No Evidence at All?

One critic posting on my comments pages recently explained why he didn’t believe in Jesus. The argument he offered looked logically constructed and was presented with a “slam dunk” air. It was just one argument, though I’m sure he must have many more, but he presented it as if this was a sufficient reason to reject Christianity. The argument is based on the New Testament statement from Christ when He is discussing the events of the last days, and says, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34, also see Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32). Here is the argument, as presented:

I’m a pretty good reader, and I think I know exactly what Jesus meant when he said (for example) that the judgement would arrive before his listeners’ generation passed away. He meant that it would happen when he said it would happen, and since it didn’t happen then, he was wrong, and because he was wrong he was not (and is not) God.

Boom. One verse that is an apparent mistake, and now he can handily conclude that Jesus is not divine. When I read this, I was disappointed. The author obviously has an education and prides himself on logic and intelligence, but the argument, as presented, shows no apparent effort to understand and interact with Christian responses to the problems in this verse. It shows no desire to consider the reasons why Jesus might still be the Son of God in spite of confusion about one verse. Five seconds on Google would present him with reasonable Christian defenses of this problem. One quick Google search brought up one common response which explains that the generation of “this generation” was the generation that would be around when the prophecies of Matthew 24 begin to occur. Possible. But there are other approaches to consider, including discussions of what is meant by “generation” and the possibility of human error in recording and transmitting the statement. In any case, I was both saddened and frustrated by his easy argument for rejecting Jesus. I’m sure he has more than that, but it’s frustrating to see seemingly lazy arguments with apparent lack of serious research presented as if they represented a serious and decisive victory, as if no plausible response had ever been offered by the other side.

In claiming to “know exactly what Jesus meant” and in claiming that Jesus must be wrong since his literal reading does not appear to perfectly conform to his expectations, the author reveals a  simplistic and rather “fundamentalist” attitude about the scriptures. It’s an outlook infused with numerous hidden assumptions that can result in unrealistic expectations that are easily burst, resulting in quick loss of faith for unprepared believers who finally encounter, say, geologic evidence for the earth’s age, evidence of abundant human influence and error in the scriptures,  or the many other complexities of faith. It’s a danger that many ill-prepared Latter-day Saints face as well.

Now imagine that somebody, let’s say a former Christian priest and religious instructor, took that argument and published it in a Big List with dozens of other arguments, all claiming to be carefully researched slam-dunk arguments against Christianity but all showing a lack of familiarity with actual Christian scholarship and the vigorous defenses that have been offered to the arguments. That Big List would be offered as his shocking reasons for departing Christianity. Each argument might have excellent refutations, but readers of the Big List would have no idea, and ill-prepared Christians might be swayed. That would be tragic.

That’s pretty much how I feel about the CES Letter by a former LDS member who offers a Big List of reasons why he left the Church. It’s filled with dozens of assertions and seemingly slam-dunk arguments, but, as Daniel Peterson observed in his recent FAIR Conference presentation on the CES Letter, shows no familiarity with the abundant research and scholarship in many of the areas he touches upon. It occasionally reveals a simplistic, fundamentalist outlook, in which human error, uncertainty, and complexity are not tolerated. The many evidences for things like the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are treated as nonexistent. Not merely inadequate or not convincing, but as though there was nothing there at all, as Daniel Peterson properly observes.  The evidence is ignored, huge bodies of scholarship are rendered invisible, and answers that a few moments on Google could offer appear to have not entered into the vast research said to be behind the list of arguments. It’s tragic, painful, puzzling, and quite unnecessary.

Feel free to disagree and choose your reasons for believing or not, but don’t pretend that it’s all a slam-dunk without any arguments or evidence on the other side. There is evidence, there are interesting and sometimes very convincing arguments on the other side, and people exposed to the Big List at least should know that such things exist.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

33 thoughts on “No Evidence at All?

  1. Jeff, you said, "Now imagine that somebody, let's say a former Christian priest and religious instructor…with dozens of arguments…offered as his shocking reasons for departing Christianity."

    Someone did do this. It was Emperor Julian, emperor of the Roman Empire from 355-363. He wrote a book called Against the Galilaeans. It was intended to show all the contradictions within Christianity, demonstrate why it was false, and explain why he left the church. We can see how that worked out for him as he was the last non-Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, and we only know about his book because several church fathers responded to his arguments and we have their books preserved. His book was perhaps the original Big List book. It is interesting to read the parts of it that we do have because so many of the same arguments are very familiar or follow the same structure as the Big List arguments.

  2. I'm sure he has more than that, but it's frustrating to see seemingly lazy arguments with apparent lack of serious research….

    Yes, of course I have "more than that." At my back I have a couple centuries' worth of serious Bible scholarship. Instead of insulting me for reprising that vast body of work in a brief blog comment, you might consider spending some of your own time outside the comforting confines of FAIR and engaging with some of the real research. (A good start would be Richard Elliott Friedman's academically serious yet quite readable Who Wrote the Bible?) As it stands right now, your posts suggest you have read deeply in LDS apologetics, which the non-Mormon world rightly considers a joke, but avoided the real stuff.

  3. Intellectually, Jeff's simple questions and comments are solid enough. An argument against the existence of Christ is a poor one if based on this verse.

  4. Before you assume that Mormons do not read anything except Mormon works, you might note that a great many of its defenders apply a large body of non-LDS material in their research. I admit that I do not have your impressive couple of centuries of Bible scholarship under my belt (I am still well under one century old, but give me time). However, as you might note on my LDSFAQ page on the Bible, I have read and enjoyed Friedman, and cite him there. LDS books and authors are actually a minority of my reading adventures.

    Yes, I recognize you are well read and realize, especially now, that there is more behind the snippet you tossed out. But it is a bad argument, regardless of what others are in your quiver, and illustrates the flavor of the many barbs in the CES letter.

  5. Yes, of course I have "more than that."

    Yet that was the argument you used that, you thought, settled the discussion. Either you felt that the rest of your arguments were weaker, or you show a lack in of judgement in determining what arguments are strong and which are weak.

    Either way, your credibility just took a major hit, buddy.

  6. Orbiting,

    I laid a good argument against your case that you failed to really address. You made a limited appeal to authority (before this post it was a general citation of "the evidence-based community"), and failed to even consider the other side of scholarship, such as the argument that "generation" in the Greek meant something different than what it does in your English bible.
    In my opinion, doing serious research on this would have at least opened you up to the possibility that there are valid interpretations besides the one you have settled on. To use that as a basis to reject Jesus altogether is strange and unfortunate.

  7. The CES letter is nothing new, but a well put together compilation (the forest) of items Mormanity and FAIR have struggled to provide real responds to after decades of trying (LDS FAQ).

    The real interesting part is not the CES Letter, but the Debunking FAIR’s Debunking, essentially proving Mormanity and FAIR can only concede the majority of the time and when the straw men and ad hominem are removed they are left with practically nothing.

    Mormanity’s Big-List-Retort is a euphemism for not looking at the forest, but rather his carefully selected few trees only.

    Wizard of OZ: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

    Mormanity: I plead with you, please, please do not consider the forest for the trees, pretty please. Oh, look at this leaf that may or may not have fallen off a delicious tree here, oh what a beautiful time of year Fall is. [While standing in the middle of a coniferous forest in summer].

  8. Daniel Peterson has the best presentation on the genesis of the current challenges facing modern fundamentalist Islam. I continue to recommend it. The most amazing part is that after reading, one cannot help but realize that the same academic approach Peterson takes to Islam could be easily taken to Mormonism. Instead Peterson has taken a nasty streak of attacking John Dehlin, Jeremy Runnells, and the like for refusing to grasp at his straws.

  9. Pierce, I have considered the other arguments. It's just that I've found them to be very weak, and have drawn a conclusion. What's wrong with that?

    Just because I didn't lay out my entire intellectual journey in a brief blog comment doesn't mean I reached my conclusion as cavalierly as you and Jeff so uncharitably seem to think. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, etc. It's like reading an abstract but not the accompanying article, and then jumping on the author for "show[ing] no apparent effort to understand and interact with" other views. I mean, what are you and Jeff suggesting I do? Preface my blog comments with a review of the literature?

    Of course it's true that Jesus might have meant something else by "generation." All the difficulties of translation across languages, times, and cultures, and the polysemy of language generally — all these things can be thought of as problems, but of course they're also opportunities.
    They allow the re-interpretation of scripture in ways that meet changing ideological, emotional, theological, or institutional needs. The history of the churches is replete with examples. You might think that it's only those other churches that do this, but not so. The LDS Church has given us some great examples, e.g., by deciding "white and delightsome" really means "pure and delightsome." True, the racist interpretation fits Joseph Smith's own context (in his day, American Protestants generally believed the Hamitic theory of racial origins, which we glimpse in the Book of Abraham). But it doesn't fit today's context (in which racism is no longer very cool), but hey, no problem! Words have multiple meanings, doncha know, and besides, the word "white" was translated from some unknown word in Reformed Egyptian, and that unknown word might have really meant "pure," eh? In fact, we all know that God isn't a racist, don't we? And if we begin with that assumption (despite all the OT evidence to the contrary), then the original must have meant "pure."

    Except, of course, that the story of Lamanite origins is still in an important way racist. Even if we say that Smith was not using "skin of blackness" to denote apostasy and immorality, he's still guilty of ascribing moral impurity collectively to an entire lineage. That is, even after the Church engages in some revisionist reading of its own scripture, the result is still not cool.

    But believe in the Church if you want. Me, I just can't do it.

  10. I'm not asking you believe in the church. Your comments regarding BOM skin color is off-topic, so I won't get into that.

    You are saying that Jeff and I are being "uncharitable" to you for your statements because we didn't assume that you have considered the validity of any other viewpoints. Your complaint is hollow for 3 reasons:

    1. Not only did you not mention that there were any other possibilities for Jesus' words (which is the point of criticizing "big lists"), but you didn't acknowledge them when they were presented. You presented it in a way that showed a lack of consideration, and let's be honest–the way you stated it sounded smug, with your declaration that you have chosen to side with the "evidence-based community," implying that the opposite view is not so aligned.
    2. Choosing to deny Christ based off a debatable interpretation of one or two scriptures just does not make sense to most people, though I respect your beliefs. I just don't think I've ever heard of that before.
    3. You used this debatable interpretation as a basis for your declaration that Jeff has not come to understand the message of Jesus because he has not sold all of possessions yet and given it to the poor. And you say this while you yourself are exempt from such charity because you reject Jesus and his message.

    So that's what's wrong. How you choose to present your ideas on a Mormon blog will garner different responses. It's totally up to you.

  11. I won't pretend that there aren't any arguments on the other side, but let's not pretend that they're anything other than grasping at straws. That there are many arguments on the other side doesn't impress either. Quality would be preferable to quantity.

    That Jesus predicted the end of the world within a generation from his own time is consistent with the common belief among early Christians that the second coming would occur within their own lifetimes. This belief is widely attested throughout the New Testament. See 1Thess 4:15, 17; Heb 10:24-25, 37; James 5:7-9; 1Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18; Rev. 1:1. If Jesus meant for “this generation” to mean something other than the contemporaneous generation, why was the belief in his imminent return so common among early Christians?

    Were you impressed by Bill Clinton’s legal reasoning when he said that it depends on what the meaning of “is” is? I wasn’t, and I’m not impressed when apologists borrow the same trick. The burden of proof is on the one who claims that “generation” means something other than generation. Merely suggesting that it could mean something other than generation in order to retrofit the evidence to their predetermined conclusions is not good scholarship, and more reminiscent of a “fundamentalist” approach to the Bible that Jeff decries in his post.

    The suggestion that “this generation” could refer to the generation that would be around when the prophecies begin to be fulfilled doesn’t resolve the difficulty. The prophecies began to be fulfilled in 70 AD. Jesus was clear that the prophecies would all be fulfilled before the generation passed away. The generation that was around in 70 AD has all passed away.

    Is the record of Jesus' statement the result of human error? In other words, Jesus didn't really say that? Well, you have to decide what counts as evidence for what Jesus said. If we can pick and choose which verses of the Bible are authoritative and which aren't, we can make the Bible say anything we like, can't we? The Bible then becomes useless as anything other than a ventriloquist's dummy, which is why, I suspect, Orbiting Kolob doesn't believe it. Arguments like "Jesus didn't really say that; it's the result of human error" actually bolster his position that the Bible is the result of human error. Apologetics are the road to epistemological nihilism, a halfway point to non belief.

  12. Smitty
    You win the gold star of the month. Mormanity self describes something a Big-List and then declares it a fallacy. Immediately after doing this, he uses something that can only be described as a Bigger-Big-List to retort the Big-List. Apologist contradictions abound.

    What I find hilarious is Mormanity’s original Big-List post years ago said something to the effect if only ten percent in regards to a doubter reviewing a list of arguments. Many commenters responded that the problem is that way more than 10 percent were true. Again, the coup-de-gras is not the CES Letter, but the Debunking Fairs Debunking, where it is documented that Fair could bearly find 10 percent of the items presented to nick pick at. This is phenomenal given Fairs nick picking record, indicating the quality of the arguments presented in the original CES Letter. Considering the updated CES Letter addresses most of Fairs concerns, makes it nearly flawless.

  13. Regarding Jesus in-this-generation discussion. I have always found the 12-year-old Jesus deliberately letting his mother worry where he as an imperfection. Immediately after this we have no canonized record of Jesus between 12 and 30. I have always found the conversation pointless, because no one can define perfection. This gives what is defined as perfection by definition (Jesus) a free pass to behave in anyway without debate. The irony is the same religious conservatives who argue this way, absolutely detest the idea that morality is merely a matter of definition.

    Jesus is perfect by definition, so no point arguing there. George W. Bush’s argument in favor of Jesus is the big list of fulfilled messianic prophecy. I look this list and found serious exegesis doubts such as Matthew claiming Jesus coming out of Egypt fulfilled Hosea statements (which was usually not considered a messianic prophecy). The most convincing prophecy was being born in Bethlehem. The New Testament places Jesus birth there because of some worldwide tax. Outside of the New Testament no record of this tax exists.

    CS Lewis lunatic or liar theory is easily proven a fallacy. The same lunatic or liar theory could be applied to Mohammed. Mohammed declared himself a moral leader and claimed divine inspiration. According to Mohammed Christ was a great prophet who never claimed to be a God.

    This leaves us with the only one argument in favor of Jesus: Mohammed did not claim to be God. While many religious leaders have claimed to be God, none of their followings eventually morphed into a dominate worldwide spiritual/religious following. The Jews were meant to understand Jesus’s coy statements implying he was God to be him overtly declaring himself God. But why so coy? This was Hellenized Jerusalem and such statements were common with even Little Caesar being declared King of Kings, God, etc.

    That is the extent of Christian reasoning, there are half dozen major spiritual/religious movements only one who’s founder coyly declared himself to be a child of God. Ergo Jesus must be God.

  14. The conclusion of Jeff's post is just wrong. Here's the conclusion:

    "There is evidence, there are interesting and sometimes very convincing arguments on the other side, and people exposed to the Big List at least should know that such things exist."

    While some of the apologist's arguments are definitely "interesting," none of them are "very convincing." I'm happy to let people know those arguments exist, and happy to explain how weak they are. In fact I do it all the time.

    And I have to say again that no, there is no real evidence for things like the divinity of Jesus or the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon, at least if by "evidence" we mean things other than personal testimonies and the like.

    Some of what is offered as "evidence" is simply laughable, e.g., the occurrence of chiasmus in the BOM. It's not as if Joseph Smith had no exposure to chiasmus in his own day; the King James Bible is full of such parallelisms, and Smith was obviously mimicking the KJV's style. Yet LDS apologists will write tens of thousands of words about the incredible significance of this stylistic feature, as if it meant anything at all, as if anyone at all with a decent ear for KJV cadences could not have picked it up as a matter of course. To call such a thing "evidence" is bogus.

    Jeff is basically saying that, in discussing these matters, I'm entitled to believe there is no convincing evidence, as long as I also acknowledge that there is convincing evidence. I'm entitled to say what I believe, as long as I also say what I don't believe.

  15. "but let's not pretend that they're anything other than grasping at straws"

    This is a great way to dodge the very logical arguments that are in opposition to your conclusion. Watch me make a similar argument:

    *Jesus saying in the very next verse that the day and the hour nobody knows, except His Father in heaven, demonstrates that he wasn't predicting the end of the world in his contemporary generation. It takes legal reasoning to have him completely contradict himself one verse later.

    *That a Greek word has multiple meanings, and that a word (genea) has been used in different contexts in the NT, means that those who try to limit it to their understanding of how the English word is currently used are grasping at straws.

    Anyone can do it.

    "The burden of proof is on the one who claims that “generation” means something other than generation"

    That has been demonstrated, without legalese and without straws. You don't have to accept those interpretations, but they are valid. There are merits to both sides of the isle, and I concede that it is indeed a very debatable topic. Even CS Lewis didn't seem to know what to make of it. But trying to marginalize and demonize the other side does not add any strength to your position. I'm not even really interested in exploring every angle of this statement. But I am interested in toning down the "slam dunk" hyperbole.

  16. Mormography says:

    "Mormanity self describes something a Big-List and then declares it a fallacy. Immediately after doing this, he uses something that can only be described as a Bigger-Big-List to retort the Big-List"

    You seem to be confused about what a Big List-style criticism is. Critiquing the method of Big List attacks is not a similar kind of Big List attack.

    The way that you always attempt to spin what someone is saying back on them, but failing to do so, is always an entertaining spectacle.

  17. Pierce – Your record of confusion is exceeding great. Not even Mormanity would back you up when you misunderstood the essay on the priesthood, on the thread regarding polygamy I had to correct you regarding polygamy being illegal even before federal anti-bigamy laws, etc. Now on this one you have completely misunderstood both Smitty and I. Your confusion and refusal to understand have lost their entertainment value. I will let Smitty explain your misreading to you if he wishes to waste his time.

  18. Ah, the classic Mormography "you have misunderstood/misquoted me" appeal. No I haven't. You just said that Jeff has created a Big List, I told you that he did not.

    Here is the accusation, in case you have forgotten already:

    "he uses something that can only be described as a Bigger-Big-List to retort the Big-List"

    So where is Jeff's Big List? BTW, for the big list to be even in the same ballpark, Jeff would need to be criticizing someone's beliefs with a big list of one-sided problems (like the CES letter does). Where, O where, is that present in this post? (The questions is rhetorical, it's not).

  19. Yeah occam's razor. The simplest explanation to pierce, repeat habit of lying. ex. polygammy was not illegal or in this case Mormanity doesn't claim " huge bodies of scholarship ". Mormanity doesn't just think his list is big, he thinks it is huge. I was much to generous in describing your behavior as mis understanding, your just lying. Not even Mormanity will defend you.

  20. Hahaha. This is always the best argument: "Just one quick search on Google shows plenty of counterarguments!"

    No way, Google is good at finding things according to a set of criteria? Matthew 24 can make sense because Google found articles saying so!

    All of this is so silly when you're not stuck in the religious world. It's kind of comical

  21. "I won't pretend that there aren't any arguments on the other side, but let's not pretend that they're anything other than grasping at straws." You begin by pretending that there are no quality arguments on the other side, dismissing all as mere grasping at straws. That shows striking lack of familiarity with the issues. There are some remarkably strong and impressive evidences that go far beyond the grasping at straws caricature.

    Perhaps you are pretending not to pretend?

  22. Ignatius Donnelly’s list of items in favor of his Atlantis theory were much more impressive which “ many modern historians consider to be pseudoscience and pseudohistory.” His lists are not seriously considered quality and it was more impressive than the Mormon Apologist.

    Debunking Fair’s Debunking and many others address the apologists lists. The immediate and obvious rejoinder is the fact that the apologist confess that NHM is the most impressive item, their high water mark. What? NHM is their best result from over a century of extensive hunting? Even Ignatius Donnelly would laugh.

    Who is really pretending?

  23. Jeff, I'm glad to hear you've read Who Wrote the Bible. On your FAQ, after indicating some agreement with a few of the book's obvious points, you write this:

    "I find the justification for the schizophrenic dissection of verses and chapters into many different authors to be based on a house of cards. He almost instantly accepts the assumption that different authors must be invoked to explain verses that use different phrases, images, words for God, or other literary tools, or that seem to offer fuel for differing opinions on political matters."

    This is incredibly silly, in a number of ways.

    1. What you are rejecting here is not just Friedman's work, but the entire Documentary Hypothesis (DH), which is the cornerstone of modern Bible scholarship and about as well supported as a scholarly conclusion can be. If you think that you're taking issue simply with the idiosyncratic opinions of Richard Friedman, and if you think people like Friedman are working in the same intellectual league as the amateurs at FAIR, you're simply wrong.

    2. Friedman does not "almost instantly accept[] the assumption that different authors must be invoked to explain verses that use different phrases, images, words for God, or other literary tools." What you so cavalierly term an "assumption" is not an assumption at all, but rather a conclusion, based on more than a century of careful scholarship by hundreds (thousands?) of scholars (most of them Jews or Christians, BTW).

    To think of the DH as an "assumption," and to say that Friedman "instantly accepts" it, is like saying that E.O. Wilson "instantly accepts" the "assumption" of evolution by natural selection, or that Stephen Hawking "instantly accepts" the "assumption" of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. These things are not mere assumptions; they're conclusions based on real thinking about real evidence.

    3. This passage reveals a severe misunderstanding of the DH: "…the assumption that different authors must be invoked to explain verses that use different phrases, images, words for God," etc.

    Again, what you're terming an "assumption" is no such thing. You're confusing assumption with reasonable explanation. Suppose you somehow found yourself sifting through the debris of postapocalyptic London in the year 2687 and you came across a scrap of text that read like this:

    …thinkest thou that yon churl hast not a halberd by his side and scowle upon his visage? Shall we suffer him to affright the maidens of this faire cittie of Lundenne? He exemplifies the crime that plagues the Greater London Metropolitan Area, but we must always remember that such criminal activity is rooted in the socioeconomic impoverishment of the working classes. Yette we speake not of parting his head from his nekke. Whether delivered by guillotine or lethal injection, the death penalty seems ineffective as a deterrent to crime. and it also raises ethical issues that enta….

    If you were trying to make sense of this material, would you not argue "that different authors must be invoked"? The differences in various forms of biblical Hebrew are no less pronounced than those between Elizabethan English and our own. If you did invoke multiple authorship here, would it be best characterized as an assumption or as a reasonable explanation?

    It amazes me that you can reject so much solid scholarship simply because it undermines your testimony (as you indicate on the FAQ). It amazes me that you put more trust in the likes of superstitious "witnesses" like Martin Harris than you do in genuine scholars like Friedman. Your faith erodes your judgement and makes you look like the silliest Young Earth Creationist. Such is the power of faith, I guess.

  24. Wow, look at all the Mormon critics who appear to be Atheists in general. Modern day Korihors, if you will. At least all of you deny Christ. I hope that helps you sleep at night.

    It is a pleasant change from the usual "Godmakers!" though.

  25. Orbiting, I generally accept the Documentary Hypothesis, but felt that Friedman was overdoing it, especially when individual verses get cut up. But you are right that my response was too critical, and my views have changed somewhat since I first read Friedman, so I have just updated that section of my LDSFAQ area. Toned it down and referred people to some excellent articles on the topic that better illustrate what I think are some sound LDS perpsectives on the Documentary Hypothesis. I especially like how Kevin Barney treats it in Dialogue (that's PDF – an HTML version also exists).

    While extensions of the DH to the whole Bible pose some challenges for the LDS faith, it is interesting how the DH fit well with the Book of Mormon, and even help us understand a few things in there. And then there is the related issue of Margaret Barker's work and its relation to First Nephi. Another story….

  26. 2:49 Anonymous

    While the assertion “appear” to be Atheists might have something to do with your biases, your inability to see the reverse assertions definitely has to do with your biases.

    Look at all the apologist and the LDS Church now making statements for which Mormons used to be excommunicated. For example, people have been excommunicate for documenting that Polygamous marriages occurring after the manifesto, something a recent LDS Church essay has conceded. Does that make the LDS Church now a critic of itself?

    The LDS Church and apologist are no longer defending themselves, but are in the thralls of concession.

  27. Jeff,

    I'm not pretending that there are no quality arguments on the other side. I showed that the arguments that you brought up to exemplify the other side are no good. If you think there are even better arguments, then next time you should lead with those.

  28. Pierce,

    Logic is not your forte. If there is a logical contradiction between Jesus predicting the end of the world within a generation and his saying that no man knows the hour and the day, that's not my fault. But if you're operating under the assumption that there can be no logical contradictions in the Bible, you might just as easily redefine the words "hour" and "day" so that they don't equate to "generation," rather than redefining "generation" so that it doesn't equate to "hour" or "day," unless of course you already realize that "hour" and "day" are not equivalent to "generation," in which case no contradiction exists. In case this point needs further explanation, imagine that I were to tell you that I'm moving this year. You ask what day and hour I'm going to move, and I tell you that I don't know. Does that mean that I can't know that I'll be moving this year? No. Get it?

    That the word "generation" means something other than generation has not been demonstrated by you or anyone else in this blog post. You simply claim that it's been demonstrated without actually doing so.

  29. This discussion is sort of like using string theory to attack literature and refute what is considered within the literary field to be good literature. How is that a reasonable or valid exercise?

    Faith consists of applying doctrines and experiencing the results of that application, determining which things bear fruit and which do not, and persevering on the course which is most profitable to what it is that one is seeking. To say that one's faith is invalid because of some interpretation of what someone is thought to have said is absurd. I know that Jesus exists because of my relationship with him, not because I engage in some precarious interpretation of a centuries-old document that has passed through countless unknown hands. I'm grateful for the document, because it has helped me on this path, but I'm certainly not going to abandon it because of some academic dispute over the meaning of some phrase that can't possibly be resolved in this life. That would be foolish. My faith is primarily about how I live and what results it produces. Intellectual arguments against it are intellectually curious, but exist in a different realm altogether.

  30. To put it another way, the practice of religion is not the same thing as the study of theology. The intellectual pursuit of a subject consists of finding what one might consider the most probable path through a seemingly infinite maze of possibilities. On the one hand, one must observe Occam's Razor and choose the simplest path, while at the same time obeying Einstein's dictum that one must not make things too simple.

    In general terms, the intellectual habit of the unbelieving is to eliminate God and religion as unnecessary and superfluous. The practice of religion, however, produces incontrovertible evidence in the heart of the believer that God is real and necessary in one's intellectual model of the universe. Along those lines, the perceived role of the "anti" is to erect intellectual barriers, producing dead ends in the maze, suggesting to those who have not embarked on the experiment of religious practice that such an exercise would be futile. The role of the apologist is to point out that those purported dead ends are not, in fact, dead ends; that there are paths through the maze; that the practice of religion is not logically proscribed. It is not to "prove" the truth of an intellectual matter, as that is in principle an impossibility.

    As we read in scripture, the human soul comprises two distinct (non-physiological) centers, the heart and the mind. The best knowledge available to the mind is along the lines of "I'm not wrong yet", given that the only connection between the mind and the universe is through fallible senses. The heart, on the other hand, is capable of discerning and knowing truth because the heart is connected to the universe through the Light of Christ and is also susceptible to be influenced by the Holy Spirit, both of which are unconditionally reliable.

  31. Smitty,

    Thank you for the insult. Glad to know that the issue isn't with the arguments, it's really just with my illogical brain.

    "If there is a logical contradiction between Jesus predicting the end of the world within a generation and his saying that no man knows the hour and the day, that's not my fault."

    What IS your fault is how you choose to interpret the information. The reason why I even brought that up in the first place was not to provide a solid argument for the pro-Jesus view, but to show you how lame your method of arguing is and why big list attacks are irresponsible. You wrote a big paragraph explaining your side of it as a response. I think the point has been made.

    "That the word "generation" means something other than generation has not been demonstrated by you or anyone else in this blog post. You simply claim that it's been demonstrated without actually doing so."

    You're the guy who comes to a party hours late when things are winding down and complains that the party is lame. This discussion actually took place in a previous post where I did indeed put forward a few alternate viewpoints, including the meaning of the word "genea." Besides, Orbiting Kolob made the claim that he was very well read, so I figured that he knew all of the arguments anyway. You are welcome to catch up if you are not familiar with all of the theories regarding this section of Matthew, as I don't find the need to expound on it for this discussion (I am no scholar anyway). I was more interested in why someone would base their denial of Christianity on something as debatable and trite as this.

    Bottom line for me: Your interpretation of this verse is a valid one. Also valid are other interpretations. There isn't a smoking gun one way or the other (and no, your hyperbole doesn't count). It is sad that Orbiting Kolob claims to deny Jesus Christ because of a "failed prophecy" theory. That's all.

  32. Jeff: I wish, as I've said before, that more people like you were amongst the hierarchy of the Church, because, from my perspective, your words, "simplistic, fundamentalist outlook, in which human error, uncertainty, and complexity are not tolerated," seem to describe many of the current and former members of the Qof12 and First Presidency that I knew while I was growing up (I'm 50 now). Bruce R McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, were very much "fundamentalist outlook" and could not tolerate those of their era who voiced criticism. I suspect that if you were verbally saying what you've wrote in some of your opinion pieces in front of men like Elder Bednar or Elder L. Whitney Clayton, that you would not be "tolerated", as they are not men of tolerance. In fact, one of them quipped recently about the "tyranny of tolerance". Many of us who have left the Church after being strong, active members for all of our lives are just tired of the lack of Christianity in the Church, the lack of egalitarianism, which is, in my opinion, the very highest of Christian virtues. Dan Peterson seldom has such a virtue, and you seem to have it, but recently it seems to be waning a bit. Have you considered this article on why people are leaving Christian religions, I hope you have (in the blog "Approaching Justice" from March 24, 2014.

  33. Sorry you have left, Kevin. I feel that recent statements at on tough topics like DNA, race , etc., show that new views are tolerated and considered carefully. I think these statements show high level engagement with serious scholars. The Church may be more interesting and open than many people think.

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