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Seventy weeks (A challenge)

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  • Tom Curtis
    This post is a challenge to Steve Jones. He has proposed Daniel s prophecy of weeks as an empirical test of the supernatural. Further, he has boasted that
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16, 2004
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      This post is a challenge to Steve Jones.  He has proposed Daniel's prophecy of weeks as an empirical test of the supernatural.  Further, he has boasted that naturalists are so insecure in their position that they are unwilling to take up the test.  In fact, he has made that boast despite the fact that I have previously taken up the challenge, and he knows it.  In his mind, the CreationEvolutionDesign list is a surrogate for the world.  If an argument is not made on that list, it is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of his beliefs, and he does not need to give it consideration.  Well I want him and the world to know that he can only make his boast because he insists in hiding in his cowards castle.  I am challenging him to a debate on Daniel's prophecy of weeks, in which I will not assume that naturalism is true.  I will show that Daniel's prophecy fails on every point.  It does not predict the coming of Jesus, it does not get the time right, and is ridiculously inaccurate.  Like all of Daniel's prophecies, in its literal interpretation, it is false.  I will show that the intended start point of the prophecy of weeks is Cyrus the Great's decree to rebuild the temple; that the intended fulfilment is the Desolating Abomination by Antiochus Epiphanes; and (should this be required), that the "prophecy" was written by a contemporary of Antiochus Epiphanes.
       
      I am willing to do this on CreationEvolutionDesign (where I will restrict myself to discussing this topic only); or on anti-CED.  If Jones is unwilling to admit me to CEDesign, or join anti-CED for this purpose, we can conduct the debate cross list, on condition that he cross posts my responses on CEDesign, as I will cross post his to anti-CED.
       
      I am doing this, as I said, to end his boasting.  He knows that his views are challenged elsewhere but boasts that no-one is prepared to take up his challenge.  If he should pass on my challenge, and continue to make that boast, all will know that no-one he is prepared to debate is prepared to take up his challenge.  They will know that plenty of people are prepared to take on his challenge, but that Jones will not debate them.  They will know his claim to be a hypocritical sham.
       
      I am doing this, also, so that if he ever publishes his book; when he includes this claim as "evidence against naturalism" we will be able to point out to him that this, like his other claims, is a claim he is unwilling to debate openly - a claim he can only appear to sustain because he is preaching to the converted.
       
      Having made this challenge, I think some preliminary comments on Jones methods of debate are in order. 
       
      Taken at face value, Jones is claiming that the prophecy in Daniel is sufficiently clear that, from it we can:
       
      1. We can determine an event or series of events that are predicted to occur;
      2. We can determine when these events are predicted to occur in relation to each other, and in relation to a bench mark time; and
      3. We can determine the bench mark time from the prophecy; and finally
      4. That from historical studies, we can determine that the events did occur at the appropriate times.
       
      Alternatively, he is claiming that the co-ordination between the text of the prophecy and certain events is relatively exact; and the most plausible explanation of this co-ordination is that the text was written many years before the event, and that a supernatural power is responsible both for the text, and the events, thus bringing about the co-ordination of text and events.  That is, he is claiming that a supernaturalistic explanation is a better explanation than any naturalistic explanation of the origin of the text, and the co-ordination of text and events.
       
      It is, however, difficult to imagine how he could employ the second approach.  Determining the best explanation requires assigning some initial probability of events having a natural or a supernatural explanation.  Jones can help himself to any such assignment that he feels comfortable with, but he must apply it consistently.  If he does not, if he uses a higher probability of a supernatural explanation when investigating the Daniel prophecies than he does in other cases; he is clearly begging the question against the naturalist explanation.  Consequently, he must assign the same prior probability of a supernaturalistic explanation to the success of Delphic oracles; Islamic prophecies and the prognostications of Nostradamus as he does to Daniel.  If he claims Daniel's prophecy of weeks is fulfilled because Jesus died so many years after some decree, but is not falsified because the Temple was not destroyed within seven years Jesus death, then he must allow a similar flexibility of interpretation of Nostradamus prognostications (etc.); and further, he must claim that Nostradamus' prognostications are fulfilled if they can be made to fit with that level of flexibility.  The surge in popularity in Nostradamus books in the late 20th century shows that, given a modicum of flexibility, any "prophecies" can be made out to be fulfilled. So, if Jones does not want his beliefs to degenerate into complete gullibility, he must be quite critical in his attitude to the prophecy of weeks.  But then it is difficult to see how he can establish the supernatural explanation as better.
       
      In fact, there is reason to think Jones is begging the question against naturalism.  For example, presented with an argument against his position, he launches into an extended ad hominen based on the claim that his respondent is ruling out the supernatural a priori (CEDesign message 7603).  More troubling, he has recently claimed that unless the naturalist explanation is better than his supernaturalistic explanation, his claim is successful.  He writes:
       
      >>>
      It is up to my opponents at (3) to provide a naturalistic explanation
      that: a) fits all the facts; and b) is more plausible than my supernatural
      explanation; without c) begging the question by ruling out supernatural
      explanations; and my claim that Naturalism is false, fails. But otherwise
      it stands.

      <<<
       
      So, according to Jones, if there are two explanations (a naturalistic and a supernaturalistic), both equally plausible even when the naturalistic explanation is not question begging, then his claim that the prophecy of weeks is an empirical test of the supernatural stands.  Let us be quite specific here; Jones is claiming that the prophecy of weeks and its "fulfilment" falsify naturalism; and it is empirically determinable that they falsify naturalism.  But he also claims that unless the non-question begging naturalistic explanation is better than the supernaturalistic explanation, his claim succeeds.  But in that case he is claiming that even given a non-question begging naturalistic explanation as good as the supernaturalistic explanation, naturalism is falsified.
       
      As I have said of many creationist arguments, nice if you can get away with it!
       
      This shows that evolutionists on CEDesign have been wise to not "make a public statement in advance" that they would not beg the question against supernaturalism - for Jones' interpretation of that phrase is such that he counts any failure to beg the question in favour of supernaturalism as begging the question against it.  An initial "public statement" as requested Jones would be an invitation for Jones to launch a series of ad hominens about how their "public statement" was dishonest or hypocritical.  And if anyone should dispute Jones interpretation of that statement, you can be sure he would - as he has before - ruthlessly use his powers as moderator to squelch any opposition.
       
      For these reasons, I shall view Jones claim as the claim that:
       
      1. We can determine an event or series of events that are predicted to occur;
      2. We can determine when these events are predicted to occur in relation to each other, and in relation to a bench mark time; and
      3. We can determine the bench mark time from the prophecy; and finally
      4. That from historical studies, we can determine that the events did occur at the appropriate times.
      where by determine we mean, "can determine empirically".  In this way we can avoid the morass opened by the question of the how "plausible" particular explanations are.  Instead, we can concentrate on whether certain facts have been established empirically.
       
      It should be noted that phrasing the claim this way places a substantial constraint on Jones - one he has been unwilling to submit himself to.  It means he cannot appeal to the truth of the prophecy, or the truth of Christianity, or the truth of supernaturalism to establish any of the claims above.  In fact he has been doing just that.  For example, most of his sources date the start of the prophecy from the one of Artaxerxes decrees; either that to Ezra commanding the beautification of the Temple, or that to Nehemiah commanding the construction of Jerusalem's walls.  There is good reason for Christians to prefer one of these two proclamations, for they can be made to fit the seventy "weeks" to the time of Jesus.  But this is the only reason for preferring one of these two proclamations.  All other evidence points clearly to the decree of Cyrus the Great as the start point.  My point at the moment, however, is that that the timing fits is not evidence in favour of either of the decrees of Artaxerxes being the decree mentioned in the prophesy, unless you first make the assumption that the prophecy must be true.  Consequently, reasoning based on that claim (and hence the argument of most of Jones' authorities) are irrelevant to the debate.
       
      In like manner, an interpretation that the decree was a decree in heaven (mentioned by one of Jones' authorities) would be irrelevant to the debate in that it clearly removes the claim from empirical enquiry.
       
      Again, inserting gaps between the seven, and the sixty-two, and the seventieth weeks clearly removes the claim as an empirical test.  This is because there is no way to determine the length of the gaps from the prophecy, and so such gaps permit the prophecy to be "fitted to" virtually any sequence of events in time.  Similarly, allowing the length of a "week" to vary for the three intervals makes the prophecy unfalsifiable, ie, it makes it impossible to empirically determine when the events are predicted to occur in relation to each other, and in relation to the bench mark time.
       
      In fact, as Elf has pointed out on CEDesign, the requirement of not assuming the truth of supernaturalism as a premise instantly falsifies Jones' claim.  According to Jones, prophecy in Daniel predicts the coming of the Messiah.  This he takes to reefer to Jesus.  But to establish his claim as an empirical test, Jones must empirically establish that Jesus is the Messiah.  This would seem to be an impossible task; and should it be accomplished, Jones would have an empirical test of the supernatural without further reference to the prophecy of weeks.  But if Jones should want to use the "fact" that Jesus was the Messiah as part of his empirical test without first establishing that "fact", then he is indeed begging the question by assuming the truth of a supernatural claim as one of  his premises.
       
      I mention these problems with Jones' position, not because I will use them against him, but because I will not.  Arguing these points, though perfectly valid, will encourage Jones into his ad hominen rants about who is, and who is not begging the question.  We know this because discussing these topics already has lead Jones into just such ad hominen rants.  Therefore, and because Jones' position is so ridiculously weak, I shall not be using these arguments.  However, it is necessary to mention them so that it is clear how much ground I am giving to Jones before devastating his position.  It is also necessary to mention them because, I am sure, Jones will attempt to beg the question and I may need to point out that fact.
       
      I will continue the argument in a follow-up post.
       
      Tom Curtis 
       
       
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