In 2012, the media was abuzz with a sensational archaeological find. An ancient scrap of papyrus, a paper-like material made from the papyrus plant, contained the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife…’.” In addition, the fragment mentions the name “Mary.” An anonymous owner had given the fragment (and another that contains some of the Gospel of John) to Dr. Karen King of Harvard University, who judged it to be from the fourth century AD. This, of course, indicates that at least some early Christians thought Jesus was married, perhaps to Mary Magdalene. As a result, people started calling this scrap of papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”
Immediately, there were those who thought the papyrus fragment mentioning Jesus’ wife was not authentic, but in April of this year, the Harvard Theological Review published a series of articles supporting its authenticity. One of the most important pieces of evidence was the radiocarbon dating test, which indicates the papyrus was made between AD 209 and AD 405. The same testing indicates that the other papyrus (which contains some of the Gospel of John) was made between AD 681 and AD 877. Radiocarbon dating has lots of problems associated with it, but when it can be calibrated using tree rings (as is true in this case), it is reasonably reliable. Thus, the papyrus fragments probably were made during those time periods.
Just a few weeks later, Indiana Wesleyan University’s Dr. Christian Askeland posted a blog article that shows the papyrus fragment containing some of the Gospel of John is almost certainly a fake. He compared it to an authentic fragment of the Gospel of John, called the Codex Qau. He found similarities that could not be coincidental. For example, in 17 lines, the breaks in the text are the same between the two documents. In addition, he noted that the dialect used in the papyrus fragment in question fell out of use long before the time when the radiocarbon dating says the papyrus was made.
Based on his analysis, Askeland concludes:
Unless compelling counter-arguments arise, both this fragment and the Gospel of Jesus Wife fragment should now be considered forgeries beyond any doubt.
During the 2010 Global Atheist Convention, P.Z. Myers (my favorite atheist) said:
Science and religion are incompatible in the same sense that the serious pursuit of knowledge about reality is incompatible with [expletive]…. Religion makes smart people do stupid things, and scientists do not like stupid.
Dr. James Hannam recently wrote a book entitled, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, and he makes a very strong case that modern science is specifically a product of medieval Christian thought. As I mentioned in a previous post, Dr. James Hannam is a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge. He earned his physics degree from Oxford, and then he went to Cambridge to earn a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science. Thus, he is very qualified to write on this subject. He states his thesis in his introduction:
This book will show how much of the science and technology that we now take for granted has medieval origins. (p. xiii)
The book then goes on to give a wealth of evidence to support that thesis.
As I have pointed out previously, the oft-repeated claim that the church has always been united in its interpretation of the creation account is demonstrably false. It sounds reasonable to think that the church always read the creation account as historical narrative with 24-hour days, but then evolution or some other aspect of modern science “forced” theologians to reinterpret the creation account. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Even as early as 225 AD, Origen wrote:1
For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally.
So even in very early church, some influential people were interpreting at least parts of the creation account figuratively. It turns out that as church history progressed, a figurative interpretation of Genesis never lost its momentum.
I am sure that you’ve probably read everything you want to read about Harold Camping and his failed prediction that the Rapture of the church would occur on May 21, 2011. However, I would like you to indulge me for just a moment, because I think his failed prediction can actually teach us something about how we Christians need to respect the Bible a bit more than we currently do.
Look at the picture of the van above. It proclaims Camping’s prediction of the coming Judgment, but note what it says on the bottom right. It says, “The Bible Guarantees It.” Now, of course, anyone who knows much about the Bible knows that it actually guarantees that no one (not even the angels) knows the hour or the day of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:36). Thus, to say that the Bible guarantees Camping’s prediction is absurd.
Unfortunately, however, many Christians make one of the the same mistakes that Harold Camping made. They may not be so Biblically illiterate as to think they can state the date of the Rapture, but they do claim the Bible says something when, in fact, the Bible doesn’t even come close to saying that.
Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science is an attempt by open theism to grapple with the issues of creation, evolution, and the scientific process. It contains many chapters, each authored by a well-known voice in modern Christendom. If you have read my blog from its early days, you know that I am sympathetic to open theism. I am not an open theist, but I certainly think that open theism takes the Bible more seriously than most other theologies in modern Christendom. I also think open theologians have displayed some truly original thinking when it comes to understanding many Biblical passages that most Christian theologies would rather ignore. Thus, I was excited to get the chance to read this book on my vacation. Unfortunately, my excitement quickly gave way to disappointment.
When it comes to the issue of origins, this book takes a theistic evolutionary position. Now I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. While it is a very weak scientific position to take, a Biblical argument can be made for it. I consider that argument to be rather poor, but not as poor as the scientific argument. Nevertheless, theistic evolution itself doesn’t bother me all that much.
Here’s the source of my disappointment: There are some wonderful ways that Christians have addressed the origins issue throughout the history of Christendom. However, this book shows that the same people who demonstrate incredible originality of thought when it comes to theology and philosophy subscribe to the most mundane, worn-out modern view of origins: that God “set everything up,” and evolution then took care of the rest.
In 2005, Dr. J. C. Sanford wrote a book entitled Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome (Elim Publishing, 2005). Dr. Sanford is well-suited to write a book on genetics, given that he has a PhD in plant breeding and genetics and holds more than 30 patents in his field. While the main thrust of the book is that the field of genetics as we understand it today provides little evidence for evolution and an enormous amount of evidence against it, there are some fascinating “side issues” he brings up from time to time.
I was reminded of one of those side issues on Friday when a student asked me why the patriarchs in Genesis lived to be so old. Noah, for example, lived to be 950, according to Genesis 9:29. Given today’s lifespans, that seems pretty outrageous. How could Noah possibly have lived that long? Also, even though his descendants didn’t live as long as he did, they still lived longer than anyone today.
Noah’s son, Shem, lived to be 600 years old, according to Genesis 11:10-11. Noah’s grandson, Arphaxad, lived 438 years, according to Genesis 11:12. If you continue through Noah’s line, you will find that (on average) the later a descendant was born, the shorter life he led. Nevertheless, it takes many, many generations for the lifespans of the patriarchs to reach what we would call reasonable based on today’s standards.
Of course, one way to deal with this issue is to say that the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis are not accurate. Instead, as a kind of “hero worship,” the writer of Genesis artificially inflated the patriarchs’ ages to make them look “larger than life.” In his book, Dr. Sanford not only shows why such an explanation is probably not correct, he points out the data that indicate a decay in lifespan is exactly what you would expect given our current understanding of genetics.
Norwegian Shooter’s latest comment got me thinking about my journey from atheism to Christianity. As I look back on that journey, I realize how similar my experience was to that of Dr. Esther Su. As a scientist, I have to believe in things that are rational. As a result, when a girl who I wanted to date kept talking to me about Christianity, I dismissed it, because the brainwashing I had received from authors like Bertram Bertrand Russell indicated that Christianity was not rational. Of course, as is the case with most brainwashing, that turned out to be 100% false, but it took me a while to figure that out.
This girl eventually took me to a debate between an atheist who was a scientist and a Christian who was a scientist. The debate was interesting, but what was more interesting was that the Christian gave several references that I could read to learn more about the shocking idea that Christianity is rational. I reluctantly looked into some of those references, and eventually, I learned that atheists had lied to me most of my life.