Tag Archives: Skeptics

Can Science Test for the Supernatural?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Christians believe that a supernatural being can be reasoned to by working backward from effect to cause.  We observe ourselves and we observe the world around us (those are the effects) and we reason that a supernatural cause is the best explanation for the things we observe.  This is how almost all arguments for God’s existence work.

Science can shed additional light on what we observe in the world around us, so in that sense science can be employed in arguments for God’s existence.  For example, science seems to have shown that the universe had a beginning and that the physical laws and constants that govern the universe are fine tuned for advanced life.  Both of these scientific finds are often used in arguments for God’s existence.

Those who hold a naturalistic worldview (the natural world is all that exists) seem to be divided on this subject.  Some naturalists deny that science can ever be used to test the existence of God and others affirm that science can test for the supernatural and that those tests have all turned out negative.  Still others, like evolutionary scientist Donald Prothero, appear to hold both views at the same time.  Consider the quotes below from Prothero’s book Evolution.

Prothero first suggests that scientists “cannot consider supernatural events in their hypotheses.”  Why? Because “once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it.”  He adds that scientists are not allowed to consider God or miracles (i.e., the supernatural) because they are “completely untestable and outside the realm of science.”  All right, it seems that Prothero is firmly in the camp of those who say that science cannot say anything about the supernatural.

But in the very next paragraph in his book, he completely reverses course.  Prothero explains, “In fact, there have been many scientific tests of supernatural and paranormal explanations of things, including parapsychology, ESP, divination, prophecy, and astrology.  All of these non-scientific ideas have been falsified when subjected to the scrutiny of scientific investigation. . . . Every time the supernatural has been investigated by scientific methods, it has failed the test.”

Huh??  Is your head spinning like mine?  Prothero first claims that science cannot test the supernatural and then he says that science has tested the supernatural.  Which is it?  It can’t be both.

I am not pointing this out to poke fun at Prothero, but because I see some skeptics making this mistake over and over again.  They want to desperately cling to the claim that science can say nothing about the existence of God (so that they can remove science as a tool in the Christian’s evidential toolbox), but they also desperately want to tell people how science has shown that God doesn’t exist (they retain science as a tool for skeptics to nullify the supernatural).  Unfortunately, holding both of these positions at the same time is flatly contradictory.  The skeptic must choose one or the other. Either science can test for the supernatural or it cannot.

I have seen this same mistake made in the intelligent design/evolution debate.  Evolutionists will claim that Michael Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity is non-scientific or scientifically untestable, but these same evolutionists will then produce scientific research they claim scientifically disproves irreducible complexity!  If it’s not scientifically testable, then how are they producing research which scientifically disproves it?

If you’re a Christian talking to a scientific skeptic, watch out for this skeptical two-step.  If you’re a scientific skeptic or naturalist, make up your mind which it is, because you are really confusing me.

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Does Mankind Really Need God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In studying church history, I’ve  been looking at the period often called the Enlightenment.  During this time, a movement swept through Europe which attempted to throw off the authority of divine revelation and place man on his rightful throne as the center of all knowledge and wisdom.

Historian Clyde Manschreck suggested that:

Man’s rational powers in league with science made dependence on God seemingly unnecessary.  Men were confident that they had the tools with which to unlock the mysteries of the universe.  Former distrust of human reason and culture, as seen in the traditional emphases on depravity, original sin, predestination, and self-denial, gave way to confidence in reason, free will, and the ability of man to build a glorious future.

Enlightenment values have continued to this day.  Many of the skeptics I know have a deep distrust of authority figures and tend to think of their own abilities as more than adequate to get them through life successfully.  One skeptical friend of mine told me that the only person he could count on to solve any of his problems was himself.  If all you need is yourself, then what need have you of God?

The Enlightenment, in some respects, strikes me as a philosophical temper tantrum against the authority and rightful rule of God over man.  Is man truly able to go it alone?  Is the world getting better due to secular human wisdom?  How you answer these questions has a lot to do with whether you believe in or trust God.

If man needs no authority over him, if he can get the job done on his own, than the Enlightenment was correct.  God, as another friend of mine recently told me, is unnecessary.  We can get along just fine without him.

I don’t know about you, but I think that coming out of the 20th century, a century with more killing of human life than all other centuries combined, you have to be nuts to think we can solve our own problems.  But that’s just me… maybe we just hit a little bump in the road.

Did Jesus Fail to Address What’s Wrong with the World?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Recently I was conversing with a skeptic of Christianity who was explaining why he had become a skeptic.  One of the most significant reasons was that he was greatly disappointed that the New Testament, and Jesus in particular, did not address a particular social institution which he considers to be particularly evil.  In his view, a God who did not address this issue at that time in history is not worthy of worship.

Other skeptics I’ve met have said similar things.  Jesus should have introduced life-saving technologies, he should have revealed the laws of physics, he should have taught people how to grow more food.

Most of the Jews of the first century were greatly disappointed in Jesus because he failed to free them from Roman occupation.  If he were the real Son of God, surely he would throw off the Roman yoke.

Why didn’t Jesus address all of these issues?

A Christian friend of mine explained to our skeptical friend that Jesus did not come to address social institutions as much as address the condition of each person’s heart.  If men’s hearts are repaired, then social institutions will inevitably be repaired as well.

You see, in God’s program, social injustice, lack of technology, and lack of scientific knowledge are secondary to the primary mission of Jesus.  That mission was to reconcile men to God, who is the source of all good.  Jesus came to deal with each person’s sinful nature; without addressing the depraved heart within each person, nothing else matters.

Abolishing a social institution or teaching someone about physics, without first addressing their heart, is like trying to treat cancer with an aspirin.  It might take away the pain for a little while, but it does not treat the underlying problem.  Something more radical must be done to save the person.

We, of course, have abundant evidence of Christians improving the world through science, technology, and charity, of Christians promoting laws that protect life and freedom.  The Christians who advanced these projects did so because their sinful natures were addressed by Christ first.  The incredible progress of western civilization over the last 2,000 years is a testament to the Christians who had heart transplants.

The skeptic who is disappointed that Jesus didn’t address their particular issue is basically failing to understand the root problem of mankind – we are separated from an all-good God because of our sinful nature.  Man’s root problem is not technology, is not lack of scientific knowledge, is not even social injustice.

In the early 20th century, The London Times invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme “What’s Wrong with the World?”  Famed author and Christian G. K. Chesterton’s contribution took the form of a letter:

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton

Until a person can answer like Chesterton, they won’t understand Jesus.

How Should We Not Read the Bible? Part 6

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 5 of this series, we now turn to the final three mistakes critics make when alleging errors in the Bible.  These mistakes are taken from Norman Geisler and Tom Howe’s The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.

Mistake #15: Forgetting that Only the Original Text, Not Every Copy of Scripture, Is without Error.

Christians readily admit that there are copyist errors in the manuscript copies of the Old and New Testaments (see What is Inerrancy?).  But we also hold that inerrancy only applies to the original words written by the biblical authors.  Finding an error in one of the manuscript copies may or may not trace back to the original writing.  It is only through the science of textual criticism that this investigation can be done (see How Do Textual Critics Choose Among New Testament Manuscript Variants?).

If it can be shown that an original writing contains an alleged error, then the critic must show it is truly an error, that it contradicts well-established facts, something which traditional Christians hold has never been successfully done.

Mistake 16: Confusing General Statements with Universal Ones.

Geisler and Howe explain: “Critics often jump to the conclusion that unqualified statements admit of no exceptions. They seize upon verses that offer general truths and then point with glee to obvious exceptions. In so doing, they forget that such statements are only intended to be generalizations.”

The Book of Proverbs, for example, contains numerous general statements of wisdom, but these proverbial sayings are not universally true.  Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Even though it is generally true, many of us can point to examples of children who, even though they were raised in a strong Christian home, rebel and never straighten out their lives.

Mistake 17: Forgetting that Later Revelation Supersedes Previous Revelation.

In God’s dealings with mankind, as recorded in the Bible, he progressively revealed more and more of himself as history advanced.  God tested mankind in the Garden of Eden with a tree, but this test is no longer in effect.  The commands to sacrifice animals for the forgiveness of sins was in effect for a time, but once Jesus died for mankind’s sins, the animal sacrifices were no longer necessary.  Jesus was revealed as the Son of God, but only to the people of his time, and not to those who lived before him.

Some critics point to later revelation and claim that it contradicts earlier revelation, but this accusation cannot be sustained if the “error” in question was a command given for a specific time period.  Again, God has dealt with mankind in many different ways throughout history.  This fact does not prove that errors exist in the Bible.


All Christians are well advised to memorize the 17 mistakes that critics make when alleging errors in the Bible.  Truth be told, Christians sometimes make these same mistakes.  We may not accuse the Bible of error, but we often forget that the books of the Bible were written by human writers, in different literary styles, and with differing perspectives.  These 6 blog posts, therefore, are not just a call for critics to stop improperly maligning the Bible, but a call for Christians to better understand the Word of God that has been handed down to them.

How Should We Not Read the Bible? Part 5

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 4 of this series, we now turn to more of the mistakes critics make when alleging errors in the Bible.  These mistakes are taken from Norman Geisler and Tom Howe’s The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.

Mistake #11: Presuming that the Bible Approves of All it Records.

Not everything recorded in the Bible is approved by the Bible.  The Bible recounts the sinful acts of many people throughout its pages, but it does not promote these sinful acts.  Critics will often point to polygamy, deception, or any number of other immoral acts in the Bible to prove that God actively promotes those acts.  These things are recorded so that the readers of the Bible may learn from the mistakes of others.

Mistake 12: Forgetting that the Bible Uses Non-technical, Everyday Language.

The biblical authors used common, everyday language to convey truth.  They were not attempting to write in scholarly or scientific terms.  As Geisler and Howe state, “The use of observational, nonscientific language is not unscientific, it is merely prescientific. The Scriptures were written in ancient times by ancient standards, and it would be anachronistic to superimpose modern scientific standards upon them.”

Mistake 13: Assuming that Round Numbers Are False.

Much like the previous mistake, it is unreasonable to expect biblical authors, in a prescientific age, to use precise numbers with several significant digits.  Numbers are sometimes rounded off and there is nothing deceptive or false about this practice.  The Bible is not a math textbook.

Mistake 14: Neglecting to Note that the Bible Uses Different Literary Devices.

There are numerous literary styles used in the Bible, including parable, poetry, allegory, historical narrative, apocalypse, personal letter, epistle, song, and others.  These different literary styles make use of metaphor, simile, satire, hyperbole, and other figures of speech.  It is the job of the reader to recognize when a figure of speech is being employed.  “Obviously when the Bible speaks of the believer resting under the shadow of God’s ‘wings’ (Ps. 36:7), it does not mean that God is a feathered bird.”

Three more mistakes to go…

How Should We Not Read the Bible? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 3 of this series, we now turn to more of the mistakes critics make when alleging errors in the Bible.  These mistakes are taken from Norman Geisler and Tom Howe’s The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.

Mistake #8: Assuming that a Partial Report is a False Report.

Sometimes multiple authors in the Bible describe the same historical events, but not in the exact same way.  Each report is a partial report from a particular point of view.  Critics attack the biblical authors for recounting different and divergent facts about the same event, but conversely would accuse the authors of collusion or plagiarism if they recounted the exact same facts in the exact same way.

For example, just because the four Gospel writers recorded different details about the life of Jesus does not mean that they are being deceptive.  Every historian chooses particular facts to convey to his readers, depending on what his purpose is.  It is completely unrealistic to expect anything different from the biblical authors.

Mistake #9: Demanding that NT Citations of the OT Always Be Exact Quotations.

Critics sometimes point to NT citations of the OT as proof of error because the citations do not exactly match the words of the OT.  This, however, does not follow.  It was commonly acceptable, and still is today, to paraphrase someone else’s statement as long as the meaning of the statement is conserved, even if the exact words are not.  As Geisler and Howe state, “The same meaning can be conveyed without using the same verbal expressions.”

Mistake 10: Assuming that Divergent Accounts Are False Ones.

This mistake closely resemble mistake number #8, but stresses that not only are partial reports not necessarily false, but neither are divergent accounts.  Again, just because two biblical authors record differing details of one historical event does not mean that they are mistaken or deceitful.

A good example is the account of Judas Iscariot’s death.  “Matthew (27:5) informs us that Judas hanged himself. But Luke says that ‘he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out’ (Acts 1:18). Once more, these accounts differ, but they are not mutually exclusive. If Judas hanged himself on a tree over the edge of a cliff and his body fell on sharp rocks below, then his entrails would gush out just as Luke vividly describes.”

Seven more mistakes to go…

How Should We Not Read the Bible? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 2 of this series, we now turn to more of the mistakes critics make when alleging errors in the Bible.  These mistakes are taken from Norman Geisler and Tom Howe’s The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.

Mistake #6: Basing a Teaching on an Obscure Passage.

Some passages in the Bible are difficult to understand because the author used a word which isn’t found anywhere else in the Bible.  In cases like this, Bible translators try to determine the meaning from context, but sometimes they just don’t know for sure.

Some passages in the Bible contain well-known words, but we may not know to what those words refer.  An example of this can be found in 1 Cor. 15:29 where Paul speaks of those “baptized for the dead.”

Geisler and Howe ask, “Is he referring to the baptizing of live representatives to ensure salvation for dead believers who were not baptized (as Mormons claim)? Or, is he referring to others being baptized into the church to fill the ranks of those who have passed on? Or, is he referring to a believer being baptized “for” (i.e., “with a view to”) his own death and burial with Christ? Or, to something else?”

When we aren’t sure about the meaning, there are some guidelines to keep in mind:

First, we should not build a doctrine on an obscure passage. The rule of thumb in Bible interpretation is “the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” This is called the perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture. If something is important, it will be clearly taught in Scripture and probably in more than one place. Second, when a given passage is not clear, we should never conclude that it means something that is opposed to another plain teaching of Scripture. God does not make mistakes in His Word; we make mistakes in trying to understand it.

Mistake 7:  Forgetting that the Bible Is a Human Book with Human Characteristics.

Quoting Geisler and Howe:

With the exception of small sections, like the Ten Commandments which were “written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18), the Bible was not verbally dictated. The writers were not secretaries of the Holy Spirit. They were human composers employing their own literary styles and idiosyncrasies.

These human authors sometimes used human sources for their material (Josh. 10:13; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). In fact, every book of the Bible is the composition of a human writer—about forty of them in all.

The Bible also manifests different human literary styles, from the mournful meter of Lamentations to the exalted poetry of Isaiah; from the simple grammar of John to the complex Greek of the Book of Hebrews.

Scripture also manifests human perspectives. David spoke in Psalm 23 from a shepherd’s perspective. Kings is written from a prophetic vantage point, and Chronicles from a priestly point of view. Acts manifests an historical interest and 2 Timothy a pastor’s heart. Writers speak from an observer’s standpoint when they write of the sun rising or setting (Josh. 1:15).

They also reveal human thought patterns, including memory lapses (1 Cor. 1:14–16), as well as human emotions (Gal. 4:14).

The Bible discloses specific human interests. For example, Hosea possessed a rural interest, Luke a medical concern, and James a love of nature.

But like Christ, the Bible is completely human, yet without error. Forgetting the humanity of Scripture can lead to falsely impugning its integrity by expecting a level of expression higher than that which is customary to a human document.

More to come!

How Should We Not Read the Bible? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Continuing from part 1 of this series, we now turn to more of the mistakes critics make when alleging errors in the Bible.  These mistakes are taken from Norman Geisler and Tom Howe’s The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.

Mistake #3: Confusing Our Fallible Interpretations with God’s Infallible Revelation.

The words of the Bible are infallible, meaning they cannot be broken (see John 10:35).  We can trust everything in the Bible because it is God’s Word and God cannot err.  However, humans must interpret the words of the Bible and our interpretations are not infallible.  We can make mistakes when we handle the Word of God.  Geisler and Howe explain that “the Bible cannot be mistaken, but we can be mistaken about the Bible. The meaning of the Bible does not change, but our understanding of its meaning does.”

Likewise, we must all be careful of pitting scientific findings against Scripture.  Both science and Scripture require fallible human interpretation and so both are open to error.  It is impossible for true scientific interpretations to contradict true interpretations of Scripture, so when we think there is a contradiction, we know that one of the interpretations is false.

Mistake #4: Failing to Understand the Context of the Passage.

No word, sentence, paragraph, or chapter of the Bible can be understood without its context.  In fact, this is true of any written document.  Since modern Bibles include verse and chapter numbers, many readers freely quote phrases and sentences in isolation without anchoring them in their surrounding context.  Because the Bible is so easy to quote (from verses and chapters), critics commonly ignore the context of biblical passages and draw improper conclusions from what they read.

Mistake #5: Neglecting to Interpret Difficult Passages in the Light of Clear Ones.

According to Geisler and Howe, “Some passages of Scripture are hard to understand. Sometimes the difficulty is due to their obscurity. At other times, the difficulty is because passages appear to be teaching something contrary to what some other part of Scripture is clearly teaching.”  In these cases, the best course of action is to take what is clearly taught in Scripture and interpret the difficult passages through what is clearly taught.

More in part 3…

How Should We Not Read the Bible? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most common accusations I hear from skeptics is that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions.  How do you and I, as Christians who believe the Bible is without error, deal with these claims?

Several years ago, I purchased a book by Norman Geisler and Tom Howe called When Critics Ask, now re-published under the name, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.  This book has been a loyal companion to me when skeptics confront me with a Bible difficulty which I have not analyzed before.  If you interact with skeptics of Christianity, I highly recommend this book to you.

One of the most important sections of the book is in the Introduction, where Geisler and Howe list 17 mistakes that critics of the Bible make when they attempt to cite errors.  The next few blog posts will briefly discuss these mistakes so that we can better understand how not to read the Bible.

Mistake #1: Assuming that the Unexplained Is Not Explainable.

There are, indeed, many passages in the Bible which are difficult to understand.  Nobody who has read the Bible could say otherwise.  But for those who take the Bible seriously, its contents have been vindicated many times throughout history as more information has become available through the fields of history, archaeology, the physical sciences, and even linguistics.

Geisler and Howe cite a couple examples of how critics have been proven wrong in the past:

For example, critics once proposed that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible because there was no writing in Moses’ day. Now we know that writing was in existence a couple of thousand years or more before Moses. Likewise, critics once believed that the Bible was wrong in speaking of the Hittite people, since they were totally unknown to historians. Now, all historians know of their existence by way of their library that was found in Turkey.

Since we have seen the Bible proven right so many times in the past, it is reasonable to believe that those things in the Bible which are today unexplained, will some day be explained.

Mistake #2: Presuming the Bible Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Critics often begin with the supposition that the Bible is wrong until it is proven right, but this is an unfair approach.  Other books are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and so should the Bible be presumed innocent.  As a book that has shaped western civilization over the last 2,000 years and which contains some of the most important literature ever written, even critics need to treat it with respect and approach it with the same attitude that they would approach any other great literary work.

I will continue with Geisler and Howe’s list in the coming days.  Stick around!

How Do We Interpret the Old Testament Narratives?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Some Christians and many skeptics of Christianity take a simple approach to reading the Bible.  They treat the entire Bible and all of its contents as a moral command textbook.  In other words, every single sentence is to be read with an eye toward what moral behavior the author is sanctioning or condemning, regardless of the literary genre.  Certainly some parts of the Bible are directly teaching us moral standards, but not all.

As an example, I recently discussed the issue of polygamy with a skeptic.  The skeptic’s viewpoint was basically this: the Old Testament narratives describe polygamous relationships  frequently and they never seem to expressly condemn it, so, therefore, the Bible teaches that polygamy is acceptable.

The skeptic seemed to be saying that if a certain behavior is found in the Old Testament narratives, and that behavior is not specifically condemned in those same narratives, then the narratives are teaching that this behavior is morally acceptable.

Is that how we should understand the narratives in the OT?  No, not according to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in their popular book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.  Following are ten principles for interpreting OT narratives that Fee and Stuart recommend:

  1. An OT narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine.
  2. An OT narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.
  3. OT narratives record what happened – not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time.  Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral application.
  4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us.  Frequently, it is just the opposite.
  5. Most of the characters in OT narratives are far from perfect – as are their actions as well.
  6. We are not always told at the end of an OT narrative whether what happened was good or bad.  We are expected to be able to judge this on the basis of what God has taught us directly and categorically elsewhere in Scripture.
  7. All OT narratives are selective and incomplete.  Not all the relevant details are always given (cf. John 21:25).  What does appear in the narrative is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know.
  8. OT narratives are not written to answer all of our theological questions.  They have particular, specific, limited purposes and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere in other ways.
  9. OT narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly (by clearly implying something without actually stating it).
  10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives.

With regard to polygamy, the Bible clearly illustrates and explains the ideal for marriage in Genesis 2, and the author of subsequent OT narratives (in Genesis, Exodus, and so on) would expect his readers to know what Genesis 2 taught.  God did not create two women for Adam, or three or four, but one.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).