In my last post, I argued that not all prophecies were composed after the events which fulfill them. But perhaps the argument for dating the Gospels after that date can be nuanced. Instead of a strict deductive argument, perhaps that dating is still defensible as an inference to the most plausible explanation. In other words, okay, prophecies can sometimes be written down before the events which fulfill them, and perhaps a few like the Qur’anic example cited in the last post actually were, but which is more likely, that a prophecy was written down before or after the event in “predicts”? Most people would conclude that it is far easier, and thus more likely, for the prophecy to have been written down after the fact. Therefore dating true prophecies by presuming that they are ex post facto, composed after the fact, is not always true, but it is a good approximation, in the absence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Like all general principles, this may be generally applicable, but I do not think it applies to the prophecy which the Gospels portray Jesus as uttering about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. (more…)
The 30th sura of the Qur’an, near its beginning, says, “The Romans have been defeated in the nearest land, but they, after their defeat, will conquer in a few years” (Q 30:2-4). Late medieval Muslims believed that this prophecy was fulfilled by the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, although I could see a case being made for “the nearest land” being Palestine, in which the Romans were defeated in 638. The Romans’ subsequent victory, in the latter case, could be taken to refer to the Byzantine conquests of the 960s, in which they recaptured Antioch for 120 years. In any event, we have Qur’an manuscripts which contain these verses from before the 960s.
It amazes me how frequently Bible scholars insist that a prophecy can only have been written down after the events which are alleged to be its fulfillment. Thus many Old Testament scholars maintain that Daniel must have been written in the Maccabean period, while experts on the Gospels (even many Christians) assert that because Jesus is portrayed as foretelling the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (usually dated to 70 CE), therefore the Gospels were first written down at least forty years after the events they claim to record. But the example of the Qur’an shows that this need not be the case. (more…)
The philosophy professor whom I mentioned in my last post made a fascinating argument against using religious experiences to draw theological conclusions. I partly agree with it, and partly disagree with it, so I thought I would post it here and take it apart.
His basic argument was that people of many logically incompatible religions have strong religious experiences, on the basis of which they conclude that their respective religions are correct. But since they cannot all be correct (since they contradict each other), religious experience seems not to be a reliable method for inferring which is the true religion. Instead, he suggested, people who grow up in a religion typically develop positive emotions for the places, people, and objects associated with that religion, and these emotions then lead to experiences of God’s love, for example, or of the truthfulness of one’s own religion, experiences which may reflect nothing more than a lifetime of developing positive associations.
He described a discussion he had with two Mormons, in which he invited them to make the case for why he should come to believe in Mormonism. With a caveat that it might sound crazy, they described the burning in their bosom which confirmed to them that the Book of Mormon was true. The philosopher, far from being surprised, expressed that these sorts of experiences are exactly what he would expect for someone in their positions. Instead, and I’m sure much to the consternation of this pair of Mormon missionaries, he denied that such an experience lends support to the truth of their religion. People of other religions equally experience feelings which in their view confirm their beliefs, and those experiences are neither more nor less genuine, and neither more nor less confirmatory, than the burning in the bosom of the Mormons. (more…)
I recently heard a philosophy professor present a talk entitled, “Why I am not a Christian.” The title, of course, is taken from Bertrand Russel’s 1927 talk on the same subject, though the professor I heard was not nearly as hostile to Christians as Russell. Nevertheless, in common philosophical fashion he went beyond the apparently autobiographical scope of the title to claim that no one else anywhere is warranted to believe either in the existence of God or in the extraordinary claims made in the Gospels about Jesus. As he reviewed philosophical arguments for the existence of God and scriptural appeals to faith in Christ, he repeatedly said, “I have not found compelling justification,” and he took that to imply that neither had anyone else. There were various other elements of the talk that struck me (and upon which I may at some point comment here), but the assertion of categorical lack of rationality for certain conclusions is something I am wrestling with. (more…)