americans who were born in conservative states, raised by two married Christian parents, attended Christian schools and youth groups, and then abandoned their faith for atheism as soon as they hit college. It really bothers me how people who had all these advantages turned their backs on God, and they’re ungrateful for all their blessings. They show no curiosity about God – they don’t want to know him. But when you read the gospels to see what Jesus has to say about these sorts of people, it’s very comforting. He really sees the problem, and he is on the side of the little guy who has to struggle to be faithful and obedient to God. The Bible has nothing to say to people who are able to feel happy and successful apart from God. It speaks to people who are struggling to follow God. Even when things are difficult, Jesus speaks to the problem of being an alien and a stranger in a world that turns its back on him.

Should we expect to know what God’s reason is for allowing evil and suffering?

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

Here is an article by Steven Cowan about the problems of evil and suffering.

Intro:

The problem of evil is no doubt the most serious challenge to belief in God. Even religious believers find it troubling that evil exists in the world—and so much evil! It is puzzling, to say the least, that an all-powerful, absolutely good being would allow evil to exist in his creation. And yet it does. Evil and suffering exist and they are often overwhelming in their magnitude.

Now let’s find out what a noseeum is, and how it relates to the existence of evil and suffering:

However, perhaps God’s existence is incompatible with a certain kind of evil that exists. For example, the atheist William Rowe has argued that God’s existence is inconsistent with pointless or gratuitous evil. By “pointless evil,” Rowe means evil that does not and cannot serve a greater good. And Rowe believes that there is such pointless evil in the world. He thus concludes that God does not exist. Rowe’s argument may be simply stated as follows:

  1. If God exists, there would be no pointless evil.
  2. There is pointless evil.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

[…]But, is there pointless evil in the world? Rowe thinks there is. To show that there is pointless evil, Rowe introduces what he calls the “noseeum inference.” Like the pesty little bugs that some readers may be familiar with, a “noseeum” is something that you cannot see—it is a “no-see-um.” And a noseeum inference is a conclusion drawn on the basis of what one does not see. The basic structure of all noseeum inferences looks like this:

  1. I cannot see an x.
  2. Therefore, there probably is no x.

We all make noseeum inferences everyday of our lives. Every time I go to cross a street, I look both ways and I step out into the street only after I “no-see-um” a car coming.

[…]Rowe applies this kind of noseeum reasoning to God and evil. Rowe suggests that if we cannot see a reason for a particular instance of evil, then there is probably not a reason. Suppose we hear about a very young child who is tortured to death to amuse some psychotic person. We think about this event and we examine all the circumstances surrounding it. No matter how hard we try, we cannot see any good reason why this child had to suffer the way she did. Since we cannot see a reason why God would allow this child to suffer, there probably is not a good reason—the child’s suffering was pointless. Of course, Rowe would be quick to point out that he is not speaking merely hypothetically. There are cases like this in the news every day—real-life cases in which we shake our heads in frustration, wondering why God would allow such a thing.

Is Rowe correct in his conclusion? Do such examples prove that there is pointless evil in the world? I don’t think so. To see why, we must recognize that noseeum inferences are not all created equal. Some noseeum inferences, as we have seen, are reasonable and appropriate. But, many are not. Suppose I look up at the night sky at the star Deneb and I do not see a planet orbiting that star. Would it be reasonable for me to conclude that there is no planet orbiting Deneb? Of course not. Suppose that using the best telescopes and other imaging equipment presently available, I still cannot see a planet around Deneb. I would still be unjustified in concluding that there was no such planet.

In that example, the planet is the noseeum. Just because you look really hard, you can’t be confident that the planet is not there. And similarly with the problem of evil and suffering, looking really hard and finding no reason does not mean that there is no reason. It just means that you are not in a good position to see the reason. You don’t know enough to to be sure that there is no reason, because of your limitations as a human being.

To know that any given instance of evil or suffering is gratuitous/pointless requires a high level of knowledge. How much knowledge? Well, consider this paper by the late William Alston of Syracuse University, who lists six problems with the idea that humans can know that any particular instance of evil and suffering is gratuitous. (You can get the PDF here)

According to the paper, human beings just do not have the capability to know for certain that God has NO morally sufficient reason for allowing any particular instance of evil and/or suffering. God’s morally sufficient reason is a noseeum. To know for sure that there is no reason, we would need to have more knowledge than we do.

Also, remember that on the Christian view, the good aim that God has is NOT to make humans have happy feelings in this life, regardless of their knowledge, wisdom and character. That’s what atheists think, though. They think that God, if he exists, is obligated to make them feel happy all the time. They don’t think that God’s goal is being actively involved in forming their knowledge, wisdom and character. God has a purpose – to work in the world so that everyone who can freely respond to him will respond to him. The Bible says that allowing pain and suffering is one of the ways that he gets that group of people who are willing to respond to respond to him – FREELY. To be able to claim that evil is gratuitous, the atheist has to show that God can achieve his goal of saving all the people he wants to save while permitting less suffering in the world. And that is a very difficult thing for an atheist to show, given our human cognitive limitations.

The best place to learn more about no-see-ums is in this excellent lecture by Biola University professor Doug Geivett.

William Lane Craig debates Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: evil, suffering and God

Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!
Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!

This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates).

Sinnott-Armstrong is very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics. So if you are looking for a good first debate to watch, this is it! Normally, Dr. Craig debates at major universities in front of students and faculty.

There is also a book based on this debate, published by Oxford University Press. I was actually able to find a PDF of it online. I should also remind people that you can get the wonderful Craig-Hitchens debate DVD from Amazon.com if you are looking for a debate to watch, or show in your church, this is the one to start with.

The debaters:

The format:

  • WSA: 15 minutes
  • WLC: 15 minutes
  • Debaters discussion: 6 minutes
  • Moderated discussion: 10 minutes
  • Audience Q&A: 18 minutes
  • WSA: 5 minutes
  • WLC: 5 minutes

SUMMARY:

WSA opening speech:

Evil is incompatible with the concept of God (three features all-powerful, all-god, all-knowing)

God’s additional attributes: eternal, effective and personal (a person)

He will be debating against the Christian God in this debate, specifically

Contention: no being has all of the three features of the concept of God

His argument: is not a deductive argument, but an inductive/probabilistic argument

Examples of pointless, unjustified suffering: a sick child who dies, earthquakes, famines

The inductive argument from evil:

  1.  If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  2.  There is evil in the world.
  3.  Some of that evil is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  4. Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.

Defining terms:

  • Evil: anything that all rational people avoid for themselves, unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil for themselves (e.g. – pain, disability, death)
  • Adequate reason: some evils do have an adequate reason, like going to the dentist – you avoid a worse evil by having a filling

God could prevent tooth decay with no pain

God can even change the laws of physics in order to make people not suffer

Responses by Christians:

  • Evil as a punishment for sin: but evil is not distributed in accordance with sin, like babies
  • Children who suffer will go straight to Heaven: but it would be better to go to Heaven and not suffer
  • Free will: this response doesn’t account for natural evil, like disease, earthquakes, lightning
  • Character formation theodicy: there are other ways for God to form character, by showing movies
  • Character formation theodicy: it’s not fair to let X suffer so that Y will know God
  • God allows evil to turn people towards him: God would be an egomaniac to do that
  • We are not in a position to know that any particular evil is pointless: if we don’t see a reason then there is no reason
  • Inductive evil is minor compared to the evidences for God: arguments for a Creator do not prove that God is good

WLC opening speech:

Summarizing Walter’s argument

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. Gratuitous evil exists.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Gratuitous evil means evil that God has no morally sufficient reason to permit. WSA doesn’t think that all evil is incompatible with God’s existence, just gratuitous evil.

Everyone admits that there are instances of evil and suffering such that we cannot see the morally sufficient reason why God would allow it to occur.

The claim of the atheist is that if they cannot see that there is a moral justification for allowing some instance evil, then there is no moral justification for that instance of evil.

Here are three reasons why we should not expect to know the morally sufficient reasons why God permits apparently pointless evil.

  1. the ripple effect: the morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil may only be seen in another place or another time
  2. Three Christian doctrines undermine the claim that specific evils really are gratuitous
  3. Walter’s own premise 1 allows us to argue for God’s existence, which means that evil is not gratuitous

Christian doctrines from 2.:

  • The purpose of life is not happiness, and it is not God’s job to make us happy – we are here to know God. Many evils are gratuitous if we are concerned about being happy, but they are not gratuitous for producing the knowledge of God. What WSA has to show is that God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world while still retaining the same amount of knowledge of God’s existence and character.
  • Man is in rebellion, and many of the evils we see are caused by humans misusing their free will to harm others and cause suffering
  • For those who accept Christ, suffering is redeemed by eternal life with God, which is a benefit that far outweighs any sufferings and evils we experience in our earthly lives

Arguing for God in 3.

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. God exists
  3. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Four reasons to think that God exists (premise 2 from above):

  • the kalam cosmological argument
  • the fine-tuning argument
  • the moral argument
  • the argument from evil

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!