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70 Weeks (A challenge): Introductory remarks

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  • Tom Curtis
    These are my introductory remarks for my debate with Stephen Jones. Most of these have been made before in my post issuing the challenge, but Jones saw fit to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 17, 2004
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      These are my introductory remarks for my debate with Stephen Jones.  Most of these have been made before in my post issuing the challenge, but Jones saw fit to not copy them to his list.  Those that are immediately relevant to the debate are copied below, without any comments on Jones' moderation or character.  Towards the end of the post I also clarify some minor points.
       
      First to essentials:
       
      ******
       
      I, Tom Curtis, declare that I am willing to accept in principle (ie, I do not rule out in advance as impossible) that the Biblical prophecy of Daniel 9:24-26 could be a genuine, supernatural and accurate prophecy.  Further, I accept that should people defending the genuine nature of the prophecy, and its truthfulness should avoid "conventionalist strategies" or other devices to render it unfalsifiable, and should they then establish there case, the prophecy would falsify metaphysical naturalism, where falsification is as defined in Popper's "Logic of Scientific Discovery".
       
      I might note that I have never, in any discussion or reasoning ruled out supernatural explanations a priori, though I have not always given them consideration.  I have also explicitly argued against excluding supernaturalistic explanations in Historical Jesus Studies in an academic list dedicated to that purpose, even though I was an atheist at the time.  Further, I have repeatedly argued on the IntelligentDesignUpdate list that methodological naturalism is not valid in principle in science, though it is a useful heuristic.  The statement above therefore reflects no constraint on my normal reasoning - and nor would it be thought to do so by those who know me, except in as much as they are biased against atheists and evolutionists.
       
      Further, I, Tom Curtis, will willingly accept that the prophecy of Daniel 9: 24-26 passed the test (ie, the supernatural does exist, in the form of fulfilled prophecy), if Steve Jones provides evidence in support of it that shows that conclusion to be significantly more plausible than any of the naturalistic alternatives.  If, in my opinion, Steve Jones evidence shows the supernaturalistic to be nearly as plausible, or more plausible than the naturalistic conclusion, I will publicly state that to be the case, but may also state that though (in that case) he will have shown supernaturalism to be the best explanation of the prophecy; more general considerations still show naturalism to be true and supernaturalism false.
       
      ******
       
      It will have not escaped your attention that I have modified the wording of Jones' declaration slightly.  This was necessary for greater clarity, in the first instance, and because it is important that I make an honest declaration (for me at least).  Specifically, I was not going to throw over my entire world view just because Jones showed the supernaturalistic explanation of a vague prophecy has a probability of 51%, while the naturalistic explanation had only a probability of 49%.  The original wording of Jones declaration seemed to require me to claim that I would.  If my reworded declaration is acceptable to Jones, he can indicate it by posting this email to his site.  If it is not, he ought to at least copy my declaration and this paragraph to his site, and explain why he found it unacceptable.  (Those who think there is a contradiction between my first statement about falsification and the rider in my second statement had better reread their Popper.)
       
      Let me outline how I think the argument should proceed.  For either a naturalistic explanation or a supernaturalistic explanation, it is to be expected that the prophet, or the source of the prophet's inspiration for supernaturalistic explanations had in mind a particular event as the start point of the prophecy, and a particular series of events for the end points (ie, the end of the 69th week and the events of the 70th week).  A successful supernatural explanation will show which events these are; that they have the events occurred, that they have the correct spacing; and that the prophet was not in a position to know of the events of the end point because they occurred after he wrote, and could not plausibly have predicted those events.  The plausibility of prediction depends in part on the specificity of the prophecy.  A sufficiently vague prophecy can be satisfied by virtually any circumstance - a fact exploited by the Delphic oracles and by horoscope writers to this day.  A successful naturalistic explanation will show the same things except that it will show the events of the end point to have been known at the time of composition, or to have been reasonably predictable at the time of composition.
       
      This is important because we need some basis to determine the start point of the prophecy, and most importantly, the purported end points of the prophecy - and the only neutral criteria is goodness of fit between the events and the prophecy.  Jones has stated that he thinks Jesus is the predicted "anointed Prince"; that his crucifixion is the "cutting of" of that Prince that occurs after the 69th week - and that Titus' destruction of the Jerusalem is the "desolating Abomination".  In turn, I will argue that the death of Onias (the legitimate high priest) represents the death of the "anointed Prince", and that the setting up of the alter to Zeus on the alter of burnt offerings was the "desolating abomination".  Obviously, part of my argument will be that a forty year gap just does not make a good fit between the description in the prophecy and the events in first century Palestine.  This is a logically distinct argument from the argument I mention below about rendering the prophecy unfalsifiable.  I will not rely on arguments that show that Jones has made his claim unfalsifiable.  But, of necessity, I will rely on factual premises that would have been used in such arguments in order to show that Jones' interpretation of the prophecy simply does not fit the prophecy very well.  I do not want any confusion as to which argument I am using.
       
      A further point that needs discussion is the date of composition of the prophecy.  As it stands I am content to leave this aside.  So long as Jones maintains that the primary, or literally intended events prophesied by the prophecy of weeks occurred in the first century, it does not matter if the author was a contemporary of Cyrus the Great, or of Antiochus Epiphanes.  Consequently I would rather avoid this issue - for Jones has shown a tendency to interpret use of the later date as begging the issue against supernaturalism.  If, however, Jones should shift his position to claim that the primary or literally intended events prophesied are those associated with Antiochus Epiphanes, but that like Isaiah's "prophecy of the virgin birth", the prophecy of weeks has an additional point grasped by faith, or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; I will then need to discuss the date of composition.
       
      The prophecy of weeks could be an empirical test of the supernatural if written any time before the first century and it predicted events in the first century AD; or it could be an empirical test of the supernatural if written in the time of Cyrus predicting the events of Antiochus Epiphanes.  I can refute the first possibility, but not the second, without discussing the date of composition.  Should Jones, therefore, argue the second point, or argue that I am being inconsistent because even the position I am arguing for represents a passed empirical test of the supernatural, I will need to extend the discussion.  I am loath to do so unnecessarily, however, as Jones has shown a tendency to treat any late dating of the prophecy as question begging against the supernatural, even though it isn't.
       
      Finally, as I have commented before, I do not believe Jones is trying to treat the prophecy of weeks as an empirical test of the supernatural at all.  He has deployed arguments that presume that the prophecy must be accurate, has introduced conventionalist strategies to save the prophecy, and has generally assumed the supernatural in his proof of the supernatural.  I will not be producing counterarguments when he does so.  His case does not stand even if he is allowed to use those devises, so I have no need to argue against them.  I will, however, mention them so that observers (and perhaps even Jones) will recognise what he is doing.
       
      >>>
      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!
       
      [...]
       
      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 sidetrack the debate into unprofitable disputes about who is, and who is not begging the question.]  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.
      <<<
       
      Finally, for some more general points.  Jones has made some more general conditions on the debate.  He wrote:
       
      >>>
      But I am prepared to make an exception to my ruling about extensive cross-
      posting from another list and debate Daniel's 70 weeks with Tom by me (with
      the Moderator of Anti-CED's and Tom's permission), lifting Tom's replies off
      Anti-CED's archive and posting them in full without comment, to CED myself.
      If the post contains any breach of CED's rules (e.g. abuse, ridicule,
      personal attacks, etc) then I will not post it to CED and the debate will be
      at an end.

      <<<
       
      As would be clear from this post, and from my first proper post of the debate (Seventy weeks (a challenge) #1, anti-CED message 299), I intend to conduct myself as I would in an academic debate.  I will not insult Jones, or question his moderatorship.  I will through out refer to him as "Jones", "Steve Jones", or "Stephen Jones" as I would in any normal academic context.  (The use of the last name to refer to a person is standard in academic contexts, and is a polite, if formal mode of address.  Jones has previously made an issue over this.  Well that is his issue, not mine.)  As to whether this sufficiently complies with CED rules, that is Jones business, not mine.  I will regard his failure to cross post my message as his withdrawing from the debate.  If he has a particular problem with some part of a post, he can certainly contact me and politely explain what the problem is.  I would certainly be amenable in most cases to posting a revised version with offending language removed so that Jones can cross post it.  This should not be, in any instance, be construed as my agreeing with Jones that the amended wording was offensive or untrue.  If he contacts me about a post he finds offensive, but uses language I find offensive, calculated to insult or is otherwise abusive, I will feel free to post a copy of that email to anti-CED, with comments.  (For my part, I will not directly contact Jones as per his wishes, except that I will continue to copy actual contributions to the debate to him for his convenience.)  If I need to talk to him about the debate outside the context of particular discussion, I will post a message to anti-CED including in the subject line "ATTENTION STEVE JONES".  I am also likely to respond to comments by other members of anti-CED about the debate, and will not restrict myself to Jones rules in so doing.  To avoid confusion, I will flag such comments in the subject line with the words "NON DEBATE".  Should Jones read or cross post such messages, and be offended, that will be his problem, not mine.
       
      >>>
      My position is closest to that of Archer in the tagline quote below (although I
      may differ with him on some minor aspects).

      That is, I claim that:

      1) the terminus a quo of the 7+62 = 69 weeks was Artaxerxes' decree of
      457/458 BC to Ezra (the two different years are cited in the literature,
      presumably due to whether a Babylonian or Judean calendar is used);

      2) the time unit was 7 ordinary solar years (i.e. 69 x 7 = 483);

      3) yielding a terminus ad quem of 483 - (457 or 458) + 1 (no 0 AD) =
      26 or 27 AD. The (depending on

      and

      4) the "Desolating Abomination" (to use Tom's words) was that of the
      Roman army under Titus Vespasian in 70 AD.

      If Tom accepts my conditions he needs to first publicly state it. They are
      non-negotiable. No doubt Tom will claim that I am setting strict conditions
      so that when I start losing I can terminate the debate, but: a) it won't be me
      that starts losing! and b) if I did terminate the debate when I was losing, my
      own supporters would realise it. Rather the reason I state these conditions
      upfront before we start the debate is that I fully expect it will be *Tom*
      who will start losing and then *he* will resort to ad hominems in order to
      get me to terminate the debate, so that he can save face in the eyes of his
      supporters. My advice to Tom if he wants to save face is to do it now,
      claiming these conditions are too strict, so that the debate ends before it
      gets started.

      Then, in the same first post accepting these conditions, Tom needs to post
      on Anti-CED his combination of:

      1) terminus a quo (he has given thisas "Cyrus the Great's decree to rebuild
      the temple" so all he needs to do is post the date;

      2) time unit; 3) terminus ad quem as I have above, with year.

      Tom has already posted his 4) "Desolating Abomination" as "by Antiochus
      Epiphanes", but he needs to post the date of this too.

      Tom may have done this in his two posts, but I haven't read any more than
      the first part I posted (nor do I intend to), so he will need to post it
      again in a concise format suitable for cross-posting to CED.

      The debate then should proceed in tandem with the following three things in
      each post (but not necessarily in the following order):

      A) advancement of one's own position by evidence and argument;

      B) defence of ones own position in response to critique of it by one's
      opponent;

      and

      C) critique of one's opponent's position.

      <<<
       
      As previously stated, I believe the start point of the prophecy is the decree of Cyrus the Great, normally dated at 538 BC.  I will agree with any consistent assignment of time unit Jones requires; but think that, most sensibly, a "week" in the prophecy is seven solar years.  Four hundred and eighty six and a half years after the decree of Cyrus the Great is (approximately) 51 BC, and hence that is the prophetically predicted time of the "desolating abomination", but the actual time of that event was December, 167 BC.  I am not, of course, claiming the prophecy to have been accurate.  The death of Onias is inferred to have occurred in 170 BC on the basis of the Daniel prophecy.  That is, of course, circular reasoning in this context.  An independent dating of the death of Onias from 2nd Maccabees places it shortly before the second Egyptian campaign of Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC.  (I will try to place it more accurately in a later post.)  Immediately after the second Egyptian campaign, Antiochus Epiphanes assaulted Jerusalem.  He killed 40,000 inhabitants, and sold a further 40,000 into slavery.  He also burnt the houses, and destroyed the city walls.  He also stopped the perpetual sacrifice, and decreed that all Jews should cease being circumcised, and sacrifice to Greek gods.  About a year later, he built an alter to Zeus on top of the alter of burnt offerings, and commenced sacrifices to Zeus.  First Maccabees refers to this alter as the "appalling abomination" (Chapt 1: 54).
       
      I have already posted my initial defence of the decree of Cyrus the Great as the start point of the prophecy in my post Seventy weeks (A challenge) #1.
       
      If for some reason, Jones does not want to post the entirety of this post to his list, he can start the debate by posting that post to CEDesign; and by quoting this section of this post (ie, this paragraph and the two paragraphs above) along with a link to the post in a message to CEDesign.  That will at least ensure members of CEDesign can read what I have agreed too, and what subsidiary considerations I think important for themselves, should they want to.
       
      I will not commence criticising Jones position until he clearly states it in his own words.  I will not treat tag line quotes as part of his argument.  If he considers some evidence to be relevant, he should state it explicitly, and not leave me to guess which part of a quoted authority he agrees with, and which he disagrees with.
       
      >>>
      BTW, there is one other condition I just thought of. In a few weeks I start
      university again, and depending on my workload, and other priorities, I may
      not always be able to respond in a timely fashion. Since it was Tom
      virtually calling me a liar on CED when I claimed I was becoming
      increasingly busy with assignments, that started the chain of events that led
      to his loss of posting privileges on CED, I require Tom to state his
      acceptance that if the debate continues into the university year, then I may
      not always be able to respond as quickly as he (and I) would like.

      <<<
       
      I certainly understand the issue of time constraints.  All I request is that if Jones is delayed in responding, he post a short message saying as much, and how long he expects the delay to last.  I also request that if he should terminate the debate for any reason, he should post a short message saying so, and his reasons for terminating the debate.  I will do likewise.  That way I will not be left guessing as to whether Jones is in fact short of time, or has ended the debate without saying so.  I suspect that delays will start as early as January 27th, with the start of the school year, and hence the resumption of the second of my two jobs.
       
      I have never called Jones a liar about time constraints, or implied as much.  What I claimed was that talk of time constraints was never the whole story, ie, that people with time constraints prioritise, that choosing to answer one post rather than another represents such a prioritisation, and that interesting things can be learnt by looking at the way Jones prioritises.  When I became aware that Jones had misinterpreted me on this point, I immediately posted to CEDesign an apology for that implication, however inadvertent, and a clarification of what I was in fact saying.  I will not comment further on this matter because it is not germaine to this debate, and would lead to a slanging match if continued.  I will not comment on further false claims by Jones about my past or present actions, and or my motives in posts forming part of the debate.  I only comment on this one to clearly flag that there are at least two versions of every story; and the chance of my agreeing with Jones' descriptions of me or my actions are infinitesimal.  Those who are at all interested in alternative views will no doubt be able to find a source of them.
       
      >>>
      If Tom doesn't: 1) publicly state on Anti-CED, for me to cross-post to CED,
      his agreement to *all* these conditions in advance; or 2) part-way through
      reneges on them (e.g. starts getting nasty), then the debate is at an end.

      <<<
       
      In my opinion I have agreed to the spirit of everything Jones has asked for.  If what I have agreed to is not good enough for him, that is his business.  My opinion is that, while I wanted this debate for a variety of reasons, it is Jones who needs it.  I will now present my case succinctly in a series of posts, the first of which has already been made.  Should Jones terminate the debate because I have not agreed to the exact lettering of his requests or some other trivial basis, the members of CEDesign, and of anti-CED will know that despite his boasts, there is a clear alternative to his view that he has not addressed, and whose proponent he is unwilling to debate.  The members of CEDesign will also be able to look up the view Jones is unwilling to discuss, and decide for themselves what to make of his claims.
       
      In my opinion I have already won.  Jones has publicly acknowledged the existence of a challenge to debate, and a willingness to proceed.  If he does not proceed except for substantive reasons clearly explained, the members of CEDesign will know what to think of his boasts.  If he does proceed, I am confident that I can demolish his case.
       
      The ball is now in his court!
       
      Tom Curtis 
             
       
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