Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is the History Channel's "The Bible" Series Inaccurate?

NOTE: There are likely many other purported inaccuracies that might be cited. In the following space, I am simply responding to one particular (theoretically comprehensive) list to which I was provided a link. Thank you in advance for keeping any comments like "Well, but you left out the one where..."  to yourself. I am aware that I probably didn't cover everything. What is more, I am only addressing the purported explicit contradictions to Scripture. That does not include things being left out, skimmed over, or embellished. Those are the sort of things we ought to expect in any movie adaptation of a book. Thanks!

In response to: “Ten Inaccuracies in the Bible Miniseries” by Johnathan Merritt

Purported inaccuracies
IA = Inaccuracy R = Response V = Verdict

1.       IA: The miniseries begins with Noah telling the story of creation and the Fall. That is inaccurate because Moses, not Noah wrote the book of Genesis.

R: Do we really believe that no one until Moses knew the story of creation and the Fall? There was almost assuredly an oral tradition passed down through the generations. Moses wrote to solidify the tradition and remind the people of their heritage. Remember, they had been enslaved for 400 years in a pagan land and heard all sorts of other stories about creation, gods and humanity. Certainly, Noah would have known and shared with his family why God was judging the earth. That is all the miniseries assumed for dramatic effect – and with good reason. 

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

2.       IA: The Angels display martial arts fighting techniques. That is inaccurate because the Bible does not say they fought, and especially doesn’t say that they fought like Jet-Li.

R:  The Bible does speak of angels fighting. Are we 100% certain that they could not use martial arts like moves? Where in the Bible does it tell us that?  Is it reasonable to think that they might have been fighting in Sodom and Gommorah? It is at least possible since they sought refuge at Lot’s house. The miniseries does include the blinding of the men, but works on the assumption that might not have been the end of the struggle to escape. Is that a reasonable assumption? Only in the movies do people get punched one time or lose their eyesight and then simply fall down, never to fight again. In real life, we know that a mob could still put up a fight, even with their eyesight gone. Furthermore, the men who were blinded do not represent all of the people in the cities of Sodom and Gommorah. Could there have been an armed struggle? Sure. Could they have used supernatural fighting moves? Sure.

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

3.       IA: After God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son, the animal that is caught in the thicket is a lamb. That is inaccurate because the Bible says it was a ram.

R:  What was the sacrifice supposed to represent? The answer is Christ. God does not allow Abraham to sacrifice his only son, but provides another sacrifice. This foreshadows when God would actually go through with the sacrifice of His own son – the ultimate and final sacrifice. What saves the people from the angel of death in Exodus – the blood of a lamb. What is Jesus called by John the Baptist on two occasions? Answer – The lamb of God. What is Jesus portrayed as in the book of Revelation – the lamb who was slain.  Granted, the Bible does say it was a ram. But it seems like the miniseries wanted to make sure people understood the symbolism and foreshadowing. Even with most people’s ignorance of ancient Jewish symbolism, most people have heard about Jesus called the lamb of God. It seems fair to assume that the producers of the miniseries wanted to make sure that no one missed the significance of the foreshadowing.

V: Technically contradicts the letter of Scripture but remains true to (and accentuates) the message of Scripture as a whole.

4.       IA: When David sneaks up on Saul in the cave, Saul was urinating.  This is inaccurate because the Hebrew word used for “relieved himself” clearly connotes defecation.

R: This has got to be the silliest one of the whole bunch. Saul was relieving himself. Does it really take away from the truth of the Bible that he is portrayed as going #1 instead of #2?

V: Does not contradict English translations of the Scripture. May contradict the letter of the original Hebrew Scripture but has absolutely no affect on the truth of the story in question or Scripture as a whole.

5.       IA: Jeremiah escapes from Jerusalem unscathed. Daniel and his friends are captured during the siege of Jerusalem. The first is inaccurate because the Bible clearly says that Jeremiah was captured and later released. The second is inaccurate because Daniel and his friends were not deported until a decade after the siege of Jerusalem.

R: The miniseries shows Jeremiah riding away from the ruined Jersualem on a donkey. Then the narrator says that he escaped alive. So what is the problem? Are we assuming that nothing happened in between the scene where the city was being destroyed and when he was overlooking the ruined city? Is that how movies work – perfectly linear with no time gaps or fast forwarding? Of course not. As for Daniel and friends, the exact time of their capture may be somewhat misleading, but it makes it clear that they were taking into Babylonian captivity. What should they have done instead? Cut away for a second and add the subtitle “10 years later” and then proceed with a scene of them being captured and taken away? That just seems superfluous. They were taken into Babylonian captivity.

V: Does contradict the exact time frame described in Scripture, but does not in any way compromise the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.

6.       IA: Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den by Cyrus King of Persia. This is inaccurate because the Bible says that Darius was reigning at the time.

R: What we have in Daniel is a bit of a historical mystery at present. We know that Cyrus was already King of Persia when “Darius the Mede” or, the King of the Medes, comes on the scene. To date, there are no historical records of Darius the Mede that have been discovered. Some Bible scholars argue that Darius the Mede was simply a title that Cyrus himself adopted. In that case, Daniel 6:28 would be translated – “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus.” Other scholars believe that Darius was one of Cyrus’ generals. In any case, the miniseries seem to be working with what we can know for certain from the biblical text. That is, Cyrus was King when the Babylonians were overthrown in 539 BC. What is more, Cyrus was God’s instrument for ending the Jewish exile. The miniseries makes these points explicitly clear.

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

7.       IA: Mary rides a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with only Joseph for company. That is inaccurate because the Bible never mentions a donkey and it could be assumed that their families traveled with them.

R: Really? The Bible doesn’t say there was a donkey, so there must not have been a donkey? That is really reaching for a contradiction. The Bible also does not say that they traveled in a caravan with their families. So why should we overthrow the image of Joseph and Mary traveling alone for an assumption that is also not in the Bible?

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

8.       IA: The “Wise Men” arrive just after the birth of Jesus at the same time as the shepherds. This is inaccurate because it seems from a particular reading of Matthew 2 that they did not visit until Jesus was a little bit older – a “child” rather than an “infant”.

R:  Fair enough. But this really should not fall into the category of “contradictions in the Bible miniseries” as much as “contradictions in the portrayal of the Christmas story throughout history”.

V: Seems like a contradiction based on a particular reading of Matt 2.  If so, this has been a common error made throughout Christian history in portraying the Nativity. In any case, it does not take away from the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.

9.       IA:  John the Baptist is executed because his preaching is causing trouble for Herod Antipas. This is inaccurate because in the Bible, Herod does not have a problem with John’s preaching. He only arrests John for speaking out against his marriage. Even then, he is not executed. It is only at the request of Herod’s wife and step-daughter that John is eventually decapitated.

R: Granted, the miniseries takes the quick route to John’s execution and leaves out a great deal of the details. Even so, this is what we are used to seeing in movie adaptations of books. We do not get everything in real time or with every detail filled in. The miniseries implies but does not explicitly say that John was arrested and decapitated ONLY for his preaching. It does not rule out other possible reasons.

V: Does not explicitly contradict, but may implicitly contradict Scripture

10.   IA: Satan takes Jesus to the top of a cliff and tempts him to jump. This is inaccurate because in the Bible, Satan takes Jesus to the top of the Temple.

R:  Agreed. That is inaccurate.

V: Does contradict the letter of Scripture. However, it does not take away from the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Response to "My Question for Theists" from the1janitor (from youtube)

Thank you for the opportunity to engage with you on these questions/comments. I hope that you will not read in any derogatory or combative tone into the responses that follow as there was none intended – at all! And forgive me for any typos. I did this on a cell phone. Thanks!

Comment: Arguing with a religious person is akin to arguing with someone who says "normal 2+2 is 4 but in an alternate dimension it is something else and that is what I believe". 

Response: I do not think that is a good analogy.  Such a case is a basic logical contradiction. It posits that A equals both A and non A.  However, there is no logical contradiction in positing the existence of God – unless, of course, the existence of God is firmly established as logically impossible – but at this point in the video you have yet to argue that point. I will get to that in more detail as I respond to some of your other points.

Comment: Debates are usually unproductive

Response: I agree wholeheartedly.

Comment: Arguing to win is not the point

Response: Again, I agree. C.S. Lewis said that we ought to be arguing toward the truth rather than around the truth. To that end, I have a small disagreement with your next point.

Comment: The point is to understand the other persons point of view and the identify the difference

Response: I think that you are right, but only to a point. Ultimately, we ought to be seeking the truth – not merely to identify our differences. Even so, I think understanding other points of view is a HUGE part of that process.

Comment: Do logic and science always apply?

Response: Logic; yes. Otherwise, we have no reason for trusting anything that is said, observed, studied or otherwise. This conversation I am typing might actually be about pop-tarts, even though I think I am responding to your video. As for science; that depends what you mean by science.  If you mean empirical science then I think the answer is clearly no. There are limitations to empirical science. For example, what is “logic” made of? How much does it weigh? Some answers cannot be arrived at through empirical investigation. That is why the fields of philosophy, metaphysics, psychology, etc are necessary. We also have to acknowledge that science doesn’t actually say anything -- scientists do. All data has to be interpreted and all people interpret based on their own presuppositions. What is more, that raises a whole other line of questions. Namely, where does logic come from and why is it reliable? If it is entirely natural, then why is it not subject to the same changes as other aspects of nature? Can it go extinct like a species? The law of gravity applies in certain places in the universe where gravity is present, but not in others. Is logic the same way? Are there places where there is less logic present and 2+2 actually does equal 7 instead of 4? You might sarcastically say “Yes, in Churches!”  And we could both laugh at that. But ultimately, you and I would agree that is absurd. We both know that the laws of logic exist.  What is more, we both agree that they are unchanging and were there before we discovered them. How does atheism account for that? The theist has no trouble grounding the eternal, unchangeable laws of logic and reason – they are grounded in an eternal, unchanging mind – i.e. God. Alright, now we move on to your real question.

BIG QUESTION: What is it about religion that makes you okay with suspending everything you otherwise KNOW to be true about the universe?

Response: I am not okay with that. But I think I can safely assume that you will not be satisfied with that answer. So, I will go a bit further. You are proposing a false dichotomy. Namely that logic, reason, science (i.e. everything we know about the universe) are necessarily opposed to Theism and vice versa. In fact, the same accusation might be made against Atheism’s willingness to suspend everything you otherwise know to be true about the universe. Consider the comments of the naturalist biologist Richard Lewontin. According to Lewontin (a naturalist),
                "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of  its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."
According to Lewontin, Atheists simply cannot follow the evidence where it leads. Is that science? Is that logical? Of course not! I am not suggesting that you, or any other Atheist must first believe in God in order to do proper science. However, I am convinced that ruling out God or a supernatural explanation before you even start betrays the entire enterprise of seeking truth. But let’s move on to the next (related) point.

Comment: I say that on the assumption that an all powerful, sentient, omniscient being is illogical and invalid.

Response: That needs to be established, not just assumed. You have the roof, but you need walls to support it or else you do not have a house. I could stop there, but let me provide an example of why I think any such argument fails. Modern scientists often run into road blocks in their research. That is, until they formulate some theory that can account for the relevant data and allows them to move past the road block. For example, consider quarks, string theory, black holes, dark energy, the multi-verse etc. None of these have ever been observed. Some of these posit unfathomable amounts respective to power, time and dimensions. The numbers used to describe them boggle the human mind.  I could say “That is very unscientific!” But I would not do that. In the same way, it is not unscientific to posit the existence of an omnipotent (power), eternal (time), omnipresent (space), being if doing so accounts for the relevant data. I won’t take up your time by running through all of the arguments for theism (cosmological, teleological, moral -- I am sure you are familiar). I think it should suffice, for the purpose of your original question, to show that it is not illogical or unscientific to examine the relevant data and interpret it as pointing to a timeless, spaceless, limitless, moral intelligence.

Comment: Well, some people just believe because it makes them feel better, and that is good whether or not it is true.
Response:  For the record, that is not the Christian perspective. I know that the original question was about general Theism, not Christianity in particular, but I want to zero in for a second on something significant with regard to this particular comment. The Apostle Paul said that if Jesus was not raised from the dead then we are more pitiful than anyone else. I would think that most Atheists would totally love that about Christianity. In short, Christianity is a faith that depends entirely on the historicity of a past event – the resurrection of Christ. If we take Paul seriously, then is a religion entirely based on evidence! Just because that isn’t the way most people approach it doesn’t change it as a fact -- if the resurrection didn’t happen, then Christianity is empty and being a Christian is pitiful. Like I said, that sounds to me like a claim that any Atheist should be happy to oblige. As you said at the end of this video, it is silly to say that it simply doesn’t matter. It is of potentially eternal significance. At that point, a person who wants to determine the truth of Christianity simply needs to investigate relevant and scholarly works available on the resurrection and determine for themselves if they hold any water. In fact, people like J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel have famously written books chronicling their investigations and subsequent conversions from Atheism to Christianity

Comment: Some people say "you cannot disprove God exists so why do I need proof" to which you ask, what are we accepting as proof -- typically we use science an logic.

Response: I think your point is excellent, but it plays for both teams. I am interested in following the evidence where it leads. But I would ask you, “what are you willing to accept as proof for the existence of God?” If science and logic point univocally to an eternal, spaceless, timeless, moral, creator of the universe; would that be sufficient proof of His existence? If your answer is “no”, then it would seem that science and logic aren’t the criteria by which proof is established. Maybe your objections to the existence of God are emotional, moral, or otherwise, but that would be precisely what you decry as being “irrational and unscientific” about the reason many people hold to Theism. At that point, the idea of proof is totally subjective. We can both agree that we want something more substantial than that.

Comment: Using science and logic it is easy to prove not only that God doesn't exist but that He CAN'T exist. 

Response: I think you are swimming upstream with that claim. I don’t know any reputable philosophers who would maintain that it is impossible for God to exist. Highly improbable? Sure. But that leads to your 3 challenges as to the likelihood of God’s existence.

Comment: Challenge to omnipotence.  Omnipotence entails that God could create an indestructible wall that he can also destroy and that is a contradiction.

Response: The premise is flawed because you have misrepresented omnipotence. Omnipotence does not mean that God can do everything imaginable. It only means that He can do everything that is logically possible. Therefore, it is logically impossible for God to create a wall that He cannot destroy; or a boulder too heavy for Him to lift; or a married bachelor or any other such logical impossibility.

Comment: Challenge to omnipresence. You said, “That's easy, I am here, I can't be over there. I cannot occupy two spaces at once or all spaces at all times.” 

Response: Again, the premise is flawed because you have misrepresented omnipresence. Omnipresence does not mean that God has a physical body that is either present in all spaces equally or stretched out through all spaces. If God is an immaterial mind, omnipresence means that God is mentally present at all times and places.  In that sense, omnipresence is very closely tied to omniscience. So, let’s move on to that.

Comment: Challenge to omniscience. Omniscience entails the knowledge of how to create all reality, but reality must first exist in order to have that knowledge which is a contradiction. 

Response:  I am not trying to sound like a broken record, but the premise misrepresents omniscience. It does not entail His knowing how to create Himself. If God is uncreated (as Theism maintains), then that would be a logical impossibility. Just like omnipotence means having power to do all things that power can do, omniscience means knowing all things that can be known.  The creation of an uncreated being is not something that can be known.

Comment: Why don't the normal rules of logic apply to God? 

Response: I hope that I have demonstrated that I dislike that idea as much as you. Thanks again!