An Atheist Reads Evidence That Demands a Verdict
Chapters 3 and 4
Part One: The Case for the Bible
Chapter 3: Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?
- McDowell introduces the chapter by describing the three tests to which he will be subjecting the New Testament to determine its historical reliability. These are the same three tests to which all historical documents are subjected, he says, and he takes them from a book by C. Sanders, Introduction to Research in English Literary History.
- The three tests are the bibliographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test.
The Bibliographical Test for the Reliability of the New Testament
Internal Evidence Test for the Reliability of the New Testament
- The purpose of this test, McDowell explains, is to determine if the versions of the documents we have today are reliable copies of the originals. Since the originals have been lost, how reliable are the surviving copies, how many of them are there, and how much time elapsed between the creation of the originals and the creation of the extant copies?
- McDowell claims a total of 25,000 surviving New Testament manuscripts (counting fragments and partial manuscripts, and counting all languages). He compares this to The Iliad, of which we have a mere 643 surviving manuscripts, and declares the New Testament to be the best attested ancient document in existence.
- “The importance of the sheer number of manuscript copies cannot be overstated. As with other documents of ancient literature, there are no known extant (currently existing) original manuscripts of the Bible. Fortunately, however, the abundance of manuscript copies makes it possible to reconstruct the original with virtually complete accuracy.” (Josh McDowell, THE NEW EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT, p. 35)
- Then, as if to test his assertion that the importance of the number of surviving manuscripts cannot be overstated, McDowell takes the next ten pages to make that point over and over again. We have lots and lots of copies of the New Testament, many of which date much closer to the presumed time of the original manuscripts than the oldest surviving copies of other ancient documents such as Homer’s Iliad, Livy’s History of Rome, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, and so on. From these copies and from the numerous quotations and supporting statements made by early church fathers, we can be assured that the New Testament we have today is an accurate and reliable representation of those documents as originally written.
- And I am prepared to grant McDowell this point without putting up a fuss. The New Testament is an extremely well attested ancient manuscript. The New Testament we have today is essentially the same as when it was first written down. Perhaps there are those of you more up on the provenance of the New Testament who could argue with some of McDowell’s claims, but for myself, accepting the argument at face value, I see no reason to dispute it, particularly since I don’t think it really gets McDowell anywhere. I’ll explain why in a bit.
1. The Unexplained Is Not Necessarily Unexplainable
- McDowell begins this section by explaining that when evaluating the reliability of an historical document, one should follow the advice of Aristotle and give the document the benefit of the doubt. In other words, don’t assume the document is unreliable unless you have good reason to — unresolvable contradictions or inaccuracies, for instance.
- I can get behind that 100%.
- Next, McDowell turns to the issue of Biblical contradictions. He lays out fifteen principles intended to help us discern whether or not a suspected error or contradiction in the Bible is truly an error or a contradiction.
- Just because something doesn’t have an obvious explanation doesn’t mean that there isn’t an explanation
- “Scientists, for example, once had no natural explanation of meteors, eclipses, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Until recently, scientists did not know how the bumblebee could fly. But no scientist throws in the towel and cries ‘contradiction!’ All of these mysteries have yielded their secrets to the relentless patience of science.” (p. 46)
- McDowell goes on to say that, like a scientist, a Bible scholar continues to research unexplained portions of the Bible, expecting to find an explanation. And assuming that there is an answer to be found is natural, because if one made the opposite assumption, one would simply stop studying.
- The problem is that McDowell isn’t counting “it’s a contradiction” as a possible answer. If you encounter a contradiction in the Bible — or any other work, for that matter — maybe there’s another explanation for it, or maybe the explanation is that it’s a contradiction. McDowell seems to be saying that the proper thing to do, when encountering a contradiction in the Bible, is to keep looking until you discover that it’s not a contradiction afterall. But that’s working with a pre-made conclusion, and that is most certainly not how a good scientist, or anyone who cared about the truth, would do it.
- Fallible Interpretations Do Not Mean Fallible Revelation
- God’s perfect word could be misinterpreted or misunderstood by we fallible, finite humans
3. Understand the Context of the Passage
- “One should not assume that a currently dominant view in science is the final word on the topic. Prevailing views of science in the past are considered errors by scientists in the present. So, contradictions between popular opinions in science and widely accepted interpretations of the Bible can be expected. But these conflicts fall short of proving there are real contradictions between God’s world and God’s Word.” (pp. 47-48)
- One shouldn’t assume the current scientific consensus is the final word on a topic, because everything in science is open to revision. But one should assume that an established scientific consensus is correct until one has a good reason to assume otherwise. And “my religion says otherwise” is not a good reason.
- We also have the same problem as with the previous principle: the presupposition that the Bible is God’s Word, and this universe is God’s world. If you make those assumptions going in and are unwilling to accept anything that contradicts them, you’ll never find the truth, and in fact, you’re really not interested in knowing what the truth is, anyway.
4. Interpret Difficult Passages in the Light of Clear Ones
- McDowell cautions against taking a passage out of its original context.
- “One can prove anything from the Bible by this mistaken procedure. The Bible says, ‘there is no God’ (Ps. 14:1). Of course, the context is that ‘The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”’ (Ps. 14:1).” (p. 48)
- Disagreement on the existence of God isn’t one of the contradictions commonly cited by critics of Biblical inerrancy, and McDowell damn well knows it. One doesn’t have to quote sentence fragments to invent contradictions. The Bible is overflowing with them. Some are minor, some are substantial, but none are the result of the sort of blatant quote mining McDowell is describing with that example from Psalm 14:1. That he would choose to address the role of context in determining whether or not given passages contradict each other so childishly and evasively is insulting.
5. Don’t Base Teaching on Obscure Passages
- Basically, if a given passage seems to be a problem, but there are other passages that address the same topic with more clarity, go with the clear passages and assume that the true meaning of the difficult passage, whatever it might be, doesn’t contradict the meaning of those clear passages.
- Again, strike “it’s a contradiction” off your list of possible solutions from the start.
6. The Bible Is a Human Book with Human Characteristics
- Assume if a passage is obscure, its meaning isn’t clear, and it isn’t clarified by other passages, that it isn’t that important. And don’t forget:
- “When a given passage is not clear, never conclude that it means something that opposes another plain teaching of Scripture.” (p. 49)
- How can you read the Bible and come away believing it has no contradictions? Start with that assumption and don’t let anything move you from it.
7. Just Because a Report is Incomplete Does Not Mean It Is False
- God used people to write the Bible, and people communicated God’s message in line with their own personalities.
- “Therefore, expressions of speech (such as when Jesus used exaggeration) should not always be taken literally, then pitted against another portion of Scripture.” (p. 49)
8. New Testament Citations of the Old Testament Need Not Always Be Exact
- When multiple accounts of the same event contain different information, assume they are complimentary rather than contradictory.
9. The Bible Does Not Necessarily Approve of All It Records
- Early Christians citing the Old Testament occasionally cited from different versions, just as today we sometimes cite from different translations.
10. The Bible Uses Non-Technical, Everyday Language
- It’s important to remember that just because the Bible depicts something, it doesn’t necessarily approve of it or recommend it.
- “Unless this distinction is maintained, one might incorrectly conclude that the Bible teaches immorality when it narrates David’s sin (2 Sam. 11:4), that it promotes polygamy when it records Solomon’s many wives (I Kin. 11:3), or that it affirms atheism when it quotes the fool as saying ‘there is no God’ (Ps. 14:1).” (p. 50)
- Fair enough, though it’s more difficult to use the “depiction, not approval” argument when we come to passages describing God ordering people to commit genocide, or committing it himself, or when we consider the Christian doctrine of salvation through scapegoating.
11. The Bible May Use Both Round Numbers As Well As Exact Numbers
- The writers of the Bible describe scientific truths using the language idioms of their time. These should not be taken literally and counted as contradictions.
- So when the Bible describes Earth originating before the stars, or plants originating before the Sun, or the Sun standing still for an entire day at the request of Joshua, we should assume those descriptions, which are obvious contradictions of scientific fact, to be idiomatic, as well?
12. Note When the Bible Uses Different Literary Devices
- This is an attempt to explain away the Bible’s apparent ignorance of the actual value of pi, I think, though McDowell doesn’t specify.
13. An Error in a Copy Does Not Equate to an Error in the Original
- Pay attention to context so you know whether to take something literally or not.
- McDowell doesn’t say this, but I’d bet a good rule of thumb would be, if it seems like a contradiction, just assume it’s not to be taken literally. Because remember: the Bible has no contradictions.
14. General Statements Don’t Necessarily Mean Universal Promises
- Remember last time when I spoke about how church’s believe that the Bible’s original autograph is perfect?
- “When theologians talk about the inerrancy of the Scriptures, they are referring to the Scriptures as originally written — the autographs — as opposed to a copy of a copy of a copy.” (p. 50)
- Isn’t that just the ultimate trap-door?
- This is one of many reasons why I don’t consider theology to be a respectable field of study. For a theologian, or anyone, to refer to the original autographs of the Bible as being anything, let alone inerrant, is preposterous because they do not exist! No one has ever seen them. But if an error in scripture is found and it can’t be explained away with any other excuse, there’s always this one: well, this is a copy of a copy of a copy, but the original autograph — that one’s perfect. This is the ignorance and the arrogance that makes religious faith utterly useless for learning anything worth knowing.
- Speaking of the original autographs of the Bible, wouldn’t those be nice to have? One the one hand, apologists like McDowell are always implying (or sometimes explicitly asserting) that the hand of God somehow guided the various copyists and evangelists and church scholars responsible for transmitting the Bible across the centuries to us. On the other hand, they always have those missing but presumed-perfect original autographs to fall back on. Folks like me who reject the Bible are sometimes asked by Christians what would convince us — what would good, compelling evidence for the Bible as the Word of God look like to us? Well, here’s one suggestion: the original autographs, confirmed as authentic, passed down through the generations, perfectly preserved. Shielded by God’s protection so that nothing or no one can ever harm them. Consisting of simple ink and paper, but impervious to damage — can’t be torn, burnt, crumpled. And their copying and translation is divinely directed, too — it’s impossible, no matter how you might try, to copy their words incorrectly or produce a translation that alters or miscommunicates their message. And these original autographs are on constant public display, so that anyone who wishes can step right up and see for themselves how miraculously protected they are. Would something like that make me a Christian all by itself? No, probably not. But as evidence that the Bible is a unique and powerful book it would be a hell of a lot more compelling than what the church actually has. It doesn’t take much imagination to improve on that.
15. Later Revelation Supersedes Previous Revelation
- The Bible might make a statement that is generally true (for instance in Proverbs 16:7, where it states that when a man’s ways please the Lord, even his enemies will be at peace with him). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any exceptions to this general truth.
- What about statements that clearly are meant as promises that have not turned out to be true? Like when Jesus promised his second coming would occur within the lifetime of his original followers? Or when Jesus promised that prayers said in his name would always be answered, and that faith would give his followers the power to move mountains? Or am I taking things too literally?
- God gave people a progressive revelation. Later revelation that changes a previous revelation shouldn’t be interpreted as a mistake. For instance, God used to require animal sacrifices. Then Christ came along and offered the perfect sacrifice.
- “A person who takes the Bible seriously, rather than tries to explain it away, may agree with Mark Twain when he said that it was not the part of the Bible he did not understand that bothered him the most, but the parts he did understand!” (p. 51)
- The purpose isn’t to explain the Bible away, but to explain it as accurately and honestly as we can, instead of resting our conclusions on religious presuppositions.
Did the Writer Use Primary Sources?
- McDowell claims that the writers of the New Testament wrote as eyewitnesses or based their accounts on the firsthand accounts of eyewitnesses.
- McDowell acknowledges the criticism that the authors of the New Testament merely claimed to be working from eyewitness testimony, when that was not actually the case.
- “The fact is, however, that the books of the New Testament were not written down a century or more after the events they described, but during the lifetimes of those involved in the accounts themselves. Therefore, the New Testament must be regarded by scholars today as a competent primary source document from the first century.” (p. 52)
- The problem with that is, even if the documents were written down as early as McDowell and the various Christian scholars he cites in this section claim, they are still anonymous, and the gospels, in particular, are still based on earlier sources and ultimately, most likely, on oral traditions. McDowell writes about the New Testament as though these first-hand eyewitnesses to Jesus just sat down and wrote the books of the New Testament as we have them today, and that isn’t what happened. Even most evangelical Bible scholars concede that Matthew and Luke are based on Mark. And it’s probable that Mark itself was based on an earlier source. So how are any of those primary sources?
External Evidence Test for the Reliability of the New Testament
- Can the accuracy, reliability and authenticity of the New Testament be established by other sources?
- Here McDowell cites the usual suspects of non-Biblical Christian sources: Eusebius, Papias, Irenaeus, and Polycarp, as well as Clement, Ignatius, and Tatian. He also cites non-Christian sources that will sound familiar to anyone familiar with this discussion: Tacitus, Josephus, and Suetonius (the secretary to Emperor Hadrian in the second century).
- I’ve dealt with the extra-Biblical sources multiple times in previous “An Atheist Reads” series, so I’ll just reiterate the main problem with how McDowell and other apologists use them: the extra-Biblical sources are only useful in establishing what people believed about Jesus, and that the places and many of the significant historical figures mentioned in the Gospels were real. There is nothing in them to compel us to believe any of the extraordinary claims made about Jesus — that he was the Son of God, that he worked miracles, that he returned to life following his execution.
- McDowell moves from the extra-Biblical sources to the archaeological evidence, which he claims confirms the accuracy of the New Testament, and particularly Luke. The places described, where the events in the life of Jesus took place, were real places.
- At the conclusion of the chapter, McDowell says
- “One must apply the same test, whether the literature under investigation is secular or religious. Having done this, I believe we can hold the Scriptures in our hands and say, ‘The Bible is trustworthy and historically reliable.’” (p. 68)
- I agree completely. One must apply the same test, whether the piece under scrutiny is religious or not. But to me that means that we don’t stop reading it critically just because we find some historically accurate details. What McDowell wants us to do is recognize that the New Testament gets some things right — that it is historically reliable in many instances — and then accept its accounts of miracles and resurrections as factual, as well. But as I said in the previous video, the presence of the true bits should not compel us to accept as true the obviously false bits.
- One point that has escaped every apologist I’ve read so far on the subject of the historical reliability of the Bible is that it’s not the mundane details that arouses skepticism — it’s the extraordinary ones. Show me all the evidence in the world that Nazareth existed in the time of Christ, that all the places mentioned were actual places, that all the people who appear in the narrative were real people. I don’t doubt the reliability of the Gospels because I think it got the details of crucifixion wrong, or because I don’t believe any such person as John the Baptist existed. I doubt the reliability of the Gospels because they depict things like demonic possession and miracles and resurrections as actual events, when I know — both from my own experience and from the scientific consensus on how the universe works — that these things do not happen. It’s not that they’re rare and their occurrence is improbable — they never, ever, ever happen. They are not a part of human experience, now or ever. And that’s not anti-supernatural bias, as is so often claimed by apologists — that’s what the evidence (or rather the complete and utter lack thereof) says.
- This may sound too obvious, but the Bible is historically reliable — when it’s historically reliable. When it’s not historically reliable, it’s not. It’s possible for a document to contain historically reliable information and not be 100% historically reliable. Take, for example, issue #36 of volume 2 of the comic book The Amazing Spider-Man. It was published in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and it depicts Spider-Man and other Marvel superheroes helping in the recovery effort at Ground Zero in New York City. Now, New York City is a real place. The 9/11 attacks were an actual event. J. Michael Strazcynski and John Romita Jr., the writer and artist of that issue, got many of the details surrounding 9/11 right — the atmosphere, the look of Ground Zero, etc. But that doesn’t mean that, two-thousand years from now, historians should look at that issue and conclude that Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America were real people. The proper thing to do with any historical document is to examine it critically, to separate the accurate from the inaccurate, not to cherrypick the true bits and just assume it’s all true because of them.
Chapter 4: Is the Old Testament Historically Reliable?
The Reliability of the Old Testament Manuscripts
- Before moving into the evidence for the reliability of the Old Testament, McDowell reminds us that the subject at hand is the reliability of the Bible, not the inspiration of the Bible. That comes later.
Textual Transmission: How Accurate Was the Copying Process?
- McDowell claims that the Old Testament has been proven reliable in no less than three ways: accurate textual transmission from one copy to the next, confirmation by archaeological evidence, and confirmation by documentary evidence.
Quantity of Manuscripts
- Well, pretty goddamn accurate, apparently. (Not McDowell’s exact words.) The Hebrew scribes who copied the Old Testament documents were incredibly meticulous, and careful to make exact copies, creating documents that were almost perfectly accurate. McDowell cites Gleason Archer, who claimed that the copies of Isaiah discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls are 95% identical to our modern standard Hebrew Bible.
- McDowell then cites Robert Dick Wilson, who trumpets how accurately the Old Testament records the names of historically verified kings, including a series of about 40 Egyptian kings who lived from 2000 B.C. to 400 B.C., who are mentioned in the Bible.
- Quoting Wilson, McDowell states that the odds of the Old Testament being this accurate by chance are one chance in 750 sextillion.
- Nevermind how preposterous that number sounds — who ever claimed that whatever historical accuracy the Old Testament possesses is the result of chance? Or “mere circumstance” as McDowell has Wilson calling it? Clearly, accuracy was important to the Hebrews, clearly it’s something they put a lot of conscious effort into maintaining. And good for them. That’s not chance. It’s diligence. And diligence might be a rare quality, but I hardly need to assume divine intervention to account for it.
- Though there aren’t nearly as many surviving ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament as the New, there is still an impressive number; somewhere in the tens of thousands, it seems, though unlike the New Testament, McDowell doesn’t give a clear total estimate.
History of the Old Testament Text
- McDowell spends several pages describing the dedication of Jewish scribes to copying and preserving the Old Testament scriptures, particularly the Masoretes, Jewish scholars who were responsible for giving the Old Testament text its final form between the years 500 and 950, treating the text with almost superstitious reverence and taking extreme care to preserve its original message.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
- The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 confirmed the accuracy of the Masoretic texts. The scrolls dated to over a thousand years before the oldest Masoretic text, included a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah, as well as fragments representing every other book of the Old Testament except the Book of Esther.
Non-Hebrew Manuscript Evidence
- As in the previous chapter, McDowell describes a long line of extra-Biblical sources that refer to and confirm the Old Testament texts as accurate and genuine.
- And as in the previous chapter, I’m not terribly concerned with disputing the age or the textual accuracy of the Old Testament as described by McDowell. My rejection of the Bible as a divinely inspired text doesn’t rest on those things.
Archaeological and Historical Confirmation of the Old Testament
- McDowell explains that for his purposes here, archaeological evidence is divided between artifact evidence (meaning artifacts that testify directly of a Biblical event), and documentary evidence (meaning written documents that directly or indirectly confirm the history presented in the Old Testament).
- McDowell also makes it clear that archaeological evidence can merely support the Bible — it cannot prove that the Bible is the word of God, or that any given supernatural event (God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, for example) actually took place. Sounds reasonable enough. But McDowell also makes this statement:
- “. . . archaeology has never contradicted the Bible.” (p. 91)
- This is just flat-out untrue. It was untrue in 1999 when this edition of the book was published, and it’s even more untrue today. For example:
- There is no archaeological evidence for the Jews being enslaved by the Egyptians, or for the Exodus, or for the 40 years spent wandering in the desert. So far as the historical record shows, those events never happened at all. In fact, a series of workers tombs discovered in Cairo beginning in the 1990s suggests that the builders of the Pyramids were not Jewish slaves, or even slaves at all, but free men. There’s no evidence of any Jews in Egypt at all until two thousand years after the Pyramids were completed.
The Stones Cry Out: Examples of Archaeological Support for the Old Testament Accounts
- McDowell lists various examples where archaeology has confirmed details found in the Old Testament: the fall of Jericho, the existence of Saul, David, and Solomon, and, so says McDowell, the existence and fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Archaeology confirms the location of Sodom and Gomorrah, and there is evidence of a massive earthquake, and high concentrations of bitumen (evidence of brimstone).
- “There is evidence that the layers of sedimentary rock have been molded together by intense heat. . . . This is permanent evidence of the great conflagration that took place in the long-distant past, possibly when an oil basin beneath the Dead Sea ignited and erupted. Such an explanation in no way subtracts from the miraculous quality of the event, for God controls natural forces.” (p. 95)
- So even if there is a natural explanation for what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, we should still assume that it was God’s work, even though a far more plausible assumption would be that the cities were destroyed by a natural disaster and God’s involvement was added to the story at a later time.
- The location of Sodom and Gomorrah is not nearly as clearly established as McDowell makes it sound, by the way. There are still plenty of archaeologists who think the cities never existed at all, and even among those who think they did, there is disagreement over where they were located. McDowell doesn’t make it clear which of the possible sites he’s referring to when he talks of the presence of bitumen and evidence of earthquakes and intense heat.
Documentary Confirmation of the Old Testament Accounts
- McDowell and his cited experts agree that the history of the Old Testament is reliable all the way back to the age of Abraham. And, according to McDowell himself, even further. He says this about the Genesis creation story:
- “The opening chapters of Genesis . . . are typically thought to be mythological explanations derived from earlier versions of the story found in the ancient Near East. But this view chooses only to notice the similarities between Genesis and the creation stories in other ancient cultures. . . . The differences are more important. Babylonian and Sumerian accounts describe the creation as the product of a conflict among finite gods. . . . These tales display the kind of distortion and embellishment to be expected when a historical account becomes mythologized.” (p. 101)
- McDowell continues:
- “Less likely is that the literary progression would be from this mythology to the unadorned elegance of Genesis 1. The common assumption that the Hebrew account is simply a purged and simplified version of the Babylonian legend is fallacious. In the Ancient Near East, the rule is that simple accounts or traditions give rise . . . to elaborate legends, but not the reverse. So the evidence supports the view that Genesis was not myth made into history. Rather the extrabiblical accounts were history turned into myths.” (p. 101)
- To make that argument, McDowell has to ignore the evidence that the Babylonian creation account pre-dates the Genesis account, as well as the evidence that polytheism, in general, is an older form of god-worship than monotheism.
- Additionally, McDowell has to disregard the various elements of the Genesis account that contradict not only history but evolution and cosmology. Regardless of how confident McDowell is in his tortured interpretation of Genesis and its supposed influence on other Mesopotamian myths, the fact remains that Earth wasn’t created in six days, Earth wasn’t created before the Sun or the other stars, there were no plants before the Sun, there was no source of natural light on Earth before the Sun, and human beings are the product of the same process of evolution that created every other form of life on the planet, not a special creation. The history and the science of Genesis are both wrong and there’s no way around it.
- McDowell, both in those quotes I read a moment ago and elsewhere in the chapter, describes the Genesis creation account as “unadorned” and “realistic” and not mythological. To which I offer the following two-word response: talking snake.
- McDowell goes on listing various bits of the Old Testament that he says are confirmed by archaeology — the same sort of stuff he listed in the New Testament chapter: names of towns, descriptions of religious practices, etc. Then he gets back to the interesting stuff:
The Flood of Noah
The Tower of Babel
- Like the creation, McDowell argues that the Great Flood narrative in Genesis is too realistic to be a myth. He describes the flood myths found in many other cultures, and argues that the Genesis story is the original version from which all these other cultures (many of which are much older than the culture that produced Genesis) derived their stories.
- “The other versions contain elaborations indicating corruption. . . . The length of the rainfall in the pagan accounts (seven days) is not enough time for the devastation they describe. . . . The Babylonian idea that all of the flood waters subsided in one day is equally absurd.” (pp. 104-105)
- Apparently not absurd, according to Josh McDowell: 40 consecutive days of global rainfall resulting in a flood higher than the highest mountains that lasted for 150 days, and the gathering and keeping of two specimens of every type of animal aboard Noah’s ark for that entire time. Again: those would be some of the non-absurd aspects of the “more realistic and less mythological” Genesis flood narrative.
- “Another striking difference between Genesis and the other versions is that in these accounts the hero is granted immortality and exalted. The Bible moves on to Noah’s sin. Only a version that seeks to tell the truth would include this realistic admission.” (p. 105)
- Unless the story is part of a narrative of which one of the major themes is the fallen, disobedient, unreliable nature of man, contrasted with the might and perfection of God. As I said in the previous video, the unflattering details about the heroes aren’t there because it’s a warts-and-all true story; they’re there because they serve the themes of the story.
- McDowell attempts to argue for the authenticity of this story by linking it to the evidence that all modern languages have a common ancestor.
- “Many modern day philologists attest to the likelihood of such an origin for the world’s languages. . . . And Otto Jespersen goes so far as to say that language was directly given to the first men by God.” (p. 105)
- Which just goes to show that even a man of great importance and influence in his field can occasionally say something incredibly stupid.
- McDowell spends most of the rest of the chapter arguing for the archaeological confirmation of the patriarchs, which mostly amounts to evidence that Abraham and Jacob, etc., were actual names used by ancient Israelites, and that descriptions of religious rites found in the Old Testament are essentially correct. He also argues that the genealogy of Abraham is historical, and that it supports the Exodus and the 40 years of wandering in the desert (which, as I’ve already covered, it doesn’t).
- McDowell lists 32 Old Testament events that are confirmed by references in the New Testament, and finishes up the chapter with this:
- “It is my deep conviction, after examining the evidence, that I can hold in my hand the Bible (both Old and New Testaments together) and conclude I have the reliable Word of God.” (p. 118)
- That conclusion having been reached by summarily rejecting the possibility that there are any legitimate errors or contradictions in the Bible, and by ignoring the numerous well-established, widely agreed-upon instances where the Bible flat-out gets shit wrong, where it contradicts not merely itself, but the known historical and scientific facts.
- The Genesis creation narrative is wrong — that’s not how it happened.
- There was no Great Flood.
- There was no Egyptian enslavement, there was no Exodus, and there was no 40 years in the wilderness.
- In these examples and many others, the Bible is simply, objectively, wrong. It is not inerrant either in its internal consistency or its depiction of the external world. And there is absolutely no reason to conclude that it is the Word of God, or that any god or anything other than human minds and human hands had anything to do with creating it.
Next: Begin Part Two: The Case for Jesus
Chapter 5: Jesus, A Man of History
Chapter 6: If Jesus Wasn’t God, He Deserves an Oscar