Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pro-Supernatural Bias (1)

This is part one of a rebuttal by Farrell Till of part of Dr. James Price's response to Jim Lippard's article (link to Lippard's website) "The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah". It, along with part two which will be posted later, is an excellent short summary of many of the problems with the "evidences" Christian apologists give for Christianity.  Regrettably, I have not been able to find the rest of Till's rebuttal. All Christians need to read this--a classic by Mr. Till from 1996:

From: Farrell Till
Subject: For M. Dawud: Response to Price 

Mr. Dawud: 

You have asked me to reply to Dr. James Price's response to Jim Lippard's article "The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah," which Lippard had posted on his home page.  You wanted me to respond to it in *The Skeptical Review,* but Price's response totals 130k, and it would require more than two complete issues of TSR just to publish the text of Price's article.  Since his response consisted of many unsupported assertions, to adequately rebut many of his points, I would need much more space than he took to make the assertions.  This requirement is due to the obvious fact that assertions are generally brief but rebuttals of assertions require detailed analysis and support. For that reason, I will not be publishing Dr. Price's response, because I would probably have to devote more than an entire year of publishing space in discussion of this one issue.

As a compromise, I intend to respond to Dr. Price via the internet.  I will have to do this in a series of replies that I can see taking at least a year to complete, because I do have many other demands on my time.  I will probably post these replies on my "Errancy" list, and I will send CCs to Dr. Price and people who have challenged me to debate him.  Dr. Price, of course, will be entitled to respond to any of my rebuttals, and I will also post them on the errancy list. 


My general impression of Dr. Price's rebuttal article is not at all favorable.  It is slightly better than many attempts I have seen to prove biblical prophecy fulfillment, and it is certainly better than Dr. Hugh Ross's article on the subject that I published in the January/February 1996 issue of TSR and responded to in a series of three rebuttals.  This, however, is not saying very much, because Ross's article was, in my opinion, incredibly simplistic.  Price did at least try from time to time to present evidence to support his supposition rather than simply make bald assertions, and for that he is to be commended.  This compliment should not be construed to mean that Dr. Price did not at times make bald, unsupported assertions, because he certainly did, as I will be pointing out.  I am merely recognizing that some of his rebuttal arguments were accompanied by supporting information.

Jim Lippard's article was written in an attempt to discredit the claims that certain Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His article is copyrighted with the following permission for use:

This text copyright (c) 1993 by Jim Lippard, 2930 E. 1st St., Tucson, AZ 85716 (  Permission is granted to redistribute this file electronically provided this notice is retained. Quotations from his article are made under the provisions of the above permission.

This introductory information does not require any comment.

My own statements in this response to Lippard's article are not copyrighted and may be distributed without restriction. My response consists of several sections: (1) basic flaws in Lippard's reasoning; (2) presentation of evidence for legitimate predictive prophecy; (3) response to Lippard's discussion of the significance of Messianic prophecy; and (4) response to Lippard's rejection of specific Messianic prophecies. In this latter section I follow Lippard's outline in which he divides his critique into five sections: (a) birth prophecies; ministry prophecies; (c) betrayal prophecies; (d) crucifixion prophecies; and (e) conclusions.

The various points that Price listed in this paragraph will be discussed in detail as I go through Price's rebuttal article, so I will not address them at this point.  I have quoted this paragraph only to show that Dr. Price has indicated that he holds no copyright on his article, so I assume from his statement that he will have no objections to my responding to it via the internet.

Lippard's article is characterized by three basic flaws: (1) disregard of philosophical differences; (2) failure to consider historic Jewish Messianic tradition; and (3) shallow scholarship.
Lippard provided two quotations, one from a Christian, Josh McDowell, and another from an atheist, Thomas Paine, with exactly opposite views on Jesus Christ and Messianic prophecy. He then declared Paine to be right without discussing the fundamental difference in their philosophical presuppositions.

But any consideration of prophecy must surely include such a discussion. If one begins with an anti-supernatural presupposition, as did Paine and Lippard, then that automatically excludes the possibility of true predictive prophecy which is by its very nature supernatural. Thus, whenever an atheist like Paine is faced with a possible instance of predictive prophecy, he must rationalize and try to explain it away. He is satisfied with any flimsy excuse to discredit the prophecy, because, after all, predictive prophecy cannot really happen according to his anti-supernatural presupposition.

Lippard exposed his anti-supernatural presupposition when he said: "Given our present knowledge of the chronology of the Bible's writing, however, in most cases it cannot be demonstrated that the prophetic statements do not post-date the events being predicted." However, this statement involves circular reasoning, because the scholars who post-dated prophecies did so because of their own anti-supernatural presupposition. That is, they reasoned that there is no such thing as long-range, specific predictions, therefore, any such apparent predictions must necessarily have been given after the event predicted. But such reasoning is purely subjective and philosophical, not based on valid historic evidence. It impugns the veracity of the Biblical prophets, making them fraudulent, in spite of their godly reputation. How could such alleged fraudulent literature have gained canonicity and be regarded as the divinely inspired Word of God? The ancient Jews were not gullible. The truly fraudulent literature, and there was some, was never regarded as canonical.
McDowell, on the other hand, is willing to allow the possibility of the supernatural, and thus is willing to acknowledge the existence of true predictive prophecy when it is verified by valid historic evidence. As I demonstrate later, true prophecies exist in the Hebrew Bible that cannot be post-dated, therefore, it is appropriate to conduct the discussion of Messianic prophecy under McDowell's presupposition. Any true prophecy will stand the test of valid historic scrutiny, and any false prophecy will be exposed. On the other hand, it is vain to conduct a discussion of any type of prophecy under Lippard's anti-supernatural presupposition, because such a discussion can only lead to atheism. It begins with atheism and can only lead to atheism. Lippard may pretend to reason in McDowell's philosophical arena, but his anti-supernaturalism is frequently unmasked in the way he reasons and rationalizes. 

In this section of Price's article, he has made the familiar theistic complaint that skeptics have an "anti-supernatural presupposition," but, of course, Dr. Price apparently doesn't recognize that he, like most biblicists, has a PRO-supernatural presupposition.  As we will see in the course of my rebuttals, Dr. Price constantly betrays his pro-supernatural bias.  As with most biblicists, the fact that the Bible says X is usually sufficient to prove X.  Let X represent any of the many supernatural claims in the Bible, from the creation of the world, to the parting of the Red Sea, to Elisha's floating of an axehead, to the various miracles attributed to Jesus, to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The mere fact that the Bible claims these fabulous events occurred is all the evidence that credulous people like Dr. Price need to "prove" to them they did indeed happen.  If a skeptic dares to ask for reasonable evidence that such miracles did happen, biblicists scream, "You have an anti-supernatural presupposition!"

During the course of my rebuttal, I will be appealing to the rule of evidence known as Occam's razor, so I will introduce it now.  William of Occam, a 13th-century philosopher and logician, although not its originator, popularized a reasoning principle that says, "Entities should not be unnecessarily multiplied."  This principle has since been known as Occam's razor, and the essence of it is simple: When a phenomenon needs explanation, the simplest explanation is probably the correct one.  My contention during this discussion will be that biblicists like Dr. Price have flung down this rule of evidence and danced upon it.  In complete disregard of simple explanations of the many claims of biblical miracles, they stubbornly insist that the simplest explanations are wrong and the least likely explanations are correct.

Let's take as an example, the story of the floating axehead in 2 Kings 6:5-6.  Here is a claim that the prophet Elisha caused an axehead that had fallen into the Jordan River to float to the surface so that it could be retrieved.  One may look at this story in two ways: (1) this happened exactly as recorded, and Elisha did indeed make an iron axehead float in water, or (2) this is merely a fabulous legend, typical of the times, and no such event actually happened.

My contention is that the second of these views is the more reasonable one. Does this give me an "anti-supernatural presupposition"?  Dr. Price may think so if he wishes, but my contention is that it merely gives me common sense.  In all of my experiences--and I am 63 years old--I have never seen iron objects like axeheads float in the water, but I have experienced people who exaggerate and lie, and I have read literature of ancient times (some of it contemporary to the time of Elisha) in which fabulous claims were made. It is more reasonable, then, to believe that the story of the floating axehead is either an intentionally fabricated lie or merely a legend that developed in superstitious times. If I don't accept fabulous claims in the ancient literature of Greece or Rome or Moab, why should I accept similar claims just because they are recorded in a book that has "Holy Bible" embossed on the cover?  If one is going to accept a fabulous claim just because it is recorded in an ancient document, then as Thomas Paine said in *Age of Reason* one would have to believe that the emperor Vespasian healed a blind man and a lame man as Tacitus said.  (Paine said Tacitus, but actually this alleged event was recorded by Suetonius.)  The New Testament attributed such miracles to Jesus; Suetonius attributed them to Vespasian. What is the difference? If Price says, "Well, the New Testament is God's word," he will be begging a question that he needs to prove.  If he argues that prophecy fulfillment proves that the Bible is God's word but attempts to prove through appeals to the Bible (as we will see that he did) that prophecy fulfillments did indeed happen, then he finds himself chasing his tail in obviously circular reasoning.

To accept miracle claims just because they are written in the Bible is to have not just a pro-supernatural bias but what I will call a LIMITED  pro-supernatural bias.  People with this limited pro-supernatural bias accept without question any fabulous claim recorded in the Bible while simultaneously rejecting fabulous claims recorded elsewhere.  This is an inconsistency for which biblicists need to offer some justification.  In my debate in Seattle on the issue of the resurrection, Michael Horner made the same "anti-supernatural" complaint about me that Dr. Price has made about Jim Lippard.  The format of the debate was such that the participants had the right of cross-examination, so I spent much of my allotted time questioning Mr. Horner about his limited pro-supernatural bias.  Did he believe that an angel had delivered to Joseph Smith golden plates on which the Book of Mormon had been written in reformed Egyptian script?  He said that he didn't (*The Horner-Till Debate,* Transcript by Skepticism, Inc., p. 8).  Did he believe any of the many reports claiming that Elvis Presley had been seen alive?  He said that he didn't and went on to say that he thought it "a little bit ridiculous" that I would even bring it up (p. 9). I asked him if he believed that the people of Jerusalem had seen soldiers and chariots in the clouds surrounding the city, as Josephus had claimed in *Wars of the Jews,* 6:5.3).  Horner said that he didn't know, because he hadn't "checked into it" (p. 9).  I asked him if he believed Josephus's report that a heifer being led to the altar had given birth to a lamb? Horner gave the same answer: he hadn't checked into it (p. 9).  I asked him if he believed the claim of Suetonius, recorded in *The Twelve Caesars* that while Roman officials were arguing over where to cremate the body of Julius Caesar, two divine forms came down with torches and set fire to Caesar's pyre.  Horner said, "Same response, Farrell.  I don't know where this is leading" (p. 9)

I suspect that Horner knew exactly where I was leading.  I was trying to show the audience that Horner was trying to apply a double standard to the debate by arguing that I was unreasonable in my rejection of biblical miracle claims while he himself was indicating that he rejected miracle claims unless they were in the Bible.  In my final period of cross-examination, I confirmed my suspicion when I asked Horner if he could think of a single miracle claim recorded in the literature of biblical times that he believed really happened, with the exception of those in the Bible. He answered with one word: "No" (p. 16).  Although I have not yet had the opportunity to inquire of Dr. Price, I suspect that he will have the same limited pro-supernatural bias.  If the Bible says that a miracle happened, that is sufficient evidence for him to believe that it happened, but if extrabiblical literature claimed miracle events he will reject them.  If this should be the case, he will prove himself to be too logically inconsistent to be a credible spokesman for biblical prophecy fulfillment.

Finally, on this point, I will simply observe that it is entirely reasonable for Jim Lippard and me to have what Dr. Price calls an "anti-supernatural presupposition."  I will use my own experiences as justification for this position, because I am considerably older than Lippard.  In my entire lifetime, I have witnessed thousands and thousands of events, yet in all of that time, I have never seen an occurrence that could not be explained by natural means.  I have never seen anyone demonstrate that miracles can happen.  I have never known of anyone who has successfully proven that any miraculous event unquestionably happened. Why then should I believe that miracles routinely happened thousands of years ago in prescientific times when superstitious people customarily resorted to, "God did it," as explanations for things that they could not understand?  If I am being reasonable when I reject the miracle claims of Josephus, Suetonius, and other writers of ancient times, by what rule of evidence should I accept a miracle claim simply because it is recorded in the Bible?  These are matters that in his denunciation of Lippard's "anti-superstition presupposition," Dr. Price did not address.  As it turns out, then, Lippard is the one with the more sensible position, and Price still has much to prove.

There are other general comments that I need to make about Dr. Price's rebuttal article, which I will post in my next installment; then after that, I can address his various counterarguments.


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