Recently Mr. Rob Robinson of Prophecy Update posted a critical review of my book, Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary. Since my response to his review is longer than what Amazon will accept, I've decided to turn it into a blog post:
Thank you, Mr. Robinson, for taking the time to review my book. See my responses interspersed with the text of your review below:
[Mr. Robinson] I recently finished "Why I Believed" and found it a most interesting read that really confirmed why I have been a believer for more than 36 years. Most of the authors arguments are based on his feelings about Christianity and his feelings that the Bible is not reliable.
[Ken] While it’s true that any decision related to faith, whether to accept it or reject it, involves feelings and emotions and personal experiences, and while I did include a number of these in my book, it would be unfair to suggest that “most” of what I wrote was based on personal feelings rather than on evidence-based argumentation. I drew many of my arguments from the findings of science, history, archaeology, and the cross-comparison of biblical passages. While you may not find these arguments convincing, that’s a different matter from asserting that “most” of my arguments are based on my feelings. It would seem you have chosen to dismiss as a “feeling” any argument that you don’t agree with.
It’s not just my feeling that Jesus did not return in his generation. If there’s no evidence that he returned in that generation, it’s more than a feeling to suggest that he did not. It’s also more than a feeling that Jesus and the NT writers proclaimed that Jesus would return in the generation of those then living: there are many passages that teach just that, as I discussed at some length in by book. It’s not my feeling that the Bible endorsed slavery, even what we today would consider oppressive slavery, the kind of slavery the Civil War was fought to abolish. See Leviticus 25:42-46 and Exodus 21:20. It’s in the text and is not just a feeling.
[Mr. Robinson] It was clear throughout the course of this book that the arguments made by the author are lacking evidence. For example: in the section regarding "Fulfilled Prophecy" and "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ", the author simply states how these important facts of Christianity were compelling to him when he was a believer. I expected some refutation of the fact that Jesus perfectly fulfilled over 300 old testament prophecies, and the odds of any one man in all of history being able to accomplish this, was beyond the possibility of chance.
[Ken] In my chapter 10 on biblical prophecies, I did examine several of the 300 messianic prophecies you mentioned, but while doing so I presented six general criteria for determining whether a given fulfilled prophecy requires a supernatural explanation. I would encourage you to consider each of these principles and indicate why or why not they are rooted merely in my personal feelings. If they are purely subjective or invalid, please explain which alternate criteria you would use to exclude alleged prophecies from other religious traditions (e.g., those of Joseph Smith, some of whose prophecies I dismiss using these same criteria).
1) It can be proven that the event happened after the prophecy. I acknowledged that all the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible were presented before the advent of Jesus, so this criterion does not disqualify any of those prophecies.
2) It can be proven that the event that was said to have been fulfilled actually happened. This criterion presents a problem for many of the messianic prophecies, since there’s no reliable way to prove that the Gospel writers did not fabricate any of the events claimed to have fulfilled OT prophecy. It is not the skeptic that bears the burden of proof; it is the one insisting that no naturalistic explanation is possible who must eliminate the possibility that a given prophetic fulfilment was fabricated. I provided some examples of events that have all the appearance of being fabricated by the Gospel writers (see especially my discussion on Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem), but even if you are not satisfied that they are fabricated, you would still need to prove that they *could not* have been fabricated in order to maintain they require a supernatural explanation. Can you prove historically that Jesus was born in Bethlehem or that soldiers cast lots for his garments? I was conditioned as a believer never to question the integrity of the biblical authors; for decades it was just not a possibility I could entertain. But once you realize how common fabrication was in the religious context of first and second century Palestine (for example, in the many pseudepigraphal writings and infant narratives of the era), it becomes less unthinkable that the Gospel writers should be immune from embellishment and outright fabrication.
3) The prophecy must be presented explicitly as a prophecy, not simply as a historical event that has some incidental parallels with a later historical event. See my book for a discussion of this criterion as it relates to some of the fulfilled prophecies in Matthew, especially the “slaughter of the innocents” incident in Matthew 2:13-15.
4) The object and circumstances of the prophecy must be clearly identified in such a way that there can be no mistake as to its precise fulfillment. See my book for a discussion of how this relates to Isaiah 53.
5) Every part of the prophecy must be fulfilled. See my book how this relates to the Micah 5:2 prophecy of a leader to be born in Bethlehem.
6) The prophecy must have a literal fulfillment, not just an imagined spiritual fulfillment. See my book for a discussion of this criterion as it relates to Isaiah 53.
Mr. Robinson, you stated that you expected me to provide “some refutation of the fact that Jesus perfectly fulfilled over 300 old testament prophecies,” but you did not acknowledge the arguments I made above that show how a number of representative messianic prophecies fail these tests and thus do not require a supernatural explanation. To establish that these 300 prophecies are miraculous, you would need to explain either how they pass these six tests or how the tests are flawed. Instead of doing either of these two things, you chose to assert that I made no “refutation of the fact that Jesus perfectly fulfilled over 300 old testament prophecies.” Granted, I did not examine all 300 prophecies, but I examined a representative sample and ended my section on messianic prophecies as follows:
“I could go through many of the remaining messianic prophecies and find one or more conditions they fail to meet, but Thomas Paine (‘An Examination of the Passages in the New Testament, Quoted from the Old, and Called Prophecies of the Coming of Jesus Christ’) has already demonstrated the spuriousness of a great number of them. Furthermore, the onus is on the believer to demonstrate that they pass all the tests, not on the unbeliever to demonstrate that they fail.”
If you have not done so already, I would encourage you to read Thomas Paine’s work, especially since you’re involved in a ministry whose focus is on biblical prophecies, if for no other reason but to understand the perspective of those who take the opposing position.
[Mr. Robinson] I expected some historical argument for the fact that Jesus did not rise from the dead.
[Ken] I grant that my chapter on Jesus’ resurrection is thinner than it could be, though I did make some serious arguments that you have not acknowledged or refuted, and I did point my readers to other resources that treat this topic in much greater detail. If you have a solution to the fundamental question of where Jesus first appeared to his disciplines after his resurrection--Galilee (according to Mark and Matthew) or the environs of Jerusalem (according to Luke and John)--then I invite you to put your solution forward, without at the same time insisting that I have not made any historical arguments against Jesus’ resurrection. Again, whether or not you agree with my arguments is not what I am concerned with here; I am concerned with your misrepresentation that I have not made any historical arguments on this topic when in fact I have.
My focus on the location of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to his disciples is more than just an ancillary detail or a minor alleged discrepancy to be swept under the rug. It’s important because it goes to heart of the trustworthiness and integrity of (at least some of) the Gospel writers, which in turn is important for determining to what extent we can trust those writers in anything else they assert. I demonstrated in my book how Luke, while consulting Mark’s story of the resurrection, apparently purposefully altered Jesus’ words to favor a Jerusalem appearance over a Galilee appearance. If this suggestion sounds unthinkable or offensive to you, why? Was Luke not a human capable of misrepresentation like anyone else? What should be astounding in the least if that’s the case? It’s certainly more consistent with what we know about human nature and the physical laws of nature to think that Luke could have distorted the record than that Jesus rose physically from the dead, unless you have an a priori commitment that Luke could not lie or that Jesus had to have risen from the dead. And if Luke could have misrepresented the story, then why not Matthew too? And Mark?
Finally, I made several other arguments in my chapter on Jesus’ resurrection, but if you do not consider my discussion of the location of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to be an argument, then neither will you consider my other arguments to be so either. But that does not make them non-arguments, just arguments you consider to be without merit. I have engaged respectfully with a number of believers, and though I’ve often disagreed with them or considered their arguments invalid, I do not recall dismissing their arguments as mere feelings.
[Mr. Robinson] I expected that the author would refute the eyewitness testimony of those who recorded the miracle Jesus performed, such as raise Lazarus from the dead by simply commanding him to do so.
[Ken] I argued in my book that the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses of the accounts they described. Even evangelical scholar Greg Boyd acknowledges that the Gospels are anonymous. The texts themselves include no indication that any of them were written by Jesus’ disciples. It’s only the later tradition (of second century men) that ascribes them to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. How can you prove that John was an eyewitness to Lazaras’ being raised from the dead, other than invoking the traditions of men? What historical argument do you have for this?
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I am guessing you’re a Protestant who doesn’t accept every eyewitness miracle story you hear from other religious traditions, including Catholicism. Do you believe that on June 24, 1981, six children reported an appearance of the Virgin [Mary] at a hilltop near the town of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina? Do you believe that she has continued appearing regularly to these individuals since that time, and that millions of others have made their pilgrimages to the site to experience visions, healings, and other supernatural events? If you don’t readily accept these or other miracle stories reported by eyewitnesses in other religious traditions, then why is it incumbent upon skeptics to refute the miracle stores of the New Testament, including Lazarus’ rising from the dead? Is not the onus on the one who believes in an extraordinary event to prove that it happened, rather than on the skeptic to prove that it didn’t? In short, why am I the bad guy for not automatically believing it happened as reported?
[Mr. Robinson] There was no evidence given for any of the preeminent reasons to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, the entire book is about the authors feelings, that he just could not believe any longer.
[Ken] Now your position on my book has progressed from “most of the author’s arguments are based on his feelings” to “the entire book is about the author’s feelings.” Again, I understand you don’t agree with my arguments. Call them invalid arguments if you will, but please at least accord me the respect of acknowledging I’ve made some arguments, and address the substance of my arguments rather than making blanket statements like this.
[Mr. Robinson] One of the author's arguments that first threw him off course from believing in Jesus or the Bible, was the "young earth" theory put forth by theologians. Of course, no one really knows how old the earth is. I myself do not subscribe to the old earth theory. I believe that the book of Genesis records the fact that God created the heavens and the earth perhaps billions of years ago. In verse 2 of Genesis, something happened that caused the earth to become formless and void. The time span between the original creation of earth and the heavens, and the re-creative state of earth, is unknown. Beginning in Genesis 1, verse 3, the record of the re-creative days of earth being restored and man being created on the earth. The Bible no where states that the earth is just 6,000 or 10,000 years old. Men have stated this as their belief for many decades, but they are clearly wrong.
To allow the unfounded opinions of men to persuade a young man to question the entirety of God's word, is preposterous. The Bible stands alone as it's own commentary and needs no help from men.
[Ken] This is a serious misrepresentation of what I wrote in my book. While I grew up as a young-earth creationist, I came to accept the antiquity of the earth while I was attending a Christian college. Coming to this conclusion was not responsible for my departure from the faith, as I plainly stated near the beginning of the section on the age of the earth in my book:
“As recounted in chapter 2, I embraced old earth creationism for the final decade of my life as a Christian. As an unbeliever I still do not consider Christianity to be incompatible with an old earth. Though Western Christianity largely came to terms with the antiquity of the earth in the nineteenth century, a revival of young-earth creationism (YEC) and Flood geology starting in the mid-twentieth century has resulted in its becoming the majority view of American evangelicals today. Were it not for the continued widespread embrace of this belief, I would ignore it in favor of more important concerns. Those who already accept the great antiquity of the earth are encouraged to skip on to the next section.”
You stated, “To allow the unfounded opinions of men [regarding the age of the earth] to persuade a young man to question the entirety of God's word, is preposterous.” Rather, what I find preposterous is your lack of care in representing my stated reasons for leaving the faith. All of my many other arguments for no longer accepting Christianity you dismiss as mere “feelings,” but you’ve homed in on this one issue (which I explicitly stated is compatible with Christianity) and made it sound as if this is responsible for my wholesale rejection of the Bible. That simply was not the case.
[Mr. Robinson] Without the Bible, we do not have a clear explanation for all of the present conditions that we find on the earth, and in human life.
1. Origin of the universe The Book of Genesis stands alone in accounting for the actual creation of the basic space-mass-time continuum which constitutes our physical universe. Genesis 1:1 is unique in all literature, science, and philosophy. Every other system of cosmogony, whether in ancient religious myths or modern scientific models, starts with eternal matter or energy in some form, from which other entities were supposedly gradually derived by some process. Only the Book of Genesis even attempts to account for the ultimate origin of matter, space, and time; and it does so uniquely in terms of special creation.
2. Origin of order and complexity Man's universal observation, both in his personal experience and in his formal study of physical and biological systems, is that orderly and complex things tend naturally to decay into disorder and simplicity. Order and complexity never arise spontaneously--they are always generated by a prior cause programmed to produce such order. The Primeval Programmer and His programmed purposes are found only in Genesis.
3. Origin of the solar system The earth, as well as the sun and moon, and even the planets and all the stars of heaven, were likewise brought into existence by the Creator, as told in Genesis. It is small wonder that modern scientific cosmogonists have been so notably unsuccessful in attempting to devise naturalistic theories of the origin of the universe and the solar system.
4. Origin of the atmosphere and hydrosphere The earth is uniquely equipped with a great body of liquid water and an extensive blanket of an oxygen-nitrogen gaseous mixture, both of which are necessary for life. These have never "developed" on other planets, and are accounted for only by special creation.
5. Origin of life How living systems could have come into being from nonliving chemicals is, and will undoubtedly continue to be, a total mystery to materialistic philosophers. The marvels of the reproductive process, and the almost-infinite complexity programmed into the genetic systems of plants and animals, are inexplicable except by special creation, at least if the laws of thermodynamics and probability mean anything at all. The account of the creation of "living creatures" in Genesis is the only rational explanation.
6. Origin of man Man is the most highly organized and complex entity in the universe, so far as we know, possessing not only innumerable intricate physico-chemical structures, and the marvelous capacities of life and reproduction, but also a nature which contemplates the abstract entities of beauty and love and worship, and which is capable of philosophizing about its own meaning. Man's imaginary evolutionary descent from animal ancestors is altogether illusory. The true record of his origin is given only in Genesis.
7. Origin of marriage The remarkably universal and stable institution of marriage and the home, in a monogamous, patriarchal social culture, is likewise described in Genesis as having been ordained by the Creator. Polygamy, infanticide, matriarchy, promiscuity, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and other corruptions all developed later.
8. Origin of evil Cause-and-effect reasoning accounts for the origin of the concepts of goodness, truth, beauty, love, and such things as fundamental attributes of the Creator Himself. The origin of physical and moral evils in the universe is explained in Genesis as a temporary intrusion into God's perfect world, allowed by Him as a concession to the principle of human freedom and responsibility, and also to manifest Himself as Redeemer as well as Creator.
9. Origin of language The gulf between the chatterings of animals and the intelligent, abstract, symbolic communication systems of man is completely unbridgeable by any evolutionary process. The Book of Genesis not only accounts for the origin of language in general, but also for the various national languages in particular.
10. Origin of government The development of organized systems of human government is described in Genesis, with man responsible not only for his own actions, but also for the maintenance of orderly social structures through systems of laws and punishments.
11. Origin of culture The Book of Genesis also describes the beginning of the main entities which we now associate with civilized cultures--such things as urbanization, metallurgy, music, agriculture, animal husbandry, writing, education, navigation, textiles, and ceramics.
12. Origin of nations All scholars today accept the essential unity of the human race. The problem, then, is how distinct nations and races could develop if all men originally were of one race and one language. Only the Book of Genesis gives an adequate answer.
13. Origin of religion There are many different religions among men, but all share the consciousness that there must be some ultimate truth and meaning toward which men should strive. Many religions take the form of an organized system of worship and conduct. The origin of this unique characteristic of man's consciousness, as well as the origin of true worship of the true God, is given in Genesis.
14. Origin of the chosen people The enigma of the Israelites--the unique nation that was without a homeland for nineteen hundred years, which gave to the world the Bible and the knowledge of the true God, through which came Christianity and which yet rejects Christianity, a nation which has contributed signally to the world's art, music, science, finance, and other products of the human mind, and which is nevertheless despised by great numbers of people--is answered only in terms of the unique origin of Israel as set forth in the Book of Genesis. (Text fro Dr Morris)
There is no other source that credibly and logically explains the origin of all these important facts. The Bible is alone in it's correct view of man, sin, death, and the condition of the human heart.
[Ken] I found the 14 items above listed in the book The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, originally published in 1976 by Dr. Henry Morris (one of those men who influenced me to embrace young-earth creationism, which you characterized as an “unfounded opinion of men”). In the context of this response, I would prefer to answer your own points in your own words relating directly to my book, not the copied-in text from another author. I won’t attempt a point-by-point response, but I do want to address a couple of items, having already addressed some of the others in chapter 6 of my book:
Morris states, “The earth is uniquely equipped with a great body of liquid water and an extensive blanket of an oxygen-nitrogen gaseous mixture.” At the time he wrote his book in 1976, he could not have been expected to know about planets in other solar systems. Not until 1994 was the first extra-solar planet confirmed in our galaxy. Since then, an increasing number of planets have been discovered each year, and recently the first water-filled planet was identified. Based on the rate of discovery, there are likely billions of planets in our galaxy alone, and probably trillions in other galaxies. Can we say with confidence that none of them have an extensive oxygen-nitrogen gaseous mixture? If there are trillions of planets out there, I would certainly not bet against it.
Having studied historical linguistics at a sister institute of Wycliffe Bible Translators, I learned there is a consensus among linguists that all modern languages evolved historically from ancestral languages. For example, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romansh all evolved from Latin; no one seriously disputes this. The same sorts of processes have been going on for millennia, adequately explaining the great diversity of languages on earth today. Dr. Morris suggests that “The Book of Genesis not only accounts for the origin of language in general, but also for the various national languages in particular,” apparently referring to the breakup of languages at the time of the Tower of Babel. But since we already have a perfectly adequate explanation for how language splits up and evolves, the Tower of Babel story is not needed to explain how it happened. This is an argument based on evidence, by the way, not a feeling.
[Mr. Robinson] "Why I Believed", is a classic example of how no amount of evidence can persuade a heart that really does not want to believe.
[Ken] It seems you’re projecting your view of human nature into my situation, rather than accepting my statement in chapter 1 of my book, as though you know me better than I know myself:
“If I could patch things up by forcing myself to believe again, I would do so in a heartbeat. Unfortunately I have tried that several times, only to be besieged again by doubt, and have come to the conclusion that attempting to will myself to believe that which in my heart I do not believe is futile. In this struggle I am not alone; millions of others have passed through the valley of the shadow of doubt, finding themselves unable to return to the pastures of faith, despite repeated appeals to God to restore their faith. We have prayed more times than we can count, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24)”
[Mr. Robinson] In the end, human beings are experts at making excuses for why they both do and do not do certain things in their life. Facts do not persuade anyone to do anything, if they have an inner desire to not believe.
There is no revelation in this book that would ever persuade anyone who has genuinely examined all the evidence; studied the Bible in it's entirety, and examined the historical record of Jesus Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection.
The attraction of sin in the world is sometimes greater to some individuals, than is the attraction to God. This is the reason that Jesus came and offered His life for all men. We are hopelessly lost and have no chance of ever redeeming ourselves from the total depravity and darkness of our own heart.
Bible Prophecy Update
[Ken] It was not an attraction to sin that led me from my faith, but rather a growing realization that what I believed was probably untrue. Is there a particular sin or sins (other than the sin of unbelief) that you would accuse me of? It’s unfortunate that the Christian religion, which for many promotes good will and peace among men, is being used in your hands as a tool to impute the worst of motives, intentions, and actions on the millions of us who have left the faith after a wrenching struggle, wanting desperately to believe but not being able to reconcile our faith with reality. This is in keeping with the following observation from chapter 4 of my book:
“The bottom line is this: those whose beliefs are nonnegotiable will do whatever it takes to discredit those who challenge the Christian faith. Whatever it takes. Often the easiest way to do this is to impugn their character—they are arrogant, self-absorbed, immoral, willfully self-deceived, or unscrupulous.”
Again I thank you for taking time to read my book and to write your review. Though we fundamentally disagree, I wish you the best.