Inherit the Wind: a Fictional Drama

I have been hearing for years about the movie, Inherit the Wind, a documentary-drama which is supposed to portray the events of the Scopes “Monkey” trial that took place in 1925.

Well, I finally was able to see it a few nights ago.  It was actually fairly entertaining, considering the subject matter, but, alas, it was every bit as biased against Christians as I had heard.

Throughout the movie, Christians were depicted as ignorant, rude, vengeful, and a host of other defective personality traits.  If we Christians truly acted this way, I would certainly not want to be one!

The treatment of the difficult issues surrounding evolution and creation were infantile, to say the least.  The viewer will not learn anything useful about this on-going controversy by watching this film.  It’s clear purpose was to score points in the culture war against Christians.

However, since this movie has colored so many people’s view of the evolution/creation controversy, I would still recommend everyone see it.  It is a piece of American cultural history, whether we like it or not.

After you see it, you may want to read David Menton’s analysis of the historical inaccuracies of the film.  

If you’ve seen it, let me know what you thought of it.

Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 5

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 4, we will now ask further questions of the writers of the New Testament (NT ) documents.

Question 2:  Do we have multiple witnesses or just one?  The more witnesses, the better, because one person could make a mistake, but if several people are saying the same thing, it’s more convincing.

In the NT, we have 27 books written by 9 eyewitnesses or contemporaries of eyewitnesses.  Five of these books contain eyewitness accounts of the resurrected Jesus: Matthew, Mark, John, 1 Corinthians (written by Paul), and 1 Peter.  Additionally, Luke based his writings (Gospel of Luke and Acts) on eyewitness testimony.

So, we have at least 6 individuals all telling the same story about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  As Dr. Norman Geisler and Dr. Frank Turek state in their book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, “Six sane, sober eyewitnesses, who refuse to recant their testimony even under threat of death, would convict anyone of anything in a court of law. . . . Such eyewitness testimony yields a verdict that is beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Question 3: Are the eyewitnesses trustworthy?  Can we believe what they are reporting?  There are several ways to check this out.  First, did the witnesses include embarrassing details about themselves in their accounts?

If I was making a story up about myself and my friends, I certainly wouldn’t include embarrassing details about us.  Remember, the alleged goal of the apostles was to gain power and wealth by starting a new religion.  Making themselves look bad in their written documents would not have been an effective way to get this done, but that is exactly what happened.

The apostles provide plenty of embarrassment.  They often seem dimwitted  or ignorant (Mark 9:32, Luke 18:34, John 12:16).

They are uncaring when they fall asleep while Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane.

Peter is rebuked by Jesus and even called “Satan” in Mark 8:33.

They are cowards who hide during Jesus’ crucifixion; Peter even denies him three times right after saying he wouldn’t!

They are doubters who, after being taught many times that Jesus would be resurrected, still didn’t believe it when it occurred.

They allowed Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin (the very group that sent Jesus to his death), to bury him instead of burying him themselves.  This list could go on and on.  Needless to say, the writers of the NT pass this test with flying colors.  There are several more points on which we can test the trustworthiness of the NT writers.  We will discuss those next!

The Book of Mormon… Another Testament?

The Book Of Mormon is called “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” by the LDS Church.  The Title Page in the Book Of Mormon says specifically… “The Book of Mormon Another Testament of Jesus Christ”.  I was reading some material earlier this morning and something about this title hit me hard… the word TESTAMENT.  Why do they use that word?  What does it mean? 

The word Testament literally means “Covenant”.  The Old Testament in The Bible is the recording of God’s dealings with man under the “Old Testament” or “Old  Covenant” of sacrifice.  However, when Jesus Christ came to earth He established a “New Testament” or “New Covenant” with man based upon His sacrifice.  There are several verses throughout the New Testament which speak about this switch from an Old Testament/Covenant to the New Testament/Covenant.

Luke 22:20 “…after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.””

2 Corinthians 3:6 “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Hebrews 8:13 “By calling this covenantnew,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”

Hebrews 9:15 “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

Let me explain why this hit me so hard.  Since “Testament” literally means “Covenant”, the LDS Church is literally saying that the Book of Mormon is establishing ANOTHER “COVENANT” OF JESUS CHRIST.  Another Covenant?  Why?  Was the Covenant Christ established based upon His sacrifice not GOOD enough?  Why do we need another Covenant?  What is the basis of this New “New Covenant” established by the Book of Mormon?

This got me to thinking a little more… Joseph Smith took this very position when he established the doctrine of plural/eternal  marriage.  D&C 132:4 says:

” For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory. ”

Section 132 goes on to explain that this New and Everlasting Covenant is the Covenant of Eternal/Plural Marriage and Theosis (man can become a God).  Plural Marriage was forbidden by the LDS Church in 1890 due to political pressure.  Since that time the “New and Everlasting Covenant” now simply involves Theosis and Eternal Marriage.

The stance of the LDS Church is that the New Covenent of Jesus Christ was “upgraded” to the “New and Everlasting Covenant” through Joseph Smith.   I simply ask why?  Why do we need this?  Why was Christ’s New Covenant not good enough?  Based upon what do we need a “New and Everlasting Covenant” to replace the “New Covenant”?  Personally, I believe the New Covenant established by Christ was “Everlasting Enough” for me.  I will praise Him forever!!

Darrell

Are There Bad Apologetics Arguments?

Yes, there are, and C. Michael Patton points out a few on his latest blog post, 14 Examples of Really Bad Apologetics.  His conclusion is that the evidence for the resurrection is the most important apologetic argument, and I agree that the evidence for the resurrection is very strong.  However, I think there are many other apologetic arguments (e.g., having to do with the existence of God) that are also powerful.  Hopefully you will see some of them here!

Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Based on the previous post, we know that the NT documents were written soon enough after the events of Jesus’ life to prevent anyone claiming that they are largely tainted by myth or legend.  This fact was very important to establish, but we are still left with a nagging question.  Just because it was written soon after the events doesn’t mean that the writers didn’t make it all up.

Maybe the followers of Jesus fabricated this story about him dying and rising from the dead right after Jesus died, so that Jesus couldn’t correct them.  How can we trust them?  After all, don’t people start religions to gain power and wealth?  We certainly see many modern-day religious figures becoming quite wealthy.

One newspaper story from several years ago featured a man in Miami, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, who claimed to be the reincarnated Jesus himself!  He owns armored Lexus’ and BMW’s as well as several diamond-encrusted Rolex watches; he wields tremendous influence over his thousands of followers – everything a charlatan could dream of.  Maybe the disciples, the writers of the NT, were just like de Jesus Miranda.  Let’s find out.

We are going to ask questions of the NT writers that any court of law would ask of witness testimony.  It’s interesting to note that many famous attorneys who have studied the evidence of the NT became Christians because they understood how compelling the evidence is.  So let’s pose some of the questions that would be asked of a witness.

Question 1: Do the witnesses claim to be eyewitnesses or claim to have received their information directly from eyewitnesses?  This question is obvious since eyewitness testimony will always be more accurate.  With respect to the NT writers, all of them implicitly claim to be eyewitnesses of the events surrounding Jesus’ life.  They write as if they were there and they heard Jesus’ words themselves.

However, we have several instances in the NT where the writers explicitly claim to have eyewitness testimony.  They go out of their way to prove this point.  For example, Luke claims to have “carefully investigated” the accounts “handed down . . . [by] eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:1-4).  In 1 John 1:1-3, the apostle John makes it clear that he is writing about what he himself heard, saw, and touched.

In fact, in the span of three verses, he claims eyewitness credentials 8 times!  Here is a person that wants you to know he was there.  Not to be outdone by John or Luke, Peter reminds his readers in 2 Pet. 1:16-18 that “we were eyewitnesses of [Jesus’] majesty.”  Time and again, the writers of the NT claim to be presenting eyewitness testimony, so question 1 is answered with a resounding “yes.”

We will continue with additional questions in the next post.

Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the previous post, we started arguing for early dates for several NT books, but we didn’t finish the discussion.  So this post picks up where we left off!

It is generally agreed upon by scholars that the gospel of Luke was written before the book of Acts.  Dr. Luke wrote both of them and most historians believe that Acts was the sequel to Luke’s gospel (read the beginnings of Luke and Acts to see this).  If this is true, then the gospel of Luke was written before A.D. 62, just as Acts was, but probably a couple years earlier.

Many scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was written before the gospel of Luke because Luke seems to use the gospel of Mark as a source.  This fact would then place Mark even earlier, say, in the mid-50’s.  Keep in mind that both of these gospels record the miraculous life, and more importantly, the resurrection of Jesus.  These events are recorded as facts.

There’s more!  Not a single book in the NT mentions the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  If, indeed, many of the books of the NT were written after A.D. 70 (as some liberal scholars claim), that would mean that nobody thought the destruction of the temple was important!  How could this be?  The temple was the single most important place in all Judaism.

When Jerusalem was sacked and the temple demolished, the Jews lost the geographical center of their religion.  Tens of thousands of Jews died in the war.  The books of the NT often refer to the temple and the on-going worship of God there (e.g., Heb. 5:1-3, Rev. 11:1-2), so it seems incredible that nobody would mention its demise, yet not one person does.

Can you imagine someone writing about the people of New York City and never mentioning the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?  Ridiculous, right?  The best explanation for the events of A.D. 70 never being mentioned in the NT is that most, if not all, of the NT was written prior to A.D. 70.

We now have evidence arguing powerfully for early dates for Mark, Luke, and Acts (before A.D. 62) and early dates for most, if not all the NT (before A.D. 70).  Remember the time it takes for legendary development: it takes more than 2 generations.  We aren’t even one generation removed from the events, so the possibility of legend creeping in is virtually zero.

Hang on, though.  There are parts of the NT that we can date even earlier.  One of the most interesting passages in the NT is 1 Cor. 15:3-7.  First, we should note that the First Corinthians letter is dated by most scholars to A.D. 55 or 56.  Now, in the verses mentioned above, scholars have noted some peculiarities that indicate Paul is repeating an oral creed about the resurrection of Jesus that had existed for some time.

In fact, many believe that Paul received the information in this creed from James and Peter in Jerusalem around A.D. 36-38 (Gal. 1:18-19).  This would mean that we have information about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus within just a few years of the events themselves.  Even scholars who are unfriendly to Christianity admit this could be true.  If so, there is no chance that this creed could be legendary.

Let’s sum all of these facts up.  Early dates are important to establishing the historical truth of a document.  If we can establish that the documents were written before 2 generations had passed, there is very little chance of legend or myth sneaking in.  The historical books contained in the NT more than meet this criterion.

We have good reason to believe that Mark, Luke, and Acts were written prior to A.D. 62, well within one generation; we have good reason to believe that First Corinthians contains an oral creed that dates to a few years after Jesus’ death; and we have good reason to believe that most, if not all, the NT was written prior to A.D. 70.

Even if we grant that some of the books of the NT were not written until the late 1st century, it is still too early for legend to corrupt the core facts.  Now that we know the documents of the NT are early, we need to ask whether the writers of the documents are trustworthy and reliable.  We will deal with that in the next post.

Does Evolution Explain Morality? Part 7

In the previous post, we found significant problems with survival ethics, the ethical theory which claims that “morality is easily explained by evolution and the tendency for biological life to survive and reproduce.”  But there are more problems.

Survival ethics are merely descriptive, not prescriptive.  They describe the behaviors of the past that led to survival of the human species.  I may be thankful that people followed these rules in the past, but how am I to decide whether I ought to follow these rules in the future? 

As Francis Beckwith explains, “After all, some people in the past raped, stole, and murdered. And I know of many people today who have feelings to rape, steal, and murder. Perhaps these behaviors are just as important for my existence and the preservation of the species as the ‘good’ behaviors.”  Unless there is an objective moral law that is over and above survival ethics, there is absolutely no possible way to determine which behaviors that have been produced by evolution are the good ones and which are the bad ones.

One response available to evolutionists is that those societies that have allowed atrocities, such as Nazi Germany, have not survived, and so evolution did indeed cull them out.  This response fails for two reasons.  First, brutal and tyrannical regimes have existed since the dawn of mankind and they continue to exist today.  People of the nineteenth century were basking in the afterglow of the Enlightenment and were confident that mankind’s scientific discoveries and progress were leading them to a golden age.  Yet within the first half of the twentieth century two world wars were fought when brutal regimes rose to power.  To argue that we are now reaching some sort of evolutionary nirvana where corrupt governments can no longer arise seems incredibly naïve, to say the least.  History is replete with dictators and despots and there is no end in sight, unless you are a Christian theist who knows that Christ himself will usher in the end of times. 

Second, if the evolutionist uses the failure of brutal regimes as evidence they are morally wrong, then this indicates that any brutal regimes that do survive are proved morally right.  In other words, only survival is a criterion for rightness, but this lands the survival ethicist right back in social Darwinism, which survival ethicists decry.

A second possible response to the point that evolution has produced those who rape, murder, and steal is to say that we should only rationally obey moral feelings that the majority of people hold.  A few bad apples are not to be heeded.  Here again, there are numerous counter examples that can be given. 

The majority of Europe was under Nazi rule during World War II, so by this criterion Europeans should have adopted the majority view of German nationalism. 

During the heyday of the Soviet Union, millions lived under its brutal hegemony, so it would have been impossible for anyone in that nation to hold the view that their government was behaving immorally. 

Slave ownership was an almost worldwide phenomenon just a few hundred years ago, so how could a person living during that time claim that owning slaves was morally abhorrent?  They could not unless there was an objective and universal moral law that was true for all people at all times; survival ethicists deny this view, however. 

More examples could be given, but neither moral truth nor any other truth is determined by a vote.  If everyone in the world believed that two plus two equals five, then everyone in the world would be wrong.  No philosophical theory can overcome the laws of mathematics or our intuitive knowledge of right and wrong, so we should always be cautious when we are told that whatever the majority says must be right.

Conclusion

Evolutionary ethical systems suffer from numerous problems that are not easily resolvable.  In stark contrast stands the ethics of Christian theism.  Christian theism holds that the universe was created to glorify God, that history has a purpose and that it is moving toward a climax where good will defeat evil once and for all. 

God created human beings to have intimate relationships with him.  Out of God’s perfect moral nature flow his ethical commands to love him and to love one another.  He is the transmitter of moral laws; he has the authority, as the ultimate standard of good, to demand obedience; he has placed an innate knowledge of morality in us; our conscience seers us when we disobey his laws; he knows our motives and intent even when other humans do not; he is spirit and has created immaterial souls and values for his creatures.  Every single moral intuition we have is explained logically by God’s existence.  In fact, if there is even one objective and absolute moral law, God must exist.

The nineteenth century German atheist Frederick Nietzsche pronounced that God is dead and he predicted that the twentieth century would be the bloodiest on record.  He understood that any ethic without God as its source would lead to moral chaos.  Fyodor Dostoevsky, the famous Russian novelist, has said that if God does not exist, then all things are permissible.  It was obvious to these men that without God, ethics have no foundation.  A house with no foundation collapses into rubble and morality is no different.  How can a perfectly holy, just, and righteous God be replaced with a mindless, irrational process such as evolution without devastating consequences?

The contemporary western world is unaware of the danger of evolutionary ethics because it is living on the borrowed foundation and capital of Christian theism.  Evolutionary ethicists maintain a following only because  their theories cloak themselves with a veneer of Judeo-Christian morality.  Take away that veneer and their ethical systems collpase.  Our only hope is to hold tight to the one who made us, the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator of all things, the Lord Jesus Christ.

[quotation references can be provided on request]

Does Evolution Explain Morality? Part 6

Have you ever heard someone say the following?  “Morality is easily explained by evolution and the tendency for biological life to survive and reproduce.”  If so, read on because this post will evaluate this position to see whether it can really explain morality.  If you would like to understand a little more about the theory before reading the critique below, read the previous post first.

There are several objections that can be leveled against the theory.  First, we have an intuitive moral duty to help the weak, the elderly, and the disabled.  This would seem odd since weaker individuals would tend to be eliminated by evolution.   If anything, evolution should have caused feelings of hatred or contempt for those who are biologically unfit.  Moral feelings which cause us to help these people are exactly the opposite of what we expect to find. 

When confronted with this challenge, some evolutionists offer that helping the weak must somehow be worthwhile and that our ancestors found value in it.  In other words, our ancestors decided that evolution did not provide adequate answers for morality and so their rational minds began to work out morality at an individual and societal level.  It seems, however, that at this point human beings discovered an objective moral law – it is morally virtuous to help the weak and disabled – but this moral law is now referring to something universal and absolute that exists outside of survival ethics.  They are referring to a transcendent moral law that has no ground, which is an admission that survival ethics is inadequate. 

The other common answer to the challenge is that helping the disabled must somehow help us to survive, but we just do not know how it helps yet.  This view at least attempts to salvage survival ethics, but it is a circular argument.  We are asking how certain behaviors evolved, so to assume that a behavior did evolve when answering the question is circular reasoning.  

There is another serious problem with this explanation.  Francis Beckwith asks:

Because it is clear that not every human being has a moral sense that he or she has a duty and incumbency to help those less fortunate, on what grounds could the evolutionist say that these human beings are mistaken in their moral viewpoint?  After all, people who lack this moral sense have existed all over the globe for generations, and if they too are the products of evolution, perhaps having such people in our population is necessary for the preservation of the species.

The only escape for the survival ethicist is to claim that those who feel no compulsion to help the weak are morally unfit.  But again, a morality outside of evolution is being invoked which demonstrates that survival ethics does not have adequate explanatory power.

More to come on survival ethics tomorrow.

[quotation references can be provided on request]

Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 1, let’s examine the evidence for dating the books of the NT, especially the books of the NT which contain substantial historical facts about Jesus and his followers.  First we should note that three leaders of the early church – Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp – quoted passages from 25 of the 27 books of the NT right around A.D. 100.  They could not have quoted from the books if they hadn’t been written, so the latest the books of the NT could have been written is A.D. 100.  But there’s strong evidence that many of them were written much earlier.

Several well-attested historical events occurred between A.D. 60 and 70.  First, the Jewish temple, the temple where Jesus and his disciples worshipped along with the rest of the Jewish people, was completely and utterly destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Roman army.  The Romans were extinguishing a significant Jewish rebellion and when they finally entered Jerusalem, they left no stones standing from the temple because they wanted the gold used in the contruction of the temple.

Second, both the apostles Paul and Peter were executed in Rome by the emperor Nero between A.D. 66 and 68.  Their deaths are recorded by church historians – Clement of Rome, in particular, who was alive when their executions occurred.  Their tombs are major historical landmarks in Rome to this day.  Third, James, the brother of Jesus, was executed in Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Council) in A.D. 62.  This event was first recorded by a Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus in the first century.

Why are these three events important?  They help prove that the books of Acts, Luke, and Mark were written before A.D. 62.  Follow the logic.  Acts was written by the historian and medical doctor, Luke.  Luke was a companion of Paul and recorded many of the events of Paul’s life.

One odd thing about Acts is that it ends abruptly with Paul imprisoned in Rome; Paul is still alive at the end of Acts.  Luke also frequently mentions James, the brother of Jesus, and Peter, the apostle, in the book of Acts.  At the end of Acts, Peter and James are also alive (there is no mention of their deaths).

Now, if I were writing a biography of an individual, it seems like one of the most important events that would take place in the biography would be the death of the person.  It’s especially important because it ends the biography!  Luke mentions the martyrdom of Stephen, so he clearly has no trouble writing about the deaths of Christians, but we are left with the fact that Luke never records the deaths of three of the major characters in Acts.

There is only one good explanation for this fact:  they were all alive when Acts was written.  If they were all alive, then Acts must have been written before A.D. 62!  That means Acts was written within 30 years of Jesus’ death and not even a single generation had passed.

In part 3, we will continue to argue for an early dating of several NT books.

Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In two previous posts, Darrell argued that the Greek New Testament (NT) that we have today is almost identical to the twenty-seven books that were originally written.  These two posts can be found here and here.  In this post and following posts, I want to establish an answer to the obvious next question.  If the NT we have today is almost identical to the one originally written, that’s nice, but how do we know that what was written originally wasn’t a bunch of lies?

In other words, did the NT authors record fact or fiction?  Were they trying to record real history or were they making up a story to convince people to follow them?  Maybe what was written was so far removed from the real events that myth and legend overtook the truth.  In order to get an answer to this question, we will use some of the same criteria that historians employ to determine whether a document is reliable – whether the authors can be trusted.

The first thing we want to know about a historical document is how close to the events it was written.  The NT authors were primarily writing about the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, who died around the year A.D. 33 (this fact is well-attested by ancient non-Christian historians).  If we are to trust the accounts written about his life, then the closer the documents are to A.D. 33, the better we can trust them.

So dating the original NT books is extremely important.  Note that we are talking about dating the original writings, not the manuscript copies that exist today.  Even though we don’t have the originals, we can still use historical analysis to deduce roughly when they were written.

One additional reason that dating the books is important is due to the nature of legendary development.  We’re all probably familiar with the way legends can develop about an event, given enough time.  In fact, history is full of strange and outrageous stories of Jesus or the apostles doing bizarre things (e.g., Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and having a child).  The one thing these legends have in common is that they developed many generations and often hundreds of years removed from the time Jesus and the apostles lived.

For clarification, we are not talking about the development of lies or fabrications about an historical event, but the development of legend, which is defined as the outgrowth of a period of oral transmission of a tradition until the original facts have been lost.

In fact, historians have shown that it takes a minimum of three generations for legend to substantially corrupt core historical facts about an event.  Usually, more than 3 generations are required, but there are no examples of legend significantly crowding out truth in 1 or 2 generations.

Why is this?  As long as the eyewitnesses of an event are still alive, or their children, they will correct any legend that taints the true story.  When the eyewitnesses and their children start to die, there are fewer people left to correct falsehood, so legend can creep in.  This fact about history will prove useful in assessing the NT.

Next post, we will continue looking at this important question.

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