Monday, 7 May 2018

Part 4. Can we still believe the Bible? A prophetic perspective.

In this essay, I consider the trustworthiness of the Bible from a prophetic angle. Although Biblical Criticism scholars often reject the very notion of "prophecy", in my view prophecy is, in fact, one of the testable aspects of the Biblical claim to being divinely inspired. So, how strong is this kind of evidence? I discuss the messianic prophecies as well as other remarkable prophecies. I also develop good principles for judging prophetic material. What does that say about prophecies concerning the future?

The Bible is a many-faceted book. One of the most important characteristics of the Bible is the many oracles and prophecies that we find therein. In our scientific age, people are in general sceptical about all things supernatural, including prophecy, insofar as this refers to some kind of superhuman knowledge about future events. To the secular mind, it does not make sense that anyone can know the future. As such, some scholars from the Biblical Criticism tradition have found ways to discredit the Biblical idea of prophecy. The question is: Are they right? Is there really something called prophecy?

About one-third of the Bible consists of prophetic writings. This prophetic dimension of the Bible is actually extremely important in deciding what kind of book the Bible is. Although the Bible includes many historical narratives which tell about God's involvement in history, those stories cannot in themselves provide evidence that the Bible is what it claims to be, namely a divinely inspired book. Insofar as their truth can be established, they can at most show that the Biblical witnesses gave a trustworthy account of historical events (see parts 1, 2, 3 of this series for a detailed discussion thereof [1, 2, 3]). It is the prophetic aspect which is in the final instance the most important measure of the Biblical claim that it is no human book but a divinely inspired work - and contains God's message for humankind.

So, there is a lot at stake when it comes to Biblical prophecy. If we can show that the Biblical prophecies had indeed been fulfilled, then this goes a long way to establishing that the Bible is indeed what it says. Prophecy is one of the aspects of the Bible (see also the Biblical worldview [4]) which may provide scientifically measurable "evidence" for the existence of God insofar as the true fulfilment of prophecy goes beyond the possibility of scientific explanation and hinges on the Biblical claim that God knows the future and has through the ages revealed that to his prophets as we read: "I am the LORD: that is my name... new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Is. 42:8-9).

The question therefore arises: Can we believe the Bible insofar as its prophetic claims are concerned? On the one hand, many Biblical Criticism scholars reject the notion of true prophecy (it does not fit into the "scientific" study of the Bible). On the other hand, we find that fundamentalist Christians often wrongly announce some date in which some prophecy such as the return of Jesus Christ would happen. This also discredits the notion of prophecy. Are there enough evidence to support the notion of true prophecy?

The problem with prophecy is that it is often very difficult to prove that the relevant events did, in fact, happen after the prophecy was given and was not retrospectively so named (this is due to our angle on history - living so long after the relevant events). As such, there are many Biblical prophecies which cannot be shown to be true in this sense. There are, however, some prophecies where we know that the related events do, in fact, came later. In that case, other considerations come into play: there may be various versions as well as interpretations of the prophetic texts where only one is consistent with an outcome that may be regarded as the fulfilment of the prophecy. As such, an evaluation of the evidence for and against the true fulfilment of prophecy is no easy task.

In this essay, I consider the typical arguments that Biblical Criticism scholars bring against Biblical prophecy. I discuss the problem in evaluating whether some prophecy can be shown to have indeed been fulfilled. I also discuss the problem of the variety of possible interpretation of a book such as Revelation. I establish good principles for judging prophetic material. I show that we do have good examples of Biblical prophecy that had been remarkably fulfilled. In the final instance, I also consider those prophecies which concern future events.

Biblical Criticism and prophecy

In Biblical Criticism, the aim is to study the Bible from a scientific perspective. The aim is to clear the text of all unhistorical data - of everything that scholars from a scientific point of view assume cannot have happened. From this angle, the ability to "predict" the future is obviously not possible in any scientific sense. So, when it comes to the Biblical prophets, such scholars tried to reconstruct the Sitz im Leben ("setting in life") in which the prophet operated – this is the historical context in which he presented his message within the social circumstances of the time. For these scholars, it is the ethical dimension of the prophet's message which is of special importance. The predictive aspect was considered as secondary – at most, it could have included some vague "predictions" which are not to be taken seriously because it would most probably be wrong.

What about bold statements about the fulfilment of prophecy found in the Biblical text? In their view, this should be interpreted either as vaticinia ex eventu (foretelling after the event) or that the author created fictional events to give the impression that some prophecy was fulfilled (some mention, for example, events from the life of Jesus in this regard [5]). So, when there are two options for reading the text which cannot be decided by independent means, namely that the prophecy was given beforehand or was retrospectively so interpreted, these scholars always assert the second option. A good example is the dating of the gospels later than 70 AD to allow for some knowledge by the authors about the Roman attack on Jerusalem - if the texts were written earlier it implies that this event was correctly foreseen by Jesus, which such scholars reject.  


One may ask: Is this good methodological practice? In this approach, the possibility of divine intervention in human affairs is excluded in principle. Although scholars can obviously not exclude the possibility that the prophetic interpretation in the text postdates the events mentioned therein, excluding the alternative as a matter of dogmatic belief pre-empts the outcome of independent research. Sometimes this even goes directly against the available evidence. In the case of Jesus's prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem found in the gospels, we actually have good reasons to think that it is a true prophecy. 


We can establish this from the most logical date when the Acts of the Apostles was written - which was by the same author who previously wrote the Gospel of St. Luke in which we find the prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem (see Acts 1:1). Now, the story told in Acts stops when St. Paul had been in Rome for three years, which was in 62 AD. If there was more to say - such as what eventually happened to St. Paul in Rome etc. - then the author would surely have done so. This means that the Gospel of St. Luke could be dated before that (it was written first) - probably to 58 AD - which is well before the Romans captured Jerusalem in 70 AD. This is consistent with the author using the first person "I" (and "we") in the second part of Acts in accordance with the tradition that the St. Luke who wrote the book is the very same Luke who joined St. Paul on his missionary journeys.

Biblical Criticism scholars, in fact, presuppose what they eventually find! In presupposing that true prophecy is impossible (as well as all supernatural intervention in history), the only possible explanation acceptable to them is the one of natural science. In this way, they merely find what they set out to find! They never seriously consider the alternative possibility that there are more to this world than natural science. So, they reduce religious studies to a secular science without any consideration for the alternative. This is an obviously bad methodology in which Biblical studies is reduced to a secular science even though those "scientists" do not have the scientific means in the discipline to in any sensible way evaluate those claims. They merely assume them to be wrong! 

This is also bad hermeneutics! It is the kind of hermeneutics which believes that the contemporary scholars are - in contrast with the "primitive" people who wrote the texts - the only ones who have a truly scientific and "objective" view on the world from which the texts originated. Not only is this claim false (there is no "objective" angle on history [6]), it also shows an astonishing disrespect for the Other in the context of the dialogue taking place in hermeneutics. To quote Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932), who greatly influenced this discipline: "Following our modern historical world-view, truly not an imaginary construct but based on the observation of facts, we consider the other view entirely impossible" [7].


Using the insights of the great philosopher of hermeneutics, Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), we can view our interaction with these texts as a conversation in which readers from our generation are in conversation with the authors of those texts (and with many others who have already throughout the ages participated in this conversation). What happens in the one-sided conversation which Biblical Criticism scholars have with those ancient authors, is that the one participant in the dialogue ignores the views of the others as being totally irrelevant to their our fixed opinions! They arrogantly believe that they know it all and that the other persons in the conversation are not worth listening to. What they should keep in mind that the whole modernist philosophical approach used to establish the foundations of the discipline has since been fundamentally discredited [6] - which should caution any scholar to be humble in their approach to these issues. 


Gadamer writes that such an approach to hermeneutics "destroys the true meaning of this tradition" [8]. The point is that, although contemporary scholars may not believe in true prophecy, those authors obviously did! They believed that the oracles were God-given and this influenced their whole perspective on life. Once this aspect is removed, we do not arrive at some “objective” point of view – we arrive at a reductive view with no correspondence to the historical situation. The fact is that they held those beliefs. The prophet, as well as those who listened to him, believed that these oracles came from God. This was part of their worldview; it determined their whole concept of life and the place of major (especially catastrophic) events therein. This is the historical situation! [9]


To reduce the prophetic message to a mere ethical message and prophecy to mere poetry is not only reductionist – it creates a new idea about that reality which is totally divorced from the true historical reality which existed in the context of the Hebrew prophetic tradition. It forces a certain rational view, typical of the modernist perspective, onto Biblical times without any concern for the views of the people who lived during that period. It gives the false impression that this is an “objective” view – the only one that is valid (so typical of the colonial spirit of modernism) – whereas it is, in fact, a total distortion of the real situation. Without doing so consciously, these scholars force their own paradigm onto the text which totally overshadows the voices therein, namely those of the author and the tradition from which the authors came. If we want to know something about the real situation, we have to listen to the voices present in the text and allow them to tell us something about their world. We have to be open to their truth - especially since we cannot prove them to be wrong!

Messianic prophecy?


There are, however, also prophecies which had been given long before the time when the events associated with their fulfilment took place. A good example of this is the messianic prophecies which are usually taken by Christians as being fulfilled in the life and person of Jesus Christ. 


There are many events from the life of Jesus which the Biblical authors understood in terms of the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. We often find that the authors of the gospels mention that such or such an event was in accordance with the sayings of one of the prophets. The question is whether there is any value in the assessment by those Biblical authors that the Biblical passages which they refer to were indeed real prophecies? Biblical Criticism scholars are of the opinion that the "messianic allusions" in the four gospels are based on later interpretations. In their view, the passages were wrongly interpreted by the early Church and should not be understood in that way. This scholarly assessment is the reason why we find that all capital letters previously used to mark references to the Messiah in typical messianic prophecies had been dropped in some modern translations of those passages such as in Isaiah 53.


Why would one assert that the authors of the gospels held wrong interpretations of typical messianic passages? The main reason for this assessment is that these scholars assert that those passages are not predictions made with the Messiah in mind. Now, this shows a remarkable disconnect with the longstanding Hebrew tradition of understanding prophecy. We read, for example, in 2 Peter 1:19-21: "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation [i.e. his predictions]. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit". True prophecy is not based on the prophet's own interpretation of events and his own ideas about the future but was believed to have been supernaturally given through the inspiration of the Spirit of God [10]. The intentions of the prophet, therefore, play no role in prophecy!


According to Hebrew tradition, the prophet often did not even know that he or she was speaking of the Messiah - for the simple reason that the Spirit of God inspired them in a way which they themselves did not understand. The prophet often did not realise that he was speaking about events pertaining to the distant future. This is the Hebrew understanding of prophecy in contrast with the modern scholarly understanding which confuses prophecy with prediction and forces this interpretation onto the text. 


As such, some messianic prophecies originally concerned the king or the people of Israel but was interpreted as having reference to the Messiah (for example, Hos. 11:1 and Matt. 2:15; Ps. 2:9 and Rev. 2:27). The reason for such messianic interpretations was often that the poetic language used had undertones which suggest that there was more to it than that which seems to have been said [11]. One finds, for example, in Psalm 110 that the author prophecises that God's anointed would be a king, who sits on Yahweh's "right hand", as well as a priest "forever". 


So, how can we establish what is true prophecy and what not? When would it be that the New Testament author is merely taking Scriptural passages that seem to fit the events to assert his point? The answer is actually quite simple. Their interpretation of such passages did not happen in a vacuum - there was a well-established Hebrew tradition in which certain passages were marked as "messianic". The scholar Alfred Edersheim, who studied this issue extensively, showed that there were 456 separate Old Testament passages which the rabbinic scholars of the time interpreted as "messianic" [12] - which is miles away from the Biblical Criticism view that only a few passages can be so taken (Is. 7:10-17; 8:23-9:6; 11:1-9; Zech. 9:9; Mic. 5:1-4). 

Edersheim wrote: "A careful perusal of their [the Rabbi's] Scripture quotations shows that the main postulates of the New Testament concerning the Messiah are fully supported by Rabbinic statements" [12]. And this is the important point: the passages were so understood before Jesus arrived on the scene and can, therefore, be understood as consistent with the messianic expectations of the people of Israel. To try and reinterpret the idea of prophecy in such a way that typical messianic prophecies are disqualified seems to be a weak effort to overcome the substantial evidence that such prophecy was overwhelmingly fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.


There are, however, some Biblical prophetic passages which do not seem to support the meaning given to them by the authors of the gospels. A well-known one is the prophecy of Isaiah about the virgin who shall conceive and bear a son, named Emmanuel (Is. 7:14). How could the Biblical authors be so uninformed that they thought that the Hebrew word “almâh” (veiled) means "virgin" whereas it actually means "young maiden". The reason is, again, quite simple: They understood the word exactly as the translators of the Septuagint understood it when they translated the Tanakh in the third to second centuries BC, namely as meaning "virgin". It seems that the alternative interpretation developed later from the Jewish reaction against Christianity! 


Too many interpretations of one passage?

One of the problems with prophecy, and especially such prophecies as those in the Book of Revelation, is that there are so many different interpretations thereof. Biblical Criticism scholars often assert that St. John's visions as described in that book are not even prophecy at all but merely adheres to the apocalyptic genre of the time in which visions and symbols are used by the authors as a literary device. This, however, seems to go against an explicit statement in the text to the contrary, namely that the book is about "things to come" (Rev. 1:1, 19). The difference is between taking the book as the product of the imagination of the author or as containing true God-given visions as the author asserts [13]. 


Now, it is true that there are at least four interpretations of Revelation. The Preterists take the book as referring to past events from the period before the book was written (especially 70 AD). The Historists believe that the events described are those major events which impacted Middle Eastern history since the time of the writing of the book until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Idealists/Allegoricalists read the book as symbols pertaining to the ongoing struggle between Good and Evil and sees no prophecy in the book. The Futurists believe that the main part of the book concerns future events.


These are indeed very divergent views about the meaning of the book. Does that mean that one should discard it as not containing true prophecy? The fact that there are various interpretations of the book does not necessarily mean that it should not be taken as prophecy given the opposite claim made at the beginning of the book (Rev. 1:1, 19). When we allow for the possibility that it might be true prophecy, then one might suggest that we take the Old Testament prophecies which the Biblical authors took as referring to Jesus as the point of departure in interpreting those of Revelation for the simple reason that the book stands within the same Judeo-Christian tradition. In the very same way that the particular details in those Old Testament prophecies (such as those in the Book of Daniel) were important, the same would apply to the Book of Revelation where one finds similar details. 


When we allow that the Book of Revelation contains true prophecies - in spite of the Biblical Criticism claim that no such prophecy exists (as discussed above) - then one immediately allows that they might find an exact fulfilment just as the other prophecies regarding Jesus were interpreted (even if one holds another view). This means that one allows for the possibility that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah and would one day return during the Second Coming. And then, it seems very likely that his Second Coming would be a real event just like his first appearance (and not merely an invisible event as some maintain regarding the events of 70 AD). In the final instance, this all hinges on the question whether God did, in fact, inspire the prophets and whether Jesus Christ was, in fact, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah? If this possibility is allowed (which cannot be excluded since so many prophecies have indeed been fulfilled in his person), then other prophecies about future events preceding Jesus's Second Coming might also eventually be fulfilled.


I sometimes get the feeling that one of the reasons why some interpreters are careful to avoid accentuating any details in the Book of Revelation - and stay with vague comments within a symbolic framework - is that they fear that they may be wrong. Now, this is indeed a problem that there are interpreters who make proud pronouncements which consequently turn out to be wrong. This should be a serious warning to be cautious. But is there no other way in which we may allow such details into our interpretation? I would like to suggest that scholars should develop eschatological models (similar to the theoretical models used in science) which can then be tested in the progress of time (more about that below). In this way, our interpretation of the details of the prophecy is not asserted as facts about future events but merely as a sensible reconstruction and integration of the details in prophetic passages. 


Principles for prophetic judgment


I suggest that any open-minded reader would allow for the possibility that real prophecy exists - even if they are inclined to think that the opposite is true. In that case, we may ask how one would decide what counts as real prophecy. In my view, the following principles are important:


1) Good hermeneutics requires that we engage with the texts with respect for the view of the author and the tradition from which s/he originated and not immediately reject his/her view out of hand because of our preconceived views about the world. In the same way that the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) introduced respect as the basis for our moral behaviour, Gadamer introduced it in the context of the dialogue which takes place in all interpretation. Even when we disagree, we should value the point of view of the Other. Even though we might think his position to be nonsensical, we should remember that we do not have an objective view on the world and it is always possible that we are actually wrong in our assessment (as happened regarding the modernism of the Biblical Criticism of the early twentieth century [6]). As such, we must not only allow for the possible existence of true prophecy but also for other interpretations of prophetic passages than our own.

2) Biblical prophecy stands within a long tradition in which the Biblical text had been read in a certain way. The philosophers Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) taught us that we all belong to a paradigm or cultural setting which forms our minds in a particular way. We are people of our time - just as the Biblical authors were of theirs. Today with the emergence of mass media it is possible to change culture quite rapidly - but that does not apply to the ancient world of old Israel. Their culture and tradition stayed the same even in the context of the early Christian Church which evolved from their midst. As such, we should acknowledge their prophetic tradition not only insofar as the texts are concerned but also insofar as their interpretation of those texts is concerned. Our modern interpretation of their texts cannot be better than their own for the simple reason that we are very much removed from their interpretive tradition.

What is also important is to understand that the prophecies in the New Testament which concerns the Second Coming of Jesus Christ stand in the very same prophetic tradition as those which concerned his first appearance. As such, we should remember that the very same people who took the Old Testament prophecies in a literal sense as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ also expected that the prophecies concerning his Second Coming would be fulfilled in such a manner. This suggests that the Idealists/Allegoricalists' attempt to find some "deeper meaning" than the obvious one (say, of the period of "42 months" (3 1/2 years) mentioned in Revelation) is not consistent with the prophetic tradition from which those texts originated. Those people did not have any knowledge of that very Greek approach at that early period [14]. We should allow that the details of the prophecies might, in fact, be literally fulfilled even when the text includes metaphors and symbols.

3) All prophecies are applied to world events. This application might refer to events in the distant past or the future. The process in which this application is done is, however, also important. So often we find that interpreters see something happening in the world which they then on an ad hoc basis relate to prophecies which they think could be relevant to those events. This is, however, not good hermeneutic practice. We should develop good eschatological models pertaining to future prophecy and only then apply them to world events in a systematic way - very much in the same way that we apply theoretical models in science to empirical data. In this way, the eschatological model is known beforehand and the fulfilment thereof can be better evaluated. This means that scholars do not have to be afraid to engage in a more substantial manner with prophecies about the "future". This, however, does not mean that they have to accept everything that had become associated with the Futurists (especially regarding the Rapture [15]).


Re-reading the Bible

We can now consider some Biblical prophecies in more detail. Although there are many Biblical prophecies which the Biblical authors believed (and believers in general believe) to have been fulfilled, I only discuss ones of which the fulfilment can be shown to have happened sometime after the prophecy was given. I discuss two very remarkable such prophecies.

The first is the well-known prophecy of Jeremiah that Jerusalem would be given in the hands of the Babylonians for a period of seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12). We know that this period was understood by the exiles to have commenced when the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar first conquered Jerusalem which was also when Daniel and his friends are said to have gone into exile to Babylon (see Dan. 9:1, 10; the city was taken again in 597 BC and 587 BC). The Neo-Babylonian rule came to an end when the Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BC. 

According to the Book of Daniel, the first ruler of the Persians was King Darius, "of the seed of the Medes", in whose first year the prophet Daniel is said to have received one of his prophecies (Dan. 9:1-2; which would have been in about 538 BC). Although the historicity of this Darius is disputed, there is no good reason to doubt that such a person lived (archaeological data has certain limits - see [16]). After him came the well-known Cyrus, who allowed Israel to return to their homeland in the first year of his reign in Babylon (Ezra 1:1). If we assume that Darius ruled for two years (Dan. 9:1-2 seems to imply a reign of more than one year), then Cyrus gave his command in about 536 BC. When we allow for prophetic reckoning (a prophetic year was considered to be 360 years; see Rev. 11:1-2), then the prophecy of Jeremiah may be considered to have been remarkably fulfilled. The period from 605 BC to 536 BC is exactly 70 prophetic years.


Another remarkable prophecy is the one attributed to Daniel in the above-mentioned passage (Dan. 9:20-27). In this case, we read about a period of 70 "weeks" of years, which is 70 x 7 = 490 years, which is in turn subdivided into two periods of 69 "weeks" of years (483 years) and the final period of one "week" (7 years) [17]. The first 69 "weeks" of years is our present concern. According to the prophecy, it would commence with the command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and end just before the "anointed one" (Messiah) would be "cut off" (i.e. dies). Although scholars differ in their interpretation of the meaning of the two events mentioned, there is a general consensus that the period of 69 "weeks" of years refers to the time in between them (for a discussion of all the views, see [18]).


The only command that was ever given to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, was the one given in the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of the Persian king Artaxerxes Longimanus (Neh. 2:5). This was in the year 445 BC (Artaxerxes's rule is calculated from the death of his father Xerxes in July 465 BC [19]). The three previous commands that were given by Persian rulers, were all concerned with the building of the temple – not the city of Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4; 5:13; 6:3-14; 7:12-26). When we take this date as the starting point for the 69 "weeks" of years or 483 years, then the period came to an end during the time of Jesus's ministry on earth, which would be consistent with him being the Messiah. This reading is also consistent with the general expectation that the Jewish Messiah would appear in the time when Jesus did (Lu. 2:26; 3:15; Joh. 1:19, 20) - which was most probably based on this very prophecy of Daniel.


The period of 69 weeks of years would come to an end when Messiah, a Prince, appears - which is just before he would be "cut off" [20]. Given that the prophecy seems to have reference to Jesus, we might ask: To which event during the earthly ministry of Jesus does the prophecy refer? Or to put it differently: when did Jesus present himself as Messiah and King (Prince) to Israel? This clearly happened when Jesus rode upon the donkey into Jerusalem in accordance with the prophecy of Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9). When that happened, the crowd cried out: "Hosanna, Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Joh. 12:13).


Entry into Jerusalem, Giotto
The Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto (1305 AD)
From the details in the Gospel of St. Luke, we know that John the Baptist started his ministry in the fifteenth year of Cesar Tiberius (Luk. 3:1-3). The fifteenth year of Tiberius commenced on 19 August 28 AD. Jesus was therefore baptized in the autumn of 28 AD. This means that he was crucified three-and-a-half years later in the year 32 AD [19]. The year 32 AD is also the only year in which the calendar agrees with the events of that time. Jesus would, therefore, have entered Jerusalem on the donkey on the Sunday before the crucifixion in the year 32 AD (see Joh. 12:1, 12).

This period of 69 weeks of years, i.e. 483 years, that is from 445 BC to 32 AD, ends long after the latest possible date that the text could have been written (in about 164 BC as is accepted in Biblical Criticism circles). This means that a considerable part of the prophecy refers to events that happened long after the text was written (by the latest estimates). Traditional Christians believe that the prophecy dates much earlier, namely to the time mentioned in the Book of Daniel (538 BC; right at the beginning of the Persian rule over Babylon). Irrespective of the position taken, the 483 years obviously ends long after the latest accepted date for the writing of the book. One can also not think that Jesus could have calculated the date to superficially "fulfil" the prophecy because the kind of mathematics necessary to do the calculations was not available at that time.

When we do the calculations, we find that the period between these events in 445 BC and 32 AD is exactly 173880 days (for a detailed discussion, see [21]). Again, when we use prophetic years (360 days in the year; see Rev. 11:1-2), then we find that the period is precisely 69 prophetic years – even to the exact day! One cannot but to say that this is truly astounding. This is one of those cases where we have a prophecy with sufficient details to be tested rigorously as well as the tools to do that test. However one sees this, one cannot but to at the very least accept that this is an astonishing coincidence. 

Prophecies about the future


This brings us to the future. As we have good reasons to think that Biblical prophecy has been accurately fulfilled in the past (and I do not know about any such prophecy that was, in fact, wrong), we may think that the same would happen in the future. In this case, however, I would like to merely present an eschatological model which take another prophecy in the Book of Daniel as the point of departure, namely the one in Daniel 7 (for a more detailed exploration of this model, see [22]). 


In this prophecy, all the different empires which would rule over the people of Israel since the time of Nebuchadnezzar until the time of judgment is depicted as symbolic beasts. At the time of judgment, we read that "one like the Son of man comes with the clouds of heaven", who would receive dominion, glory and everlasting kingship over all the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). Jesus applied this prophecy to his Second Coming, saying that "the Son of man [would] come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matt. 24:30). When we take this prophecy in the Book of Daniel seriously, we might view it as describing events throughout history to the Second Coming (which has obviously not yet arrived; it would not happen in secret but with "great power and glory").


What is further remarkable about this prophecy, is that it has a twin: there is another prophecy in the Book of Daniel which agrees on each point with this one, even though other symbols are used (in Daniel 2). In the vision of the prophet described in chapter 7, various beasts rose from the sea. In Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2, a metal statue is depicted. The four beasts (lion, bear, leopard and a dreadful and terrible beast that was exceedingly strong with great iron teeth) correspond with the four metals from which the statue was made (gold, silver, brass, iron). In both cases, the last one is depicted as stronger than all the others, as a beast/metal which "brake in pieces" (Dan. 7:7; 2:40) and devour/subdue. The great beast had ten horns whereas the statue had ten toes. The "Son of Man" who came with the clouds of heaven at the time of the great judgment agrees with the rock which broke the statue in pieces and filled the earth. Both prophecies mention the "everlasting kingdom" that would follow.

The largest part of the prophecy has been remarkably fulfilled if we take the symbols in the following manner (which is by far the most reasonable explanation - for a detailed discussion of all the different views, see [23]): the lion/gold refers to the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539 BC); the bear/silver refers to the Persian Empire (550-330 BC); the leopard/brass refers to the Greek Empire (of Alexander the Great; 356-323 BC) which was divided into four in the time after his death (323-63 BC) in agreement with the four heads of the leopard; the great and terrible beast or iron which is depicted as stronger than all the others refers to the Roman Empire (27 BC- 476 AD) which was divided into two in agreement with the two legs of iron.

One may suggest that the two feet (made of iron mixed with clay) which came after the two iron legs but preceded the ten toes (made of the same), refer to the two empires which came in the place of the eastern and western parts into which the old Roman Empire was divided, namely the Byzantine Empire (306-1460 AD) in the east and the Holy Roman Empire (800-1806 AD) in the west. These two empires included the core areas of the two parts of the old Roman Empire. In my view, the iron refers to the Latins (Romans) and the clay to the Germanic peoples who lived (for the most part) to the north of the Roman Empire but later settled within its boundaries. Both of these were included in these later empires, whose geographical areas changed a lot over the duration of their existence. 

The ten horns/toes would refer to an empire that comes after these empires (the feet) but which has not yet appeared [23]. These are "ten kings" who will rise from the (geographical area of the) old Roman Empire (Dan. 7:24) to rule over a single end-time empire (Dan. 2:42). After that an eleventh horn appeared from between the ten other horns (in Dan. 7) and grew greater than them; this depicts a great Antichristian figure [24] who would persecute the saints for 3 1/2 years (Dan. 7:25) in the time directly before the coming of the Son of man with the clouds of heaven at the time of the great judgment (Dan. 7:13-28).

This interpretation may be refined by including other relevant prophecies which mention these same things (for example, in the Book of Revelation). This is not the place to do that (see [22]). What this model proposes, is that a final antichristian empire would rise from the ashes of the old Roman Empire. In the end of times, a great empire would rise in the geographical area of the old Roman Empire over which "ten kings" would rule - which may refer to some kind of "council of ten" (we can only speculate) - and which would eventually hand over their power to the final Antichrist [25].

One may suggest that the current efforts to integrate the European Union may eventually lead to the establishment of such an empire. If the democratic EU evolves into such an empire, we would see history repeating itself since the old Roman Empire also evolved out of the Roman Republic. It is indeed quite amazing that the EU has, in fact, been rising in the exact geographical area where the prophecy predicts that the end-time empire of the final Antichrist will appear. This means that we must consider developments in the EU in this light which would eventually show if this model is correct. 

The slow but steady process through which the EU has become ever more centralised and more powerful is consistent with this interpretation of the prophecy - but it is obviously still very far from the empire which one would expect in accordance with the prophecy. As such, I think that we may still have to wait a very long time before the world situation develops in accordance with the prophetic picture described above. If the remarkable correspondence between this prophecy and world history (as discussed above) is for real (one can never exclude the possibility of an astounding coincidence!), then it seems very likely that the future would also unfold as foretold in the prophecy.  

Conclusion

In this essay, I discuss the Bible from a prophetic angle. Are the oracles and prophecies in the Bible for real? Did God really inspire the prophets in such a way that the things which they wrote have reference to future events? I argue that we have good reasons to accept that true prophecy exists. I also argue that we should take statements about prophecy in the Bible serious. We should at the very least be open to the prospect that such prophecies had been fulfilled in ancient times exactly as the authors assert - we have no good reasons to distrust their judgment! 

I also discussed some prophecies that had been remarkably fulfilled, such as the one of Jeremiah about the 70 years of exile or the one of Daniel about the 70 "weeks" of years. The fact that Israel did, in fact, went back from Babylon 70 years after Nebukadnezar first took the city and that Jesus did, in fact, revealed himself in Jerusalem as the Messiah exactly 483 years after the royal command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem - exactly as foretold - should be good reasons to believe that these prophecies (and more generally, the Bible) were inspired by God. Even if we think of some reason to doubt this, I think anyone would have to admit that it is an astounding coincidence that one is able to find such a precise fulfilment in the first place! Finding even one such an extraordinary "black swan" (and I discussed a few) is good enough to show that they do indeed exist.


In my view, the fulfilled prophecies in the Bible provide strong evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and that he would, therefore, one day return as foretold. In this case, we also have prophecies about future events that would precede his Second Coming. Again, it seems to me very remarkable that we can, in fact, fit the prophecy of Daniel about the various world empires (Dan. 7) so beautifully with world history. Within this framework, the next empire which would arise would be the final world empire (corresponding to the ten horns/toes). 


As such, it is again amazing that we do, in fact, find that a great political power is rising in the exact geographical area (of the old Roman Empire and the two succeeding empires) where such an empire is expected and also in the right timescale (about 150 years after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire). The question is: Will the EU brake apart or will it continue to grow geographically and in power? Although we cannot assert that the second outcome will happen - we are merely working with an eschatological model - this would definitely be a strong indication that we are seeing the fulfilment of true prophecy. It seems to me that one would be extremely foolish to reject prophecy and the God who inspire without at least careful consideration.


[1] Part 1. Can we still believe the Bible? A hermeneutical perspective.
[5] These are mostly events which cannot be independently verified. But this implies an extreme form of scepticism which is not consistent with good hermeneutics.
[7] Gunkel, Hermann. 1901. Genesis. Gottingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht.
[8] Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1994. Truth and Method (translation revised by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, second revised ed.). New York: Crossroad.
[10] One of the good examples of prophecy which was never previously understood in a particular way until the time of its fulfilment, is those passages which concern God's inclusion of the heathen in his plan. St. Paul writes: “the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets” (Rom. 16:25, 26; see also 11 Pet. 1:19-21).
[11] We find something similar in so-called "prophetic perspective", also called "mountain peaks of prophecy", where various events happening some time apart are believed to have been included in the same prophecy. The Prophetic Discours is an example, where the reference to the capture of Jerusalem by the heathen is interpreted as referring to both the events of 70 AD when the Romans took the city as well as future events in the time of the Antichrist.
[12] Edersheim, Alfred. Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah (Warburton Lectures for 1880-1884, 1885).
[13] The radical scepticism of Biblical Criticism comes down to saying that scholars should accept as their point of departure that the Biblical authors, in general, gave false testimonies and impressions, i.e. they lied. This radical scepticism goes back to the positivist roots of the discipline which asserted that nothing that is not supported by evidence can be believed. This philosophical approach has since been discredited and no philosopher of science worth the name takes it seriously. We know today that archaeology is not an empirical science and that not finding evidence can never be taken as proof of no evidence [15]. In contrast, the Biblical authors such as St. Paul claim that "holy men of God" wrote the texts and that their testimony is true and trustworthy. 
[14] Pentecost, J. Dwight. 1981. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
[15] The Rapture: The different views.
[16] A Critique of Archaeology as a Science
[17] The first period of 69 x 7 = 683 years are also subdivided into two periods of 7 and 62 weeks of years but that has no direct bearing on the discussion.
What about the final period of one week? According to this prophecy, the death of the "anointed one" (or: Messiah) would be followed by the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary by "the people of the prince that shall come" (Dan. 9:26). This happened in 70 AD when the Romans captured the city (about 40 years after the crucifixion). The last week (7 years) is mentioned only after these events are referred to in the prophecy, which may imply that it follows sometime after that (for a detailed discussion, see [18]).
Some interpreters are very sceptical of the "gap" between the first 69 weeks and the final week (of years) and are therefore even uneasy with the astounding fulfilment of the 69 weeks! The reason for this seems to me due to the connection between the final week (placed at the end of this era) and the dispensational view which take this week as a dispensation on its own (and so justifies a rapture of the church "before the final seven years"). This needs not be the case. The fact that these seven years concern the people of Israel does not necessitate a dispensation of its own. There is no conflict therein that some prophecies about Israel are fulfilled in the present era (dispensation, if you like). In fact, it seems strange that God would revert to some previous (or similar) dispensation in the process of his progressive revelation. For a detailed discussion on the issue (see [15, 18]). 
[18] The Final Seven Years: The different views
[19] Anderson, Robert. 1984. The Coming Prince. Michigan: Kregel.
[20] One might argue that there are other interpretations of this prophecy in which these details are understood differently. Even when that is accepted, it is still astonishing that any interpretation of the prophecy (at all!) could agree so precisely with the historical facts on the ground given the chances of that happening. The agreement with these facts suggests that this is, indeed, the correct interpretation.
[21] A Very Remarkable Prophecy
[22] When can the Second Coming of Jesus be expected?
[23] The Rise of the Final World Empire: The different views.
[24] The Final Antichrist: The different views.
[25] In the Book of Revelation, we read that the rule of the "ten kings" is still in the future. They will rule together with the "beast" (who will persecute the saints for 3 1/2 years; Rev. 13:5-7) to whom they will give their power and against whom Jesus Christ will fight in the great battle (Rev. 17:12-14; 19:19, 20).

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
The author is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics; MA in philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Part 3. Can we still believe the Bible? A scientific perspective

In this essay I consider the question: Can we still believe the Bible? from a scientific angle. This follows the previous essays in this series where I did the same from a hermeneutical (interpretive) and an archaeological perspective respectively. I engage with the problem of scientific evidence for the existence of God as well as many other related issues.

The Bible is an ancient book. It originated millennia ago within a prescientific age. As such, the Biblical perspective obviously reflects that ancient way of thinking about the world which is very different from the scientific one which goes back a mere 300 years. Does that mean that the Bible cannot say anything to us today? Does its ancient character disqualify the Bible from being taken seriously within our scientific age? These questions introduce an even more fundamental one: How does the prescientific nature of the Bible impacts on its truth? The Bible is, after all, a book that is concerned with "truth".

There are many scholars (from the Biblical Criticism tradition) who think that the prescientific character seriously undermines the validity of the Biblical narrative. They believe that its prescientific origins automatically means that the views presented are "primitive" and not compatible with our scientific understanding of the world. Some of them try to "rescue" some aspects such as the Jesus story (clinging to the truth about the resurrection) but others reject it as an ancient book that is not relevant to our present-day concerns. As such, they see an unbridgeable gap between the Biblical perspective and the scientific one.

Many conservative Christians also think in terms of such a gap but in their case, they reject the scientific perspective as being the untrustworthy one. Their thinking is moulded by the prescientific Biblical perspective which they read in scientific terms (in accordance with their contemporary education) as giving an "objective" perspective - without any concerns for the very different world from which the Biblical text originated. Obviously, the prescientific nature of the book has to be taken into account in our understanding and interpreting it. This, however, does not have to mean (as taken by Biblical Criticism scholars) that the Biblical truth is compromised. In fact, its ancient character may even strengthen the Biblical claim to the truth when it is understood on its own terms - for example, as a book written with integrity but from an observational (instead of scientific) perspective.

One of the significant problems in this discussion is the popular understandings of science which are often not at all scientific but rather belong to a scientism view of the world. When science is taken as the "measure of all things" (to quote the American philosopher Wilfred Sellars (1912-1989)) then obviously the Bible cannot perform that function. When all things are measured in empirical terms, then obviously there cannot be any place for a world beyond our empirical reach. Many people - including scientists - adhere to such a perspective without even knowing that this is a metaphysical standpoint, not a scientific one!

This deeply engrained scientism is reflected in the main reason given by atheists for not believing in God, namely that there is no direct empirical proof of His existence. Although this is (obviously) true, this perspective reflects a very basic misunderstanding about the nature of science. Once one understands the scope and limits of science (especially insofar as its empirical reach is concerned - which has been dramatically exposed within the context of quantum physics) then one knows that science is not in competition with faith.

In this essay, I consider the question whether the prescientific nature of the Bible disqualifies this ancient book as a trustworthy source of information about the ancient world and discredits its message and claim to truth? I consider the role of observation in both the Biblical and scientific perspectives. In what sense is the Biblical perspective different from the scientific one? And what about the ancient worldview in which the Biblical authors were embedded? How does that relate to the scientific view of the world? I take a closer look at the scope and limits of science to determine whether good science is in conflict with the Biblical perspective and even whether science may, in fact, support the Biblical claim to the truth!

Science and the prescientific nature of the Bible

When we consider the Bible from a purely secular angle, it seems to be an ancient book like all such books which would never have been relevant to current debate if it was not a religious book (which takes centre stage in Judaeo-Christian religion with the Jews obviously only accepting the Tanakh which the Christians call Old Testament). This, however, reflects a preconceived dogmatic position, namely that the Biblical claim to be divinely inspired cannot in principle be true. As such, it goes against an honest and open search for the truth. The alternative is to at least consider the Biblical claim that it contains God's message to humankind.

This Biblical claim is grounded on the testimonies of people (prophets and other authors) whom believers regard as true and trustworthy. These people testified about their experience of God who revealed himself in various ways to them: through an angel, vivid dreams, his Spirit and through Jesus Christ, the son of God. Their testimony concerns a very long tradition of oracles going back to those given to Abraham, the most important forefather of Israel, as well as Moses, their most important law-giver, and many other such prophets as well as the events associated with those oracles. As such, the message of God is presented as belonging to a certain historical context which includes even miraculous events such as those preceding the exodus and many others [1]. The main claim is that all the testimonies included in the Bible are true because they were given with integrity (and are sanctioned by God who inspired the authors through his Spirit).

We read, for example, that St. Paul writes: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16). Regarding the prophets, we read in 2 Peter 1:19-21: "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit". The important point is that these were "holy men" of God whose testimony is trustworthy because they would not lie (especially within the context of a holy God who abhors all lying and misleading testimony (see Rev. 21:8)).

Now, even in our day and age witness testimony forms an integral part of our justice system. When enquiring about the true nature of events the court values the "true and trustworthy" testimony of eyewitnesses very high - exactly the kind of testimony that the Bible claims to present! I discuss this aspect (i.e. using the justice system as the point of departure in evaluating Biblical truth) when I considered the Bible from an archaeological angle [2]. In any good justice system, the truth is determined by both witness testimony as well as scientific data. When the testimonies are true, they would not be in conflict with scientific data even though both need interpretation (which may lead to perceived inconsistencies which are purely due to the manner of interpretation).

All witness testimony happens within a certain context which does not belong to a pure scientific setting. The same is true for the Biblical testimony. Although the context of the Biblical authors was very different from our own and they regarded the world in very different terms than us, it is difficult to see how that undermines the truth of their testimony when we take that context into consideration when interpreting the Biblical text. All eyewitnesses have some kind of belief system which may differ radically from each other (and which may to some extent influence their thinking) but that does not in itself disqualify their testimony as long it is truthfully given. This means that we cannot discard the Biblical testimony purely because it originated within the ancient prescientific age.

Even though the Biblical testimonies include pronunciations and mention events which go beyond what natural science allows (i.e. in the case of prophecy and miracles) one cannot merely reject them out of hand as untrue - if the God whom they served really exists then He could obviously have done such things. One may, however, think that those witnesses may have been mistaken because they took purely natural things in a supernatural way. And we do, in fact, find that God is sometimes said to have used natural means to accomplish supernatural things (for example, the wind is said to have opened the path before the Israelites when they crossed the sea during the exodus). But that does not necessarily negate the miraculous aspect thereof as witnessed by the people of that time. We would, however, have to take a closer look at the way in which they engaged with the world through observation to determine if their experience has validity even today.

Science and observation

The most important insight which led to our scientific age concerns the role of the observer. Things are not always as they seem to be. Copernicus discovered that our observation of the sun going around the earth each day is in fact wrong - it is merely an illusion based on the rotation of the earth in its elliptical path around the sun. This is usually understood to mean that the geocentric view is wrong and the heliocentric one correct. Now, although this may be true on the larger scale of things, there is nothing wrong in taking both perspectives as valid as long as the context of observation is taken into consideration.

During the early part of the modern period (from the time of René Descartes (1596-1650) until the first half of the twentieth century), many scientists (and ordinary people following their lead) took the heliocentric perspective in absolute terms (i.e. thinking that the sun is the centre of the universe). This coincides with the modern view that we can achieve absolute objective positions which is immune to different perspectives. Even though it was eventually recognized that the sun is merely the center of our solar system but not of the universe, this absolutist "modernist" philosophical thinking gave birth in the early twentieth century to the neo-Kantian and Logical Empiricist (Logical Positivist) schools of philosophical thought (which subsequently became discredited especially due to the findings of quantum physics - for a detailed discussion, see [3])). The validity of various perspectives was reinforced by Einstein's theory of relativity, according to which we can always define some other valid framework relative to the one we are using. In the end, everything is relative to each other and we can never proceed beyond some kind of observational perspective. This does not undermine the accuracy of the scientific endeavour.

The problem of observation is at the same time one of knowledge. How do we know that what we observe is indeed true knowledge? This is the problem tackled by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in his famous Critique of Pure Reason (also called the first Critique; 1781, 1787). Kant followed Copernicus's lead and acknowledged that all human knowledge is always obtained from the standpoint of the observer. As such, two things are necessary for obtaining "objective" knowledge: concepts (universals) as well as empirical data (particulars) given in our senses. Furthermore, all knowledge involves a determinate judgement that the empirical data (the things that we observe) is consistent with the concepts (theoretical models) that we use. As long as we can obtain such judgments, we can assert that we have obtained "objective" knowledge. 


Of particular importance to our present discussion, is the fact that this approach was developed within the parameters of normal human experience. As such, it is generally valid - but finds its systematic application in science. In this way, Kant laid the theoretical groundwork for all mathematical science.


Although we can obtain "objective" knowledge, this knowledge is not singularly determined. One may have data within certain contexts agreeing with simple models and data in other more complex situations agreeing with more sophisticated models (Kant nowhere says anything contrasting this). In this way, we may think of Newton’s theory as describing objective reality in classical contexts and Einstein’s theories as describing objective reality in relativistic contexts (at least insofar as the measurements are concerned). This reinforces the Kantian view that all knowledge is always defined in terms of the observer and always reflects a human perspective of the world. We can never obtain a "God's eye view" on things. 


This means that the perspective of the Biblical authors cannot be discounted merely because they belong to the prescientific age. All humans share the same kind of experience - and this includes humans of all ages. Their experience involves knowledge claims exactly on par with ours - even though they did not know about science and its aim to obtain such knowledge under controlled conditions. We can therefore not discount their experience only because it dates from the prescientific age! We have to say exactly why we reject the validity of their experience - and that cannot be due to a lack of integrity (see the previous section) or observational skills.


There is, however, more to the Kantian position in the Critique of Pure Reason. This work does not only present the conditions for obtaining objective knowledge - it also shows the limits within which such knowledge can be obtained. We may be able to develop theoretical models which go far beyond experience and experiment (we use the causal connection between our senses and instruments to extend our empirical access to the world) but our empirical access is severely restricted by our human condition. All our empirically-acquired data belongs to those aspects of our world that can be so accessed - that is, those aspects of our world that are measurable by our material instruments. Those things which happen(ed) or exist beyond our temporal and spatial reach can never be so accessed. This includes things which are too complex (for example, an infinity of causally related connections) or which are by their very nature forever outside empirical reach (supersensible - such as the Big Bang or quantum states which are mathematically described in terms of a singularity or imaginary numbers (with no real component)).


One of the interesting features of Kant's philosophy is that he allowed for the possibility of the existence of a supersensible realm within our world which is beyond the empirical reach of our experience and experiments. At that time, many philosophers and scientists thought that Kant merely did this to accommodate faith. In recent years, it had been shown that the conditions for the supersensible realm are satisfied in the quantum realm! [4] Quantum objects are "supersensible" (unmeasurable) and not presentable in proper space-time while being in their pre-measurement phase. As such, they are different from those that we encounter in our experiments - quantum objects adhere to superpositions of states which "collapse" to certain reduced modes that are observable in experiment.

The only reason why scientists argue that quantum objects exist even though we cannot empirically access them is that they cause certain outcomes in our world. If they did not do this (and some don't), we would not even have known about their existence! So, the question is: how extensive is the quantum realm? How many kinds of objects are there that belong to that realm? What kind of existence is that which we do not have empirical access to?

Without trying to answer these questions, we can say the following: we as humans are severely constrained in our understanding of the world! We have no hope that we will ever gain access to this other mode of existence because of the restricted nature of our human kind of sensibility. Although we can think beyond that, and formulate various mathematical conceptions that apply to that kind of existence to the extent that we may encounter outcomes produced by such objects, we would never be able to empirically access them and understand them. We can say: A part of our world is beyond empirical reach. This is also the part where "dark" matter and "dark" energy resides.

The fact that science is so severely restricted in its empirical reach leaves no doubt that it cannot be the measure of all things! There are some scientists who believe that one-day science will be the measure of all things but this is merely a belief which is doomed to fail given the restricted nature of our empirical reach! The important point is that science can only measure those things which are given as matter in space-time. Although we can manipulate quantum objects which are not in proper space-time but which can be realized in space-time, we have absolutely no idea what lies beyond our empirical reach! So, although science can provide a good description of the measurable world it cannot confirm or deny the existence of things that exist beyond that. It has no possible way, for example, to explore the existence of God empirically.

One may argue that the scientific view of the world is still much, much better than the prescientific worldview. In fact, one may argue that the Biblical authors believed in things that are unscientific like angels, spirits, souls and so forth and that that had a major influence on their interpretation of the world. But Christians (and many others) believe in these same things today - and that does not disqualify them from giving trustworthy testimonies which accurately reflect their observation of events!

When considering the validity of the Biblical perspective, one, however, has to confront the issue regarding the existence of angels, spirits and souls. Although it is true that these things do presently lie beyond the reach of science (and their existence cannot be confirmed) that obviously does not necessarily mean that they do not exist! The scientific view of the world does not exclude the possibility of their existence - it is the scientism view which takes current (!) science as the measure of all things which does that. This means that our scientific view of the world might be more in agreement with the ancient worldview that one might suspect. Although many scholars have asserted that the ancient worldview is "primitive" and in direct conflict with the scientific one, this judgment does, in fact, says more about their dogmatic position than reality.

Science and the ancient worldview

At this point, we may take a closer look at the ancient (Biblical) worldview to see how it relates to the scientific view of the world. One of the main features of that view is the distinction between the material world of observation and the invisible world which exists beyond that. We find this distinction all over the ancient world and even in Greek philosophy where Plato (and other ancient philosophers) made that distinction.

Insofar as the invisible world is concerned, the ancients found a way to make that "visible" within their world. They took the starry heavens of the night sky as reflecting the reality associated with the invisible world. In this regard, they observed that the rotation of the starry heaven around the earth (due to the earth's rotation; in the same way that the sun goes around the earth) creates the image of a large rotating cosmic egg on which all the stars are located. The top and bottom of this "egg" are located at the northern and southern "poles" of heaven respectively, in accordance with the projection of the earth's rotational axis to those points. This is where the idea of a cosmic egg found in many ancient cultures originated.

Now, this egg had been divided into three cosmic realms since ancient times (already in ancient Sumer). The middle region, which was identified with the "earth", was associated with the region of the sky between the solstice points (on the horizon). The four "corners" (or "pillars") of the "earth" were defined by the solstice and equinox points. To the north - that is "above" the "earth" - is the region which was identified with "heaven" and to the south - that is "underneath" the "earth" - is the underworld (Hell). Both these regions belong to the otherworld. These regions are brought together by the cosmic tree (the cosmic axis) which stretches through them all. The stars were identified with the gods associated with those regions (for a detailed discussion, see [5]). As such, we often find in the Biblical tradition that the angels (which replaced the "gods" of ancient times) were identified with stars or planets (Judg. 5:20; Job 38:7; Rev. 1:20 etc.).

Some scholars have interpreted this three-tiered picture of the world as a very "primitive" one. Now, it may not be part of our modern scientific view of the world but is nonetheless a very sophisticated worldview in which the movements of the starry heavens are reflected. It is only when one takes this worldview as a true representation of the world as it really is (in scientific terms) that it would be wrong (just like the geocentric view). The ancients, however, did not take it as such but as a reflection of the invisible world which they regarded as the truly real world which lies beyond this material world. In fact, many Christians who accept the scientific worldview see no contradiction in also believing in heaven and Hell which belong to the invisible world.

Of particular interest is the fact that these cosmic regions - which are beyond sensible reach - were within the reach of the shamans and mystics. They journeyed to these regions in inner experience. They were able to do this through some kind of coincidence of their own psychology with the mentioned cosmic regions - they experienced in their inner sense that they travelled through those regions [6]. One can say that the visible representation of the invisible world in the starry heavens served the basis for their own interaction with that world in inner experience. They believed that in the same way that humans bodily interact with the material world through their physical senses, they can interact with the invisible world with their soul through some kind of inner sense. This is the "truly real" invisible world of which the material world is merely a shadow as we find in Plato's beautiful story of the cave in his Republic.

We can now bring this ancient worldview within the framework of science. Whereas the physical world studied by science provides our scientific picture of the world, the invisible world in which the ancients believed was visualized by them as a three-tiered picture of the world. Since the three-tiered picture was never intended to be taken as an image of our material world and it merely served as an imagery device in which the otherworld was brought into focus, we need not see it in any way as being in conflict with the scientific view of the world. The primary question before us is whether such a world really exists?

Those who believe in the spirit world (as the invisible world is also called) think that humans do, in fact, have access to such a realm on a spiritual level. Those who do not believe therein, think that such kind of experiences goes no deeper than our human psychology. As such, all "near-death" and mystical experiences are explained as manifestations of our human psychology. The primary question, which science has not been able to answer, is: Is that world only in the mind or is it rather that we access that world only through the mind?

The problem is again the one of empirical access. There is no possible way that we can empirically determine whether such experiences are merely psychological or whether they involve real entities within a spirit world. Some cases have been reported in this regard where the brain's metabolism had been brought down so that it didn't require oxygen or glucose after which the patient told how she observed the operation from a disembodied position in the room and even described the particular saw used to open her skull. Those who think that this merely reflects psychological states think that the patient's visual imagery came from familiar memory and that she must have been able to see the saw when she was wheeled into the operation room (for a more detailed discussion, see [7]).

Those who believe that this kind of experience is real and that the patient observed the operation through the eyes of the soul (to use Plato's expression) cannot prove it because the soul (if it exists) is beyond empirical reach (it is non-material). Those who believe that this experience is merely psychological can also not prove that this is the case. They merely state that those things which are beyond empirical reach do not exist which is obviously not necessarily the case. Although traditional science focused primarily on the study of material things, the advent of quantum physics has shown that non-material entities outside space-time exist which suggest the possibility of other things existing beyond experimental reach (think, for example, of dark matter and dark energy). This means that we cannot in principle exclude the possible existence of the soul (and the spirit realm) from scientific discussion.

Theoretical physicists who study dark matter, have proposed that humans may have a quantum body made from this stuff [8]. Although they are fast to say that this has nothing to do with the soul, this obviously shows a remarkable correspondence with our understanding of the soul. How something like this could be brought within indirect empirical reach in an experiment has yet to be seen.

There is, however, a way to bring the scientific and ancient worldviews together in one coherent perspective. In this regard, we may remember that Plato's invisible realm had its origin with the mystics as he mentions in the Phaedo. In this, he clearly states that the soul exists in this invisible realm (which belong to the inner experience of the mystics) whereas the body belongs to the visible realm. Now, Kant's idea of the supersensible realm originated from Plato's invisible realm and he also locates the soul in that realm (within the context of his regulative metaphysics).

In Kant's regulative metaphysics - especially in his Critique of the Power of Judgment (also called the third Critique; 1790) where he presents the supersensible realm within the context of his philosophy of science - this realm is clearly delineated as being the substratum of both the material world (more correctly, systemic or mechanistic "nature") as well as our human nature (5:196, 409, 429). Kant proposed (as a regulative idea) that the supersensible realm, which is "outside" (albeit not in any physical sense) proper space/time as well as mechanistic nature, incorporates non-extended "wholes-and-parts" (outside proper space/time) which have a certain potentiality to produce material parts and aggregated wholes in nature. In his view, we need such a conception to explain the biological products of nature [4]. 

The interesting thing is - as mentioned above - that all the conditions of Kant's supersensible realm are satisfied within the quantum realm! [4] This is extremely interesting since this implies that the quantum realm may be our first point of entry to explore the invisible world of the ancients! In the same way that the invisible realm is beyond our sensible reach (and only accessible through spiritual means) the quantum realm is beyond direct empirical reach. This may mean that the invisible world of Platonic and Biblical tradition translates into the quantum world in the framework of contemporary science. Also, the idea of that a part of our human existence may consist of dark matter (and belong to the quantum realm) would be consistent with the ancient idea of the soul belonging to the invisible realm! 

At this point, we enter the realm of metaphysics. Within the modernist tradition of those who take science as the measure of all things, all metaphysics were (and are) viewed with extreme scepticism since they believed that it represents all those unscientific (and therefore, primitive) aspects of society's thinking. In their view, everything that goes beyond science should be discarded as mere metaphysics. The problem, however, is that science has since been confronted with exactly this problem: in quantum physics we have encountered a world which is beyond empirical reach and of which we can only formulate metaphysical views which are represented in the various interpretations thereof (Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation, Von Neumann's observer interpretation, Bohn's view, the many-worlds interpretation etc.). Today, philosophers of science openly speak of the metaphysics of science! We have all sorts of ideas about what that world really is like but we have no way to establish the truth thereof!

Obviously, science has reached a certain limit where it has no choice but to include metaphysics in the discussion. Although the metaphysics of science is clearly delineated, the same can be said about Kant's metaphysics - which may, in fact, be presented as a hypothesis for scientific research! Now, since the Kantian metaphysics may be taken as a rational version of the ancient metaphysical worldview, this implies that we are in effect now able to scientifically test some aspects of that ancient worldview within the parameters of Kantian metaphysics! 

Those who hold a scientism view - and take contemporary science as the measure of all things - now have the problem that science can no longer be strictly kept apart from metaphysics. They do not know whether aspects of the ancient worldview (such as the soul) may eventually be confirmed (through indirect empirical means) in the progress of science. They can try to reinforce the old view that only that which is empirically accessible is real - but no scientist worth that name would seriously consider that. 

Principles for scientific judgment

So, where do we go from here? What is to be allowed and what is to be excluded from serious scientific discussion? Again, Kant has provided us with tools in this regard. We can distinguish three areas of scientific endeavour which correspond with three kinds of scientific judgment. These vary from doing science in classical contexts to immature science (where things at the edge of science such as dark matter and dark energy are studied and theorized about). In the progress of science, things which now lie outside the possibility of experimental access may eventually come within the range of indirect empirical reach (which may eventually require considerable arguments in justifying its truth). As such, things which we may now consider as belonging merely to metaphysics may eventually enter the domain of serious science.

1. Determinate Judgment. When objects (and events) are within sensible reach, we use the classic Kantian judgment discussed above, called determinate judgment. This refers not only to classical objects but also to microscopic particles that become manifest by impacts, bubble chamber tracks and clicks on counters and which "appear" in space-time (see the work of Pringe (2007) in this regard [9]). As such, we can obtain knowledge in the classical (Kantian) sense of all objects which manifest itself as matter in space-time.

2. Regulative Judgment [10]. This kind of judgment is named after the Kantian concept of regulative ideas, which goes beyond the concepts of the understanding which apply to objects given in experience and experiment (in space/time). Regulative ideas of reason apply to objects (and events) which are beyond direct empirical confirmation but which may guide scientific research in the form of hypotheses (when they are so confirmed, we may consider them as valid theoretical models). In current science, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, the Big Bang theory as well as quantum mechanics, are such theories. The true nature of the things described by these theories are unknowable (since they are beyond the reach of determinate judgment) and as such, they are the focus of scientific metaphysics.


Einstein's General Theory of Relativity concerns the totally of mechanistic relations (which goes beyond the limits of empirical reach in degree) and the Big Bang theory concerns something that is forever outside empirical reach (and can only be confirmed very indirectly, for example, through the observation of the redshift of light (which supports the idea of an expanding universe) and the absorption line features in the background radiation which agrees with star formation). Quantum physics is concerned with entities beyond direct empirical reach (which goes beyond the limits of empirical reach in being of a different kind of existence - otherwise they would be so accessible!) [4]. In this case, we may think in terms of the necessary conditions for something to be such or such - for example, the necessary conditions for quantum entities or quantum spontaneity (to use Bohr's expression) to exist. When these conditions are satisfied (through arguments involving mathematical and experimental aspects) we may say that we have good reason to think that these things are true. 



Image result for einstein
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
3. Reflective Judgment. When we are not able to bring things (even indirect) within empirical reach but think that the world may be such, then we use this kind of Kantian judgment. This judgment is merely an estimate that things are such or such and may be regarded as a hypothesis. Often mathematical theories in physics or biology serve as such hypotheses. One may think of Strings Theory, the theory that the universe includes higher dimensions and the hypotheses of dark matter and dark energy in this regard. These things are within the realm of immature science and the possibility of their existence belongs to the realm of scientific metaphysics. They belong to the larger metaphysical picture of the world. In the progress of science, things which were at one stage regarded as falling under this kind of judgment may eventually be found to become accessible in regulative judgment.

Re-considering the Bible


We can now consider the ancient (Biblical) worldview within this context. Insofar as this worldview is part of the Judaeo-Christian belief system we may regard it as belonging to religious metaphysics which is outside scientific concern. In this case, one may think that there is no necessary conflict with science (as discussed above) and decide to believe the testimony of the Biblical witnesses as a trustworthy account of historical events (or not). As discussed above, there are no good reasons why their prescientific context should disqualify their testimony - in spite of many pronunciations of certain scholars to the contrary (for a detailed discussion of the hermeneutical and archaeological views of such scholars, see [2, 11]).


As mentioned above, we are in the lucky position that Kantian metaphysics may be taken as a rational version of the Biblical worldview. As such, we may regard it as a theoretical model on par with any other similar mathematical model which presents a metaphysical picture of our world. The reason why this is of particular importance to our present discussion is that scientific progress has resulted in many aspects of the Kantian metaphysics - which originally belonged to the third kind of judgment (reflective judgment) - coming within the range of the second kind of judgment (regulative judgment). Using the scientific method of testing hypotheses, we may now evaluate the correctness of Kant's metaphysics on various fronts.

Kant's metaphysics includes the following: 1) God created the world (see the fourth antinomy, i.e. conflict of laws), 2) the material world had a beginning (see the first antinomy), 3) the material world has a supersensible (or: noumenal) substrate which is also the substrate of human nature (see the third Critique), 4) the noumenal self of humans is the soul, 5) The supersensible realm is ruled by absolute spontaneity (see the third antinomy). This is necessary for free will which is the ability to live in accordance with the moral law. In the context of biology this may be conceptualized as a potentiality that non-extended "wholes-and-parts" have to produce material parts and aggregated wholes in nature (see the third Critique) [4], 6) an unfolding process of evolution in accordance with God's design through which the potentially of non-extended "wholes-and-parts" to produce material expressions leads to adaptations which result in ever more complex organisms and life forms.

One may take points 2) - 6) as indirect evidence for the existence of the Judaeo-Christian God. These things are consistent with the view that God created all things in the beginning and that his requirement that humans keep the moral law is in line with their human abilities. Kant also presented the opposing view held by contemporary atheists within the context of his first, third, fourth and seventh antinomies which deny these things.

During the period after Kant presented his view, there developed a general consensus (in scientific and philosophical circles) that Kant was wrong and that 1) the world had no beginning, 2) the material world has no supersensible substratum, 3) spontaneity does not exist (only deterministic causes exist), 4) humans do not have a soul, 5) all evolution takes place through mechanistic means as described by Darwinistic theory.

Now, after the advent of Einstein's theories, the Big Bang theory, quantum mechanics and quantum biology, the scientific community now accepts 1) the world had a beginning, 2) the quantum realm exists (which satisfies the conditions of Kant's supersensible realm), 3) quantum indeterminism (which satisfies the Kantian conditions for spontaneity) is proven in the context of the collapse of superpositions of states to reduced states (corresponding with the Kantian regulative concept of non-extended "wholes-and parts" being realized as material parts and wholes). We also find that alternative theories of evolution have been proposed in biology which is consistent with the Kantian model (for a detailed discussion, see [12]). Now, the randomness inherent in neo-Darwinian evolution is replaced by the (quantum) laws of nature in accordance with design in the cosmos [13]. 

These are, in fact, the only things within the reach of science which may serve as indirect evidence for the existence of the Biblical God in contradistinction with other possible gods. The only other evidence is the testimonies found in Scripture. Although the existence of the soul is also important within the Judaeo-Christian worldview, it obviously does not belong exclusively to that view. It may, however, serve as supplementary evidence when taken together with the other evidence.

The remarkable thing is that Kant's metaphysics had (in spite of it originally being generally rejected!) been shown to be correct insofar as we had been able to test that in the progress of science - which serves as confirmation of the Biblical worldview! Usually, when a theoretical model is confirmed in such a spectacular way, scientists accept that it is valid. But somehow, the idea of God's existence is not allowed within the secular approach of scientism (it is banned in principle). What is also remarkable, is that those who take science as the measure of all things have been shown to be wrong in every possible way (on all the mentioned points)! Nonetheless, the general secular opinion is still that they are right!! This is truly mind-blowing.

If we take the Kantian model in its totality, then only the existence of God and the soul is still outside current scientific debate. Now, although God is forever beyond empirical reach, the soul may eventually come within reach as discussed above. One may argue that the confirmation of things predicted by Kant's metaphysical model (consistent with the scientific method!) serve as substantial evidence for the existence of God in the very same way that the confirmation of things predicted by the Big Bang Theory serves to confirm that event which is also absolutely outside experimental reach (in the same way as God; for a detailed discussion, see [14])). Why would one accept the one but not the other if not through a massive bias against the Biblical position?

The only outstanding aspect of Kant's model which may eventually come within scientific reach is the human soul. Above, we saw that it may actually already be within the parameters of scientific mathematical theorizing albeit not under that name (within the context of theoretical models of dark matter). It is easy to show that both the soul as well as noumenal intuition (which Christians take as deep impressions of God's voice) are consistent with the scientific worldview (see [15]). I predict that the existence of the soul will also eventually be confirmed (albeit very indirectly).

Conclusion

When we consider the trustworthiness of the Bible from a scientific standpoint, we find that the idea that it cannot be trusted because it comes from a prescientific age is very wrong. This is just not the case. There is absolutely no reason why we cannot trust the witness testimonies of the Bible even though large parts of society have been conditioned not to believe it. I think the evidence speaks for itself - but for those from the modernist (atheistic) circle, nothing would serve as sufficient evidence. They would always lift the bar - demanding the kind of evidence which is forever outside our human reach, not because God does not exist but because of the limitations of our human condition.

It is exactly because of this radically restricted human condition that one can understand why the Bible asserts that it is through God's revelation in Scripture that he had chosen to communicate with humankind. In the end, we as humans can never proceed beyond "knowing in part". Our hope does not lie in the full understanding of all things that science aspires to (which can never happen) but in faith built upon the integrity and trustworthy witness of those people who wrote the Bible. The Biblical perspective is not in conflict with science. Rather, it goes far beyond the reach of science. As such, science can never be the measure of all things. Biblical truth can, however, be that measure.

[1] Biblical Criticism scholars believe that the Biblical testimony dates long after the events and can as such not be trusted. But that merely reflect their own ideological perspective. The Bible mentions in various places that the authors were indeed eyewitness, for example, the prophets who wrote the monarchical histories of Israel or St. Luke's (Luk. 1:2,3) mentioning his using such eyewitnesses. Various court prophets are mentioned in Hebrew tradition as the ones who wrote down the oracles as well as the story which tells the context in which that happened. Among these were Samuel (I Sam. 10:25), Nathan (1 Chr. 29:29; 2 Chr. 9:29); Gad (1 Chr. 29:29; 2 Chr. 29:25), Ahijah (2 Chr. 9:29), Shemaiah (2 Chr. 12:15), Iddo (2 Chr. 12:15; 13:22), Elijah (2 Chr. 21:12), Isaiah (2 Chr. 32:32) and others. The author of the Chronicles of the Hebrew kings mentions the histories written by Samuel (from the time of King Saul), Nathan and Gad (from the time of King David), Ahijah (from the time of King Solomon), Shemaiah and Iddo (from the time of King Rehoboam), Elijah (from the time of King Ahab) and Isaiah (from the time of King Hezekiah). Regarding the older stories, I discuss that elsewhere [16].
[2] Can we still believe the Bible? An archaeological perspective
The Biblical authors can obviously not be called for cross-examination as we find in our justice system but that does not mean that we cannot use the justice system as the model for evaluating the Biblical story. We can use a process similar to the justice system to make judgments about historical narratives such as those found in the Bible. 
[3] Science and Atheism
[4] Mc Loud, Willem. 2015. Introducing a Kantian Interpretation of Quantum Physics, in accordance with Kant's Philosophy of Science in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, reinterpreted and reworked with special attention to the supersensible realm. Masters thesis. Cape Town: UCT.
[5] The origins of Satan: the ancient worldview
[6] Wilhelm, Richard.  1962.  The Secret of the Golden Flower. A Chinese Book of Life.  (Translated and explained by Richard Wilhelm with a foreword and commentary by C. G. Jung.)  London: Routledge.
[7] The God Impulse
[8] See, for example, http://www.space.com/21508-dark-matter-atoms-disks.html
[9] Pringe, H. 2007. Critique of the Quantum Power of Judgment. A Transcendental Foundation of Quantum Objectivity (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter).
[10] Kant did not conceptualize this kind of judgment but it is in line with his thinking and becomes necessary within the context of indirect empirical data (the idea of which was unknown to Kant).
[11] Can we still believe the Bible? A hermeneutical perspective
[12] The Christian and Evolution
[13] The question is: Where did the lawfulness of nature originate? Science cannot answer this but presupposes this lawfulness in all its endeavour. It needs the lawfulness of nature to explain the evolution of the cosmos and all in it. Science has no choice but to operate as if nature is designed! 
[14] Science and Metaphysics: in search of Russell's teapot.
[15] Science and spiritual intuition
[16] Abraham holds the key


Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
Dialoger

The author is a scientist and philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy and science.