Rob Sarver Chap11 Opening

Opening Remarks

 

Background

My purpose in composing a rebuttal to Chapter 11 of Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict (hereafter ETDAV) is to correct some of the historical errors and point out the assumptions made by McDowell in this volume. Having myself witnessed how Christians use ETDAV as an evangelization tool, it is important that these issues be addressed, and not be permitted to stand, unrefuted. I am therefore presenting my rebuttal to both McDowell’s chapter 11 in ETDAV, which he has entitled “Prophecy Fulfilled in History”.

To date, the collected rebuttals to ETDAV have been assembled in a volume know as The Jury is In, (hereafter Jury) under the editorial leadership of Jeffery Jay Lowder. The previous author of the specific rebuttal to McDowell’s chapter 11 is Steven Carr. As is proper in an academic endeavor like this, I have contacted Carr via email and asked his permission to elaborate on his rebuttal, and to quote his work in the body of my text. I have received his permission to do so. The reader has the choice of considering my rebuttal as a stand-alone work, or as an appendix to Carr’s previous work.

Conventions

To make the attributions and the flow of the text easier on the reader, the following conventions will be used in this rebuttal:

1. My own thoughts will be in 11-pt Times New Roman.

 

2. Quotations from other sources will be indented one level, in 11pt Times New Roman, Italic, or else preserved in their original formatting.

 

3. Quotations from the Bible will be indented one level, in 11pt Times New Roman.

All Bible quotations will be from the King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

Nitpicking

It is always the temptation in a debate like this to accuse the other side of nitpicking. And such an accusation has often been used to try and downplay an opponent’s point, or try and deflect attention from the fact that one of the debater’s positions has been successfully refuted.

Webster’s dictionary defines “nitpick” as:

 

nit·pick [1]

  nit·pick (nît¹pîk´) verb, intransitive

nit·picked, nit·pick·ing, nit·picks

To be concerned with or find fault with insignificant details. See synonyms at quibble.

And at “quibble” we find the real description of this behavior:

 

quib·ble [2]

  quib·ble (kwîb¹el) verb, intransitive

quib·bled, quib·bling, quib·bles

To evade the truth or importance of an issue by raising trivial distinctions and objections.

However, I believe that there truly is a class of comments that can be universally acknowledged as nitpicking. Significant portions of previous “rebuttals” to the Jury project would more properly be classified as such; nitpicking the minor points, when the major point appears to be unassailable. I will try to avoid nit-picks wherever possible. The strength of a good argument should be in the substance, not in the fluff.

Let’s Talk About Numbers

McDowell sets forth in chapter 11 of ETDAV the rather interesting idea that the given prophecies can be assigned probabilities of occurring. In most cases, the probability figures presented are vanishingly small. When these prophecies come true (as McDowell believes that they have), then this is supposed to demonstrate the power of the Judeo-Christian god (speaking through the Bible) to predict events in the future, and thus reinforce the reliability of the Bible.

It should be pointed out that McDowell does not create this idea himself; he relies upon another Christian author, Peter Stoner, who introduces this idea in his book Science Speaks.[3] McDowell uses three of Stoner’s prophecies, and adds several of his own to the list of evidences.[4]

I hope the reader will forgive this short excursion into probability mathematics. But it is absolutely necessary to understand what we are talking about here, and I will try my best to keep it clear and simple.

Hypothetical Example

Trying to predict prophetic events like this is best understood as a series of discrete events. Each of these events has its own probability chance of success. To produce the overall probability for the entire prophecy, all you have to do is multiply each of these individual probabilities together in a series.

Let’s use a trivial example. Suppose you wanted to break into my house. I have the following items protecting my house: an electronic security system, a deadbolt, a large dog, and finally, you have to get past me, the homeowner. What is the probability that you will be able to successfully break into my house?

To find that number, you have to estimate what the probability is of escaping detection and interdiction at each of these hurdles above. I am going to assign random numbers to demonstrate what this looks like:

Security alarm: 1 in 20 chance (of being able to disconnect the electronic security system)

Deadbolt: 1 in 10 chance (of being able to defeat or somehow get around the deadbolt)

Large dog: 1 in 8 chance (of being able to knock the dog out, or otherwise escape its keen hearing)

Homeowner: 1 in 5 chance (of escaping my hearing, overpowering me, or catching me not at home)

So in this scenario, your chances of successfully breaking into my house are:

1/20 x 1/10 x 1/8 x 1/5 = 1/8,000

This number is arrived at by simple math; multiplying the fractions together to get a final total. In normal everyday speech, this result is usually expressed as a “1 in 8,000 chance”. Not very good odds, is it?

Less Here than Meets the Eye

However, there’s some deal of confusion in this picture, confusion that is generated by throwing all these different events at the reader and itemizing their various probabilities. At first it looks daunting, but it really isn’t as complex as it seems. Upon closer inspection, some of these items may be combined, or related.

For example, let’s say that you were successful in disconnecting the security system. As it happens, however, the deadbolt in my house is also part of that same electronic security system. This is to prevent people from being trapped inside the house, if case of power failure caused by a fire. So whenever the security system is disarmed, the deadbolt retracts automatically. Presto — no need to get past the deadbolt, since it’s already retracted. These two events which, on the surface, appeared to be separate obstacles, are actually related. If the first one happens, then the probability that the second event will occur is guaranteed (1/1, or 1 chance in 1). So their probabilities are likewise linked. The second obstacle, getting around the deadbolt, reduces to a chance of 1/1 (i.e., 100% certain) – providing that you can defeat the first obstacle, the security system.

The math now looks like this:

1/20 x 1/1 x 1/8 x 1/5 = 1/800

Or, you could say that the deadbolt isn’t really an obstacle at all, since disconnecting the security system also disables the deadbolt. In that case, the deadbolt obstacle doesn’t even appear in the probability equation, since it’s totally dependent on the previous condition being met (i.e., defeating the security system).

So if you kill two birds with one stone, the math would look like this:

1/20 x 1/8 x 1/5 = 1/800

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Notice also that I present two approaches to dealing with the linked event: (a) making the linked event equal to 1/1, or (b) just dropping it out of the equation totally. The final answer is the same in both equations, regardless of the approach.

This presents a totally different picture than the first estimate. It is now 10 times easier to break in my house than it was before, although it is still not an easy task.

Now let’s take this principle one step further. Suppose you’ve been watching my house for several days, “casing the joint”, and doing surveillance in preparation for your break-in. You know that I walk my dog every evening at 9:00 PM. So how would you, being a clever thief, make use of that information?

Simple: you will wait until my evening stroll with the dog before trying to break in. By doing that, you defeat the hurdle of being detected by the dog as well as the hurdle of being heard by me, the homeowner. By being careful and deliberately picking the time of day that you plan to break in, you can defeat two more hurdles, which (conveniently) are also related.

The math now looks like this:

1/20 x 1/1 x 1/1 x 1/1 = 1/20

Much better odds. So the actual chance of breaking in is 1/20. In everyday speech, there are several ways to express this idea. It can be referred to as a “a one-in-twenty chance”, or “19-to-1 odds against it”, or simply “a 5% chance”. Notice that this is a long, long way from the original 1 in 8000 odds. We arrived at the accurate chance by examining the assumptions and conditions under which the event would be taking place.

Linked Events: Another Example

The following example will illustrate another aspect of linked events. To wit, if the initial condition is met, then any remaining linked events are treated as a special case when calculating probabilities.

Assume that it is summertime, and you are outside, enjoying a picnic. As usual, there are unwelcome visitors: yellow jacket wasps buzzing around the food. In irritation, you swat at one of the wasps in the air. Your host turns to you and says, “One of those wasps is going to sting you.” Your host has just made a prediction, of sorts.

But instead, suppose your host had said the following:

1. One of those wasps is going to sting you

2. You will feel a sharp pain

3. Your skin will swell up

4. A bump will appear on your skin

5. The bump will itch for several days

So has your host made five separate predictions here? And what if you do keep swatting at the wasps and one of them finally stings you in revenge – what then? Does the picnic host get credit for making not one, but FIVE correct predictions? Is your host a modern-day Nostradamus?

Of course not; the flaws with such an approach are obvious. There is only one prediction here; to wit, item no. 1 above. The other ‘predictions’, numbered 2 through 5 above, are not really predictions at all. They are merely a further examination, or explanation, of what actually happens whenever someone gets stung in the first place.

Put another way: your host has gone into greater, more graphic detail for you; he has itemized the sequence of events that normally follow such a sting. If the first event (the wasp sting) occurs, the predictions 2-5 will certainly follow. But ‘predicting’ items 2 through 5 doesn’t require clairvoyance or divine knowledge; even a child knows what happens after a sting occurs. Therefore such statements are not separate predictions at all, but merely the expected chain of events that follow naturally, whenever the first condition is met.

The proof of this is to simply examine the contrary case: how likely is it that a wasp could sting you, and it would NOT cause a sharp pain? How likely is it that a wasp would sting you, inject the poison into the skin, and yet NOT cause a swelling around the sting location? And so on. Obviously, it would be a rare event indeed to see a wasp sting WITHOUT seeing the normal sequence of events numbered above.

Because of that, such linked events are treated as a special case when estimating probabilities. Their occurrence hinges only whether or not the initial condition has been met. If that condition is met, then (by definition) the linked events will follow.

So what originally seemed to be separate predictions, totally unrelated to each other, with separate fulfillments (or results):

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Instead turns out to be one prediction, with several linked results:

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And some of these results may, in turn, even have their own linked events that derive from them:

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In that respect, linked events resemble a family tree. If your grandmother and grandfather had not met, then your father would not have been born. And if your father had not been born, then you wouldn’t exist, either. One event triggers many secondary, related results.

But notice here that all the secondary and tertiary results are dependent upon the first cause taking effect. If that event happens, then the other events will fall into place. But if for some reason that first, primary event never happens, then the entire subsequent chain of events will fall apart. If you remove the black circle (or event) above, then nothing that depended upon that circle (or event) will ever take place.

So from a mathematical standpoint, linked events can be viewed as either:

(a) having a probability of 1/1, that is, 100% — this multiplies the probability of the initial (real) prophecy by 1.0. This results in the same probability figure that you had to begin with; or

(b) not qualifying as a prediction in the first place — this would mean that linked events should be dropped out of the probability equation totally. They are not real predictions, but instead are either clarifications or re-statements of the initial prediction.

There is no difference between multiplying a number by 1, or dropping the linked event out of the equation. Both (a) and (b) above will yield the same mathematical result. The difference is purely one of personal preference.

Timeframe

All probability odds are expressed as a given chance to accomplish a task, within a stated period of time. That is the condition of timeframe. Return to the first example of the home burglar. Each individual burglary attempt has only a 1/20 (or 5%) chance of success. But how many total attempts do you make? That depends upon how much time you allot yourself.

You know what they say – if you keep trying to do something enough times, eventually you will succeed at it. So even though you, the enterprising thief, may have only a 5% chance of each individual attempt succeeding, let’s assume you make 100 attempts over the period of a year. In that case, you can reasonably expect to succeed in somewhere around .05 x 100 attempts, or about five times during that one year.

So any event that is given unlimited timeframe in which to occur has an infinite number of “chances at bat”. The probability of that event ever occurring increases tremendously. Why? Because even though the individual probability of each discrete event is low, the aggregate probability of the event ever happening at all is very high.

Saved by Zero

Now let’s discuss one final issue with multi-part probability scenarios. In substantiating these multi-part prophecies, what McDowell and Stoner do is present the probability of each individual event happening. Then, having presented the odds, they try to show that each event actually took place. In the home burglary example above, if any of the events failed to take place (i.e., had a probability of zero), then the rules of multiplication would make the final answer above also equal to zero. A zero anywhere in the equation makes the final result zero — every time.

1/20 x 0 x 1/1 x 1/1 = 0

The burglary example is a multi-part action; containing four sub-parts (or hurdles) that must be cleared in order to be successful. If in fact my house has a perfect guard dog that is always there and can never be avoided, it doesn’t matter how easy the other sub-parts of the problem might be. With such a guard dog, it will still be impossible to break into my house. You have to get by all four hurdles – not two of them, and not three. Why? Because even one hurdle is sufficient to prevent the burglary.

Your inability to get past all four of the sub-parts of the burglary is what foiled your attempt at breaking into my house. In like fashion, any sub-part of a multi-part prophecy that fails to take place as predicted will invalidate the entire prophecy. Not only is this true because of mathematics, but it is also consistent with the beliefs of those who insist on the inspiration of prophecy. These people do not advocate that only parts of a given prophecy are inspired, while other parts are not. On the contrary, they insist that the entire prophecy is inspired.

The Numbers: Games and Claims

The above issues describe the crux of the problem with the probability figures for prophecy that Stoner and McDowell present. While someone may correctly calculate the probability of a given final event by multiplying the percentage chance of each consecutive event, no justification has been presented as to how McDowell (or Stoner) arrived at the percentage chance of each event in the first place. Issues of linkage and timeframe are also critical here.

In other words, calculating the odds of each event is child’s play and can be done by any sixth-grader. Justifying how you arrived at the percentage chance of each event’s probability needs serious scholarship and full documentation. But that is exactly what we do not have here with Stoner’s work.

How did Stoner derive the percentage chance of each event?

 

The probability of each prophecy being fulfilled by chance was arrived at by getting an estimate from “a class in Christian Evidences” at Pasadena City College sponsored by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (Stoner 1952, p. 71).[5]

It scarcely needs to be mentioned that a Bible study class, sponsored by an evangelistic association, is hardly an objective source. Nor is it as desirable a reference as would be, for example, asking archaeologists, historians or geographers who specialize in the period for their estimations. In addition, Stoner’s probability figures accepted at face value all the supernatural claims that evangelicals place on the Bible, which is contrary to the spirit of investigation and the search for actual evidence.

Stoner (and McDowell) both mention that Stoner’s work was reviewed and approved by the American Scientific Affiliation, an association of Christian scientists. Setting aside for the moment the question of why Stoner sought out a pro-Christian review committee to validate his work instead of a neutral party, there is another more salient issue at stake here. It is not mentioned whether or not the ASA validated only the mathematics, or if they also validated the historical, archaeological, and biblical assumptions that Stoner took from this evangelical “class in Christian Evidences”. This is a key point.

The forward of Stoner’s book, Science Speaks, is quoted by McDowell in ETDAV, and contains the text of the endorsement from the ASA:

 

H. Harold Hartzler, of the American Scientific Affiliation, Goshen College, in the foreword of Stoner’s book writes: The manuscript for Science Speaks has been carefully reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation members and by the Executive Council of the same group had has been found, in general, to be dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented. The mathematical analysis included is based upon principles of probability which are thoroughly sound and Professor Stoner has applied these principles in a proper and convincing way.”[6]

This only begs the question, however. What information was used to assign the final probability of each event?

It would be necessary to demonstrate how the exact probability figure was arrived at; i.e., why was a particular historical event assigned a probability of 1/300, instead of 1/250? Or instead of 1/50? Or instead of 1/2500? As the reader can see, justifying even one such probability figure about a historical event would be a research work of several pages’ length. The claimant would need to show contemporary parallels and recorded precedents, discuss the historical milieu, and demonstrate why alternative probability figures for the true likelihood of the event could safely be rejected as inaccurate. Yet as we will see in the next few chapters, there are dozens of such assumptions that appear in Stoner’s work, and none are accompanied by the necessary scholarship. Given all the above, we must ask: did the ASA really endorse such probability assumptions, without having the prerequisite accompanying research?

Consider, for a moment, the phraseology used above:

 

… .dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented.

From the words chosen here, it would appear that this letter from Hartzler is an endorsement of only the probability mathematics involved in Stoner’s book, and not a statement attesting to the reliability of the historical assumptions. This interpretation is further strengthened by the endorsement’s next comment:

 

The mathematical analysis included is based upon principles of probability which are thoroughly sound… .

However, to be fair the Jury must acknowledge that it is possible (albeit remotely) that the phrase “dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material”, was deliberately chosen by the ASA, and that they actually meant to also endorse the assumptions. So in an attempt to get to the bottom of this, I have tried repeatedly to contact the ASA, asking them to clarify their level of involvement in reviewing Stoner’s manuscript. All such attempts to contact the ASA directly have gone unanswered.

However, at long last I was able to reach Jack Haas, who is a long-time member of the ASA and is also the current editor of its journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Mr. Haas indicates that there is no written record of the ASA discussing the claims of Stoner’s book. He also indicates that “since Stoner was an ASA insider, they probably took his work at face value.” He further indicates that the makeup of the Executive Council, (which Hartzler claims reviewed the book) did not include archaeologists and historians, but instead was composed of physical scientists. In response to my question about whether or not it was even possible to quantify historical events with probability figures such as Stoner did, Mr. Haas had another interesting comment. Haas indicated that it was “questionable” whether or not the Executive Council ever asked someone with biblical or archaeological credentials about whether or not Stoner’s underlying notion was even reasonable.[7]

So, for reasons of:

  • the lack of supporting documentation to justify each of the many assumptions;
  • the specific phraseology of the ASA’s endorsement above;
  • the comments of the editor of the ASA’s own journal; and as we shall see
  • the numerous historical and archaeological inaccuracies in Stoner and McDowell’s work

it is my position that whatever endorsement the ASA granted was limited to only the final mathematics of Stoner’s calculations, but ignored (or never looked at) the feasibility of his assumptions. They also did not affirm the historical or archaeological validity of the probability figures that Stoner assigned to each of the discrete events he mentions in his book. In other words, the ASA graded the math, and said “no comment” on the assumptions.

Indeed, this is the most charitable position. To assume otherwise (i.e., that the ASA also endorsed the assumptions) would spell trouble for the ASA. Consider for a moment the lack of supporting documentation for each assumption, and the numerous historical / archaeological errors. If the ASA also endorsed the assumptions, then it would be indicting itself and sullying its own credentials as a scientific organization.

Other Problems with History and Prophecy

Three more specific items must be addressed up front, before we start to examine the list of prophecies. The reader would do well to pay close attention to these sections, as I will be referring back to them during my discussion of each prophecy.

Problem 1: Distinguishing Prophecy from the Expected Flow of History

To evaluate whether or not a given prophecy can be considered evidence, it must have some characteristic that sets it apart from the normal, expected flow of history. In other words, a prophecy that “the kingdom of so-and-so will fall” is worthless as evidence, since all kingdoms fall eventually, given enough time. The prophecy must have some characteristic that causes it to stand out, or makes the occurrence unusual, given the historical context. Otherwise, it is useless as evidence. Why? When an event is so harmonious with the general backdrop of history that it blends in seamlessly with it, then anyone could have predicted the event in question. And clearly, such easy predictions cannot honestly be said to demonstrate anything, nor do they “Demand a Verdict”.

So as not to be accused of setting too high a standard of evidence here, I offer the following possibilities for consideration. For example, let’s examine a frequent topic of prophecy: the destruction of a given city or country. In order to qualify as not being part of the normal, expected flow of history, the prophecy could mention a particular method of destruction, a method that is unusual (such as destruction by fire, as opposed to destruction by invading armies). Or, the prophecy could foretell the imminent and unexpected destruction of the city or country. Of course, where the word “imminent” is understood to mean “shortly after the pronouncement of the prophecy”, and where “unexpected would mean “not anticipated (or not considered likely) by contemporary inhabitants of that time period”.

Bible apologists may say that such criteria are an attempt to “restrict the Almighty”, and that their god is under no obligation to provide evidence which suits our human tastes. But let’s keep in mind what the nature of McDowell (and Stoner’s) claim is here. They claim that not only does such evidence already exist, but that they have identified it for us – – evidence which is so significant and compelling that it cannot possibly be confused with the flow of history. Hence, the Evidence that Demands a Verdict. That, after all, is McDowell and Stoner’s point of presenting the probability figures in the first place. They want the reader to believe that the events are not likely to occur naturally, and because of this extreme unlikelihood, such events constitute special high-quality evidence. Therefore, the charge that this standard for evidence is too rigid is handily refuted by the very nature of the claims that McDowell et. al. have made about these prophecies.

People who are already Bible believers may place their faith in prophecy from such events; they are entitled to their own opinion. However, they cannot present those events to skeptics and ask them to believe that such events were actually rare occurrences that were prophesied before-the-fact, when the evidence indicates that the events would have happened anyhow through natural forces of history.

Therefore, we must conclude that statements that cannot be reliably differentiated from the normal flow of history certainly do not qualify as “historical evidences of the Christian faith”.

Problem 2: Falsifiability

In addition, to be considered as historical evidence, a prophecy must be falsifiable. The property of falsifiability is borrowed from the Scientific Method, an appropriate frame of reference for the discussion of something being presented as “evidence”. Falsifiability can be expressed as follows: there must be some test, some outcome, which (should it take place) would render the prophecy a failure. If no such outcome exists, then the prophecy is not falsifiable and is therefore not evidence of anything.

Too often I have had the following conversation with a fundamentalist apologist (or seen similar positions appear in print). First, the apologist will point to the destruction of some long-lost city or country and say, “That city was destroyed. The Bible is therefore true.” Yet, if the city or country hasn’t been destroyed, then the apologist answer is “the prophecy is for a future destruction that hasn’t happened yet”, or “the prophecy refers to the end times.” Finally, if the city has been destroyed and rebuilt, then the response is “God never said that the city wouldn’t be rebuilt; only that it would be destroyed.”

The outrageousness of this position is immediately obvious. Friends, there are only three possible states for any given city, kingdom, or country to find itself in:

(a) Existing – “the prophecy is for the future”, or “the prophecy is for the end times”

(b) Destroyed – “the Bible is justified.”

(c) Rebuilt – “the Bible never said the city wouldn’t be rebuilt, only that it would be destroyed.”

In other words, no matter what state of repair or disrepair the city or country may find itself in, the Christian somehow re-interprets it to be still within the legal boundaries of the prophecy. Hence, the prophecy is not falsifiable. There is no possible political or military situation for the city / country to be in, which would render the prophecy invalid or unfulfilled. Such prophecies, while they may be near and dear to the Christian apologist’s heart, cannot qualify as evidence because they simply cannot be falsified. Any such unfalsifiable prophecy will likewise be rejected as evidence.

The reader should not worry too much about this; most of the particular prophecies that McDowell has chosen will demonstrate other problems, and it will not be necessary to rule them out based on the principle of falsifiability alone. However, I felt it was important to show to the reader just how one-sided and disingenuous this line of Christian apologetic reasoning can be.

Evaluating Prophecy

How do we determine which prophecies qualify as “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”? Let’s turn to the subject of evaluating, or “scoring”, how close the prophecy came to predicting the events as they actually took place in history. Prophecies can be evaluated in one of three categories:

 

(a) Fulfilled – the prophecy has come true. The event took place as described, and in the manner predicted.

 

(b) Not fulfilled – this could have two subsections. Either:

 

(i) the event took place, but not in the manner described; or,

(ii) the event simply did not take place.

 

(c) Unknown – there is insufficient or contradictory data about the event to determine if the event actually took place. In short we are saying, “We don’t know”. At some future point in history, new evidence may come to light which would permit the prophecy to be classified as either fulfilled or not fulfilled; however, at present time nothing definitive can be said.

While the reader can see that prophecy can be classified into one of three categories, we now have to consider what McDowell is claiming in Chapter 11 of ETDAV. The central claim of that chapter is that there are prophecies found in the Bible which have come true, and that fulfilled prophecy is evidence for the general reliability of the Bible. By presenting case histories of what he considers to be prophecies that have come true, he is taking the affirmative position (i.e., that the prophecies were indeed fulfilled). To McDowell, they are “Evidences for the Christian Faith”.

I propose that both (b) and (c) be considered as failures on McDowell’s part to prove his case. In the case of (b), that is, “not fulfilled”, the reason for the disqualifying failure is clear. In the case of prophecies classified as “unknown”, I submit that those prophecies would fail to qualify as evidence precisely because their status is ambiguous. Anyone taking the affirmative position for the prophetic inspiration of the Bible should not be presenting uncertain or murky evidence to buttress his or her argument.

Because of this, any prophecy that is classified as “not fulfilled” or “unknown” must be regarded as having failed the qualifying test for being affirmative evidence.

Notes on McDowell’s Sources

In reading Chapter 11 of ETDAV, I was immediately struck by a couple of anomalies in the listed sources. Some people will no doubt classify these as nit-picks, but I think they deserve some attention.

Item 1: Quoting the Personal Thoughts of Research Team Members

On page 272, McDowell has the following to say:

 

James Davis, a former student at Louisiana Tech., who did research in this area for these lecture notes, says that concerning many critics of prophecy… [8]

This is followed by Davis’ personal observations, concluding with the statement that he has no confidence in critics. I was not aware that the personal introspection of one’s own research team is a quotable reference of an expert source. This would be tantamount to me quoting the private musing of another Jury member, and calling that a source.

Item 2: Quoting Severely Discredited Sources

In addition, we find that McDowell quotes from that old creationist snake-in-the-grass, Henry Morris.[9] For the reader who is not acquainted with Henry Morris, he is a founding member of the Creation Research Institute. This institute seeks to promote the idea that the earth is only 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs lived recently in history, and that the fossil record is an illusion caused by Noah’s flood. Henry Morris’ credentials as a source of any merit whatsoever have been severely compromised by his lack of integrity. Evidence of this can be found in his deliberate deception in handling quotations from his primary sources in the field of geology and paleontology.[10] He is also well known for some rather outlandish remarks. Morris has said, unbelievably, that the “canals” visible on the planet Mars were caused by Satan and the archangel Michael warring with each other.[11], [12] Mars, by the way, has no canals — the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli first reported seeing ‘canali’ (channels) on Mars in 1880. The phenomenon was later shown to be optical problems with the telescope Schiaparelli was using.[13] It should also be noted that McDowell uses Henry Morris as a source in other chapters in ETDAV besides Chapter 11 on Fulfilled Prophecy.

The serious scholar is known by their sources. If they use poor sources, or unreliable sources, then not only does the quality of the research work suffer, but their personal credibility as a serious scholar is undermined. McDowell should have known better.

Item 3: Quoting Sources over One Century Old

There are times when an ancient source is the best source, or the only source, for doing some particular piece of research. This would be especially true for a historical person’s memoirs, to illustrate a period-specific viewpoint or attitude, or to make a point about what an ancient source (such as Josephus) might have said. But for serious scientific, historical, or archaeological investigation, sources over a century old are highly questionable.

Indeed, (and with the above-noted exemptions) a source that was more than fifty years old would be questionable as well. In the fields of study mentioned above, information and research has picked up pace tremendously. This is especially true for biblical archaeology, where the amount of new information in just the last half-century has increased several fold in volume. And for the record, I would raise the same objection to stale sources whether a Jury member did it, or by McDowell.

But it is more than just missing all the newly-discovered facts that makes reliance on such old sources questionable. It is also the backdrop of that time period in question, and the blatancy of the agendas that were present in the sources. Writing about the bias of traditional biblical archaeologists of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Amihai Mazar says:

 

The new trends in world archaeology raised questions and controversy concerning the basic nature of the discipline. In America, traditional biblical archaeology as understood by W. F. Albright and G. E. Wright was based on a very specific approach to the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies. Interpretation of archaeological data was sometimes interlocked with theological concepts. This was particularly clear concerning some of the most questionable historical issues related to biblical history, such as the historical framework to the period of the patriarchs and to the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. The answers of traditional biblical archaeologists to such issues tended to be simplistic and fundamental.

 

Current archaeological research in Palestine tends to be professional, secular, and free from theological prejudices. It tends to acquire the objective data from field work by utilizing the best methods available today in world archaeology. The new trend has motivated scholars to redefine this field of research. Thus W. G. Dever called for the abandonment of the term ‘biblical archaeology’ in favor of the term ‘Syro-Palestinian archaeology.’ This suggestion reflects the tendency to abandon the theological approach of traditional biblical archaeology in favor of a secular, professional approach which defines the archaeology if the Levant as a specific branch of world archaeology with its own methods and goals.[14]

So we see that the prevailing attitude among biblical archaeology in the early years was to start with the a priori assumption that the bible was correct, and then go hunt for whatever evidence to buttress that assumption. This would be in contrast to objectively gathering evidence beforehand, and forming unbiased conclusions from that evidence. This is another reason why sources from so long ago are of questionable reliability.

However, what do we see among McDowell’s list of sources?

 

3. Badger, George Percy. The Nestorians and Their Rituals. London: n.p., 1852.

19. Gillett, E. H. Ancient Cities and Empires. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Publication Committee, 1867.

32. Layard, Austen H. Discoveries Among the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1853.

36. Maurice, Thomas. Observations on the Ruins of Babylon, Recently Visited and Described by Claudius James Rich, Esq. London: John Murray of Albermarle St., 1816.

40. Myers, Philip Van Ness. General History for Colleges and High Schools. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1889.

51. Smith, George. The Book of Prophecy. London: Longmain, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1865.

58. Wright, Thomas. Early Travels in Palestine. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1848.

I count seven sources over one century old; a remarkable amount. With the exception of Austen Layard, who was the actual on-site discoverer of the ruins of Nineveh and whose writings are useful for their first-person viewpoint, the rest of these sources are all severely outdated. How did this happen?

Perhaps McDowell’s research team did not know any better. In that case, they would be innocent of any wrongdoing, although it would be pretty hard to take their research seriously. The ability to differentiate a high quality source from a low quality source is a fundamental skill of any good researcher.

Or perhaps the research assistant for this chapter of ETDAV, a fellow named James Davis, did not have the best volumes at hand. Davis is associated with Louisiana Polytechnic University.[15] It’s unlikely that a college specializing in engineering and technical education would have the necessary research material to do serious archaeological or biblical investigation. If that is what happened here, then there is still a problem. Basing one’s research upon whatever source material is readily available, instead of basing it upon the highest quality source material (wherever it may be located), is shoddy research.

Or perhaps McDowell’s research team deliberately selected these sources, to take advantage of what they perceived as the pro-bible viewpoints of these books. I think it goes without saying that deliberately selecting biased sources is unworthy of a true scholar.

All of these are just possibilities. What matters, however, is that the sources listed are severely dated. A good scholar would not have relied upon them.

Notes

[1] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.

[2] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language.

[3] Stoner, Peter W. Science Speaks: An Evaluation of Certain Christian Evidences. Chicago: Moody Press, 1963.

[4] McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith. Thomas Nelson Publishers, reprinted 1979. Page 319.

[5] James J. Lippard, quoting from Stoner, in “Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah”, (<URL:https://infidels.org/library/modern/jim_lippard/fabulous-prophecies.html>).

[6] McDowell, p. 167.

[7] Personal correspondence with Jack Haas.

[8] McDowell, p. 273.

[9] McDowell, p. 273.

[10] Weber, Christopher Gregory. “Common Creationist Attacks on Geology”. Creation/Evolution, Issue II, Fall 1980, pp. 21-22.

[11] Ruse, Michael. “A Philosopher’s Day in Court”, Science and Creationism. Edited by Ashley Montagu. Oxford University Press, 1984. Page 335.

[12] Also see The remarkable birth of planet Earth. Morris, H. M. Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1978. Minneapolis, MN.

[13] James Trefil, Sharks Have No Bones: 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science. Simon & Schuster, 1992. Page 276.

[14] Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible: 10,000 — 586 BCE. Doubleday, copyright 1990. Page 32.

[15] McDowell, p. vii.