“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any word in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. ‘My God,’ you will say, ‘if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?’ Here in lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.” - Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Søren Kierkegaard, ed. Charles E. Moore (Farmington, PA: Plough, 2002), p.201.
The question of God's existence is important and I am in full agreement with the Thesis on that point, especially since militant atheism is rapidly on the rise in the West.
In stating the problem, the opinions of various theologians are mentioned, including:
“Others, irrespective of whether they would consider themselves to be theists or atheists, may be convinced that certainty on this issue is impossible and that no one can prove the case either way (cf. Davies 1995:21). Then, of course, there are those scholars who explicitly assert that realism concerning the ontological status of Yahweh-as-depicted in the text is immensely problematic if not absurd.” (p.4)
The issue ascribed here to Davies (1995), are actually two different issues. It is possible to be convinced on an issue and yet not be able to prove it. The possibility that is not mentioned (and possibly not really considered), is that there are some unique experiences including actual observations (that could have been collaborated if there were other witnesses), that once past can not be proven to anybody else. In science anecdotal evidence are not allowed as proof, because it is not repeatable. It cannot be tested or used to prove anything to somebody else. And yet, the person who saw it will rightly remain convinced of what he saw, in spite of not being able to prove it. From my own field (behavioral ecology) the following example: what would naturalists make of a report of the following occurrence in the days before cameras existed?
Not typical cheetah behaviour at all! It would be impossible to prove scientifically, because it could not be verified in those days. But it happened nonetheless (and we know that only because of photography). (The lioness that adopted an Oryx calf is another example of unexpected, non-typical animal behaviour that were true all the same -- but nevertheless doesn't constitute scientific prove that lions adopt oryx calves).
I will try to prove the reality of the God of Israel as depicted in the Bible or at least to show that the “proofs” for His non-existence are invalid. Even if I don't succeed, I still cannot deny what I have experienced of God in my own life - even if I cannot convince others that it is true. Here I should also mention that although I frequently disagree with the thesis, many times my disagreement is not primarily with Dr. Gericke, but with the sources on which he builds his thesis.
From the thesis (p.4):
Thus, according to Robert Carroll (1997:38):
“The biblical God is a character in Hebrew narrative and therefore is, in a very real sense, a figure of fiction.”
This is simply illogical. Nebuchadnezzar “is a character in Hebrew narrative and therefore is, in a very real sense, a figure of fiction.” (∎ Proof by contradiction) Simply quoting a bunch of other scholars using the same argument doesn’t make the argument any more logical. (A fallacy known as “argumentum ad populum”)
Later in the thesis (p5):
“Whatever one happens to believe with regard to the ontological status of Yahweh-as-depicted in the text, it is somewhat surprising that Old Testament scholars in general do not appear to be interested in arguing and justifying their viewpoints on this contentious issue.”
And here I am once again in full agreement with Dr. Gericke. My personal feelings have long been that there are many "closet-atheists" in the theological faculties. People who in their heart of hearts “know” that God doesn’t exist and yet tries to cling to some kind of “faith”. It cannot fail but have an influence in their lives as well, preventing them from truly living in the fullness of what God promises in the Bible.
“There is no discipline in Old Testament studies that allows its practitioners to be concerned with determining whether or not Yahweh actually exists. Who has ever heard of an article, a book, a monograph or a thesis entirely devoted to constructing arguments for or against the existence of Yahweh?”
Here I must confess my ignorance. I would have expected the discipline of Apologetics to address this question. This is foundational, especially in the modern era where the existence of God has been questioned from so many directions in the world. (And yes, apologetics might be more concerned with the Jewish or Christian God, but the very basic assumption is that He is the same God as YAHWEH in the scriptures. The very same arguments that infer in later chapters that if YAHWEH doesn’t exist then neither does the God of the New Testament, because they are assumed identical, also means that if the God of the New Testament can be proven to exist, He is YAHWEH).
The main objective of this anti-thesis is to refute enough of the evidence made by the thesis for the unrealism of YAHWEH that it can no longer be held as a logical conclusion. Ultimately, of course, the objective is to strengthen believers to be able to give a reasonable account of the hope that live in us (1 Pet. 3:15).
Now looking at the objectives of the thesis (pp. 9-10):
“• To utilise the format and methodology of the philosophy of religion in order to deal with the problem of realism in Old Testament theology;
• To supplement historical-, literary-, and ideological-critical perspectives on the problem of realism with a comprehensive and almost exhaustive “philosophical-critical” view on the same issue (on which, see below);
• To pioneer philosophical-critical analysis (philosophical criticism / philosophy of Old Testament religion, cf. below) as a novel yet functional interpretative approach to be utilised in the reading of Old Testament texts;
• To spell out in detail why realism with regard to the ontological status of Yahweh should be considered as being immensely problematic;
• To explain in-depth why scholars may be justified in their claim that Yahweh-as-depicted in the text is a character of fiction with no extra-textual counterpart;
• To provide a justification of atheism from the perspective of Old Testament studies;
• To show how critical reading of the Old Testament has contributed to the religio-cultural phenomenon known as the “death of God”;
• To justify the claim that, if Yahweh does not exist, neither does “God”. ”
Not knowing the philosophy of religion well enough, I am not sure what my methods in answer to the stated problem of realism should be called. In trying to show that realism is part and parcel of Old Testament theology, it could conceivably be considered as using aspects from philosophy of religion. I am not sure that philosophical-critical analysis is the best approach to reading the Old Testament texts, but will grant that it is novel.
Most of my disagreements with the thesis will probably be with the conclusions drawn from the historical-, literary-, and ideological-critical perspectives. It is the details of the argument with regards to the ontological status of Yahweh that I disagree with. I will argue that not only are the arguments that cast doubt on the reality of YAHWEH invalid, but that there are indeed positive arguments to be made for the realism of the Scriptures.
I definitely disagree with the claim that scholars are justified in claiming that Yahweh-as-depicted in the Scriptures is a character of fiction (unless they work with the presupposition that God doesn’t exist). However, I will agree with the statement that a “critical” reading of the Old Testament has contributed to the “death of God”. In this regard, I will argue that the typical “critical” reading of the Scriptures is not a legitimate approach (cf. the quote from Kierkegard in the beginnig of this chapter). To know what a piece of literature means, it is important to try and find out what the original author meant or what his readers understood, not read it as if it was written in the modern era.
Of course, the last claim (that if Yahweh doesn’t exist, neither does God), only holds true if the Jewish-Christian God is the true God. But since I do believe that He is the only living God, I am in full agreement.
From the thesis (p.10)
“The concern of the present study with the philosophy of religion – where the religion in question is neither Judaism nor Christianity but Old Testament Yahwism – is rather unheard-of.”
What is “Old Testament Yahwism”? Is it truly something different from Judaism and Christianity, or are the latter simply the continuation and later development of the same religion? Modern Christianity (and Judaism for that matter) is extremely diverse. To a large extend, the religion of the Old Testament (and the New Testament) times were simpler and never evolved into an abstract full-blown dogmatic system (like later Judaism did with the Talmud and Christianity with the Creeds and church dogma). Both the New Testament (Christianity) and the Talmud (Judaism) can be considered simply as commentary (Midrash) on the Torah… the one assuming that Messiah has come, the other that He is still to come. Moreover, “Yahwism” developed over centuries during which the Old Testament was written. The faith/religion of the patriarchs was not the exact same as that of Moses, Joshua, Ezra or Zechariah (even though they worshiped the same God). I’ll come back to this in later chapters.
I like the fact that the thesis used methods from different disciplines. Indeed, I believe that it is a shortcoming of modern science in its search for truth that different disciplines can exist in blissful ignorance of each other. In the same spirit, I will not limit my approach to any specific discipline, but would like to use as many tools as possible to arrive at the truth.
The outline of the argument in the thesis is given as the following (p26):
“1. The argument from theological pluralism
2. The argument from unorthodox theology
3. The argument from polymorphic projection
4. The argument from mythology and syncretism
5. The argument from fictitious cosmography
6. The argument from fictitious history
7. The argument from meta-textual history”
Now considering the actual facts under discussion (the hard evidence) I'll argue that for arguments 1, 2, 3 and 7 the only real evidence we have, is the biblical text itself. For arguments 4, 5 and 6, there are extra-biblical sources in addition, namely modern science for argument 5 and other (historical?) writings for arguments 4 & 6. For the most part, therefore, my rebuttal of the thesis will use the biblical text as primary evidence.
When I first looked at the arguments as presented by Dr. Gericke, I saw that there is a real difference in opinion as to the character of the Biblical text itself. This leads frequently to a difference in interpretation as to the meaning of the text. Because my rebuttal of his thesis consists of both positive evidence for the reality of YAHWEH and (negative) critique of his arguments, the order of my answers will not follow the order of the chapters in his thesis exactly. Indeed, it seems that in order to put first things first, the best answer will be to start from the last assertion and work to the front.
The order of the chapters in this antithesis will be as follows:
1. Chapter 1 (antithesis) in answer to Chapter 1 (thesis): This current introduction and remarks on the objectives and methodology of the thesis.
2. Chapter 2 (antithesis) in answer to Chapter 8 (thesis): The meta-textual history. In this chapter the meta-textual history as hypothesised will be questioned. An alternative approach to the textual history of the Old Testament will be given. The question of revelation and inspiration of the Scriptures will also be considered.
3. Chapter 3 (antithesis) in answer to Chapter 7 (thesis): The argument from fictitious history? This will mostly be a critical analysis of the arguments used to “proof” that the historical events recorded in scripture didn't really happen. It will also include some discussion of the general character of the Old Testament and the different genre's to be found in it.
4. Chapter 4 (antithesis) in answer to Chapter 6 (thesis): The argument from fictitious cosmography? In general, most of the arguments given for the thesis appear to be the result of not sufficiently taking into account the genre or the structure of the text. This is exactly what fundamentalists are charged with so frequently! The nature of science and its relationship to possible revelation is also considered.
5. Chapter 5 (thesis and antithesis): The argument from mythology and syncretism is critiqued. The development in modern missiology of the “eternity in their hearts” concept is also briefly discussed.
6. Chapter 6 (antithesis) in answer to Chapter 4 (thesis): The argument from polymorphic projection? Both linguistics and the literary structure of the text are used to answer these arguments.
7. Chapter 7 (antithesis) in answer to Chapter 3 (thesis): The argument from unorthodox theology. I am not even sure if this should be considered as an argument. “Orthodox” theology should be defined by Scripture and not vice versa. If there is a real contradiction between our “orthodox” theology and scripture, scripture has the greater authority. The whole issue of context of scripture and of reading scripture in context will be discussed in more detail.
8. Chapter 8 (antithesis) in answer to Chapter 2 (thesis): The argument from intra-textual theological pluralism is critiqued. More is also said about the “Hebrew” character of the Scriptures.
9. Chapter 9 (antithesis and thesis): Conclusions.
From the viewpoint of philosophy of religion as mentioned on p.30 of the thesis, I will not address all of the subject matter unless specifically relevant to a rebuttal of the argument against the existence of God. I will mostly look at “the concept of revelation”, “religious experience” and the “existence of divinity”.
The assumption that the existence of God can actually be disproved by disproving the reality of YAHWEH in the Old Testament is made early on. Popper is being invoked in defence of that statement. To clarify Popper's viewpoint, which is basically that of most (if not all) operational scientists (whether they know it or not), he made it explicit that in science no hypothesis can be proven 100%, it can only be falsified. This was basically a way to get around the fact that science is basically based on inductive logic and not on deductive logic. Deductive logic is based on the principle that if all the premises are true, the conclusion will necessarily follow from them. Induction in mathematics is basically the method where if a claim can be made for an integer x and also for x+1, it follows that it is true for all integers larger than x. Induction in science would work almost the same way... if all swans I have ever seen (x) are white and the next swan I see (x+1) is also white, I can postulate that it is likely that all swans are white. In contrast to the use of induction in mathematics, this doesn't (deductively) prove that all swans are white. However, according to Popper, I can hypothesize that all swans are white and then make testable deductive predictions (e.g. all swan feathers should be white as well) that will follow logically if my hypothesis is true. If I test all of these predictions and don't find any counter-examples to falsify the hypothesis, I accept it as provisionally true. However, a single black swan will force me to reject that hypothesis and make a new hypothesis to explain the new facts. Generally, the more facts explained by an hypothesis and the easier it should be to falsify, (the more deductive predictions it makes that can be tested and potentially falsified), the more likely it is to be true. This is typically how the empirical sciences work, using experiments and testing predictions to make inferences about nature. It appears as if Dr. Gericke's thesis states that not only a single black swan has been found, but that at least 7 different ones have been found, thereby falsifying the predictions of the previous hypothesis (that God exists).
Historical sciences work slightly different, because it involves past events that only happened once (and cannot be tested experimentally). In this case we look at evidence, written accounts of what happened. The more independent accounts of the same occurrence we have, the more confidence we can have that it really happened. The more contemporary to the idea being investigated the written account is, the more confidence we can have. There are also 2 other factors to take into account: 1. that the account preferably is by eye-witnesses, or make use of sources that were eye-witnesses; 2. that the author of the account be objective. If the author is not objective, allowances should be made for the possibility that he would give a biased account of event and this bias should be identified in order to differentiate between embellishments or propaganda and fact. These are not absolute rules, e.g., although Genl. Christian de Wet probably was biased when he wrote his history of the Anglo-Boer war, it doesn't mean that the events recorded in it never happened. But an event that can be checked from multiple independent, objective, eye-witness accounts, can be asserted with greater certainty than an event for which only a single witness exist. Even without corroboration, a single report of an event still counts as evidence in favour of the event. Lack of corroborative evidence for a fact is not evidence against the fact. There is also an inherent dilemma inherent to the historical method in that those eye-witnesses most intimate with the facts are also the least likely to be objective.
Modern history also tries to identify the human (sociological, political, economic, cultural etc) motivations/causes of the historical events as recorded. In addition, knowledge gained from the sciences that follow more of an empirical approach, (e.g. Archaeology) can also be used to shed more light on history. The greatest weakness of archaeology is the variety of interpretation that can be given to the same evidence. Without written accounts it is not really possible to make historical deductions from archaeological evidence, but cultural aspects especially, can be elucidated. Of course, archaeology produce written accounts as well, but then they need to be interpreted using historical methods. Part and parcel of normal historical methodology is to try and harmonize the different accounts (if more than one account of the same events exists). Any account of any event, can be assumed to be only a partial observation and rendition of everything that actually happened. Not all facts are relevant to the aim of a given report, nor will all facts be equally well remembered by different eye-witnesses. Indeed, experimentation shows that a group of multiple eye-witnesses that can correct and affirm each other, will give a more complete account of any occurrence than any single witness.
When looking at the question of the existence of God, 100% deductive proof doesn't seem possible either way. This doesn't mean, as some have claimed, that there are no evidence for a position on the issue. The thesis does make a seemingly convincing case for the non-reality of YAHWEH as depicted in the Old Testament. But the thesis that YAHWEH as depicted in the Old Testament text is a fictitious figure would be trumped by a single experience of Him as being true in real life. The alternative hypothesis to that of the thesis, namely that God does exist and that the Old Testament depiction of Him is trustworthy has to be accepted as the truth in that case. For me, that has been my experience. Indeed, the change that the Spirit of God brings in a person's life when you come to repentance remains the strongest evidence for the reality of YAHWEH. Being “born again” has become a cliché. But the real transformation that happens in the lives of people who have given themselves to Jesus of Nazareth, cannot simply be ignored. More-over, this change is exactly in harmony with the promises made by YAHWEH in the Old Testament texts.
Since this anti-thesis is not for the purpose of any degree, there is no attempt to use novel ideas or to claim novelty of any kind. Just because an idea is old, does not mean it is invalid and the invalidity of an old idea will first have to be demonstrated before it can be rejected (it is a known logical fallacy to claim that an idea is false just because it is old). If an idea is old and still valid, it can actually be considered as having a greater likelihood for being true than a novel idea that has not stood the test of time yet!