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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Interview with Ken Samples - Classic Christian Thinkers



Have you ever wanted to ask the smartest person you know questions about God, the Bible, and how they fit with our world? What if you had a panel of nine?  In this interview, Lenny Esposito talks with Kenneth Samples, author of Classic Christian Thinkers:An Introduction to highlight the ideas and impact that nine key Christian thinkers had on not only our faith but the wider world.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

TV Tropes in the Book of Mormon



One of the more interesting and unexpected by-products of the tech boom is how much more technically aware people have become in their media consumption. Take special effects for example. Green screen effects that would’ve wowed audiences in past generations are today easily spotted and considered cheap and clumsy.

The same can be said for story-telling techniques. With the proliferation of media channels, ham-fisted clichés in scripts (such as all bombs being defused with one second left on the timer) are quickly noticed. In fact, many comedy films will spoof these tropes as a way of showing just how phony such situations are.

These tropes can even be found in written material. Imagine a story where the document is supposed to sound archaic. Many times, writes will lapse into what TVTropes.org called “Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe.” Here’s their explanation:
Be the tale set in glorious 1300s Scotland or vexing 1840s Cardiff, appropriately "old-fashioned" English shalt if based on the archaic King James Bible. Thine formula is simple: addeth thou "-eth" and "-est" to random verbs, scattereth thou silent Es like the leaves of autumne, bandyeth about the words "thee", "thou", "thine", "doth", "hast", and "forsooth", reverseth 'pon every other occasion thine noun-verb order, and strewth, thou doth be the next Billy Shakespeare!1
I bring all this up because it became relevant after an ongoing conversation I had with a couple of Mormon missionaries. The young men had asked me to read 3 Nephi 11, as they found that chapter particularly moving. I went ahead and read the entire book of 3 Nephi to make certain I had the full context of the book. But in so doing, a glaring pattern emerged: over and over again, I kept reading the phrase “it came to pass.” The phrase appears fifteen times in chapter one alone! Moreover, the phrase wasn’t being used correctly. In the King James Bible, “it came to pass” was used as bridge to connect the prior narrative to the next section after some portion of time had elapsed, such as in 1 Kings 18:1 where it says “And it came to pass after many days…” In 3 Nephi, the phrase is being used sometimes for the immediate reaction of Nephi to an event that is now happening. The phrase just sticks out like a sore thumb.

This made me a bit more curious, though. If you go the online version of the Book of Mormon at LDS.org, you can search for the phrase “came to pass” (in quotes) and it will show the phrase is used 1824 times in the Book of Mormon. Compare that to the King James Bible, where the phrase is used 456 times in a work that is three times as long! That’s about a 1200% increase in frequency—which makes it kind of a tell that the phrase falls more into the trope category than it does appropriate translation.

The Mormon Response

BYU Studies, however,  thinks this proves Joseph Smith was a better translator than the King James translators. At this page, they created a chart mapping the frequency of the phrase “it came to pass” from each book in the BOM. They then write:
Some readers wonder why these words occur so often in the Book of Mormon compared with the Bible. Actually, the Hebrew word wayehi is translated in the King James Version of the Bible as "it came to pass," but it is also translated as "it happened, came, had come, became, arose, was, now," and so forth. Therefore, what was an extremely common phrase in the Bible appears to be less so because it was translated into various phrases instead of a single one. Apparently, Joseph Smith was quite consistent in translating it with the phrase "it came to pass" every time.2
Here's the problem, though. The Hebrew וַיֶּ֑ה (wayehi ) would never have occurred in the original texts of the Book of Mormon at all. The book itself claims to have been written in reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics that were altered according to the language of the Nephites at that time. (Mormon 9:32). Mormon goes on to write that “none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:34). So the standard grammar of the Hebrew wayehi doesn’t apply. It’s the translation where we are to judge.

The word wayehi literally translates to “and it was.” If that was the phrase that appeared over and over in the BOM, then perhaps the above defense would have some validity. But translators are intentionally choosing to use the phrase “it came to pass” to denote a passage of time. In other words, if the translators were to translate wayehi only and exclusively into “it came to pass,” it would be bad translating. But since it was God who supposedly interpreted the reformed Egyptian language to Joseph Smith, revealing the meaning of each word to him, it would mean that God was guilty of  bad translation.

The missionaries I spoke with didn’t seem that bothered with the problem of the “Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe” trope appearing in the Book of Mormon. Of course, that isn’t the only historically problematic thing about the work. To me, it’s pretty clear that BYU Studies is trying to impose damage control. We can apply Ockahm’s Razor to this instance. The best explanation for the overuse of “it came to pass” is Joseph Smith wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand how that language is properly used. He relied on the “Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe” trope to try and make his audience believe what he had written should be accepted as archaic.

References

1. “Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe.” TV Tropes, TV Tropes, http://www.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YeOldeButcheredeEnglishe. Accessed 2019-01-02
2. "134 - ‘It Came to Pass’ Occurrences in the Book of Mormon.” BYU Studies, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 10 Nov. 2017, http://www.byustudies.byu.edu/charts/134-it-came-pass-occurrences-book-mormon. Accessed 2019-01-02.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Uncovering the Hidden Riches of Christian History



People take pride in their heritage. It’s part of who they are and how they understand themselves. Our family traditions, the foods we eat, our shared celebrations and habits become valuable to us and help define us. The English hold parades on St. George’s Day and Americans will come together to celebrate the Fourth of July.

In school we are taught about our heritage. Americans learned about people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln--and significant events like the Continental Congress and the Civil War. Any Greek can tell you about Socrates or Alexander the Great. The French learn the exploits of Charlemagne and the theories of Rosseau.

But what about our Christian heritage?

Shouldn’t we as Christians pass to our children our spiritual heritage with the same importance and fervor as we give our cultural heritage? Any American who doesn’t know the Fourth of July is America’s birthday is considered uninformed. But how much do you know about the events that helped believers better understand and grow closer to God? What are their stories? How did they survive and even thrive in the face of brutal persecutions? Just what was the Council of Nicaea or the Great Schism? What made Luther nail his complaints to that Wittenberg church and how did our church fathers answer the deadly heresies that threatened the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints?

These are important stories to tell. That’s why the Come Reason Podcast has launched a series taking you on a journey of exploration--uncovering remarkable stories and discovering incredible insights into some of the most significant people and events that helped shaped our Christian faith into the world-transforming force it became.

Did you know the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology was examined and defeated by the early church councils? Or that most of the objections raised by today’s new atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris were answered by a man who lived 1600 years ago?

There is so much of our past that we’ve neglected, and so much we can learn from those who went before us.  Join me at the beginning of this new year as we go on a treasure hunt to discover the Hidden Riches of Christian History. Here’s the first installment.

Series #1: Eleven Breaking into the Upside-Down


The first Christians were part of a world that was so different from our own that we would hardly recognize it. Not only did they battle persecution and discrimination, but the very values we now take for granted — like individuals being equal — were considered strange and dangerous. Rome saw the teachings of Christianity as a threat to their culture and they were right. The eleven apostles took the Gospel of Jesus and broke through the upside-down culture of ancient Rome to establish a new way of thinking, paying for it with their blood.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Always Be Ready: Interview with Dr. Hugh Ross

Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe has just published a new book entitled Always Be Ready, which provides personal stories and practical advice on how to share your faith with others.  I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Hugh and discuss his story of how he came to Christ and how he overcame the double difficulties of witnessing in a scientific community while also being on the autistic spectrum.

Click below to watch the entire interview. You can get your copy of the book at Amazon here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Holding up Irrationality as a Virtue When Kid's Lives Are at Stake


Recently through my social media channels, I linked to this article on how assisted suicide laws in Belgium were leveraged to allow kids as young as nine and eleven to take their own lives. It's dangerous that children who don't have either the experience or the maturity to know the true value of life are given the opportunity to end it, even though they may be sick. I said so in my post, But that isn't the point of this article.

When I posted the piece on the Come Reason Facebook page, I received a response from Scott Womack pushing back against my statement that the news was disturbing. Never before have I had a conversation where it ended with my interlocutor telling me I was wrong for being logical and consistent! I've reproduced the conversation below, but you may always read the original here.

Scott W: It’s Belgium. The children all suffered from debilitating conditions.

“The eldest of the three was a 17-year-old suffering from muscular dystrophy; the other two were 9 and 11. The 9-year-old had a brain tumor and the 11-year-old had cystic fibrosis.”

Human rights > cultural sensitivities.
Come Reason Ministries: Right. But we don't know if their conditions were terminal or not. Can a nine year old really make an informed decision about such grave matters? We recognize they are too inexperienced when it comes to alcohol or sex. Suicide?
Scott W: Can you make an informed decision concerning someone else’s quality of life? Isn’t that overreaching?
Come Reason Ministries: Not when it's protective. "First do no harm" state the Hippocratic oath.
Scott W: The Hippocratic oath also swears by Apollo the physician.
Come Reason Ministries: So what?
Scott W: So it’s a bit dated for our century.

The oath has also been updated, also the oath is ceremonial not obligatory.
Come Reason Ministries: But that principle is neither dated nor irrelevant. It answers your objection.
Scott W: Attached is a link to the modern successor of the oath.
 BIOEDGE.ORG BioEdge: New Hippocratic Oath for doctors approved
Come Reason Ministries: Again, you're arguing beside the point. You asked, "Can you make an informed decision concerning someone else’s quality of life? Isn’t that overreaching?" My answer is "Yes, I can." Look at the transgender push for transitioning prepubescent children. Study after study shows that given time these kids will accept their biological sex over time AND that transitioning offers no improvement for risk of suicide. Therefore, I can safely say that even though the 9 and 11 year olds FEEL that their quality of life is bad and they WANT to transition, it would be the wrong course of action.

Suicide has no take-backs.
Scott W: Luckily you’re not in charge and No you don’t have the right or ability to make those decisions for other people.

Suicide is other peoples business not yours.
Come Reason Ministries: "Suicide is other peoples business not yours." You could say that about abortion or child sex trafficking.
Scott W: No, in your warped view you drew an equivalence I never drew.

In addition child sex trafficking is illegal.
Come Reason Ministries: Why is child sex trafficking illegal?
Scott W: Because secular law says so.
Come Reason Ministries: If that's all you have, it's a terrible reason. Laws are wrong all the time. Even MLK recognized this. I think you know there's more to those laws than "because the government says so."
Scott W: There’s more to the secular laws because secular authorities have the ability to back it up.

Certainly isn’t religious law that prevents child trafficking from happening.

Indeed Religious law Often serves as justification
Come Reason Ministries: So your answer is argumentum ad baculum? Might makes right in this case?
Scott W: What is your answer, religious law prevents child sex trafficking?
Scott W: Of course Law doesn’t stop anyone. The law simply lays out the consequences if your caught.

So yes might (The ability to cage monsters) does to the best of its ability make right.

Whereas you offer salvation to convicts convicted of horrible things, in order to make things right.
Come Reason Ministries: Might makes right. If one follows your stance consistently, then because the government has the might to separate families at the border, it is OK to do so.

You can either base your laws on power or on principle. Totalitarian regimes do the former.

Reasonable people do the latter. Pointing to fallacies is by definition unreasonable.

BTW, on the salvation comment, that's the second time you've yelled "Squirrel!" during our discussion. Red herrings are just as much of a logical fallacy as argumentum ad baculum.
Scott W: You seem to place a value on mental consistency that I don’t share or believe is possible.

You are just as irrational a capable of biases as I am.

Matter fact I’ve come to guard against people who are always consistent. GK Chesterton said that consistent people in lunatic asylum‘s.

I believe consistent people watch themselves too closely and likely suffer from a impairment in seeing and judging reality.

In this case the reality of human rights which were given by constitutional law not God.

Yours irrationality is performing mental gymnastics in order for your total worldview to make sense.

There’s a world of people you’ve missed in your equations between your totalitarian regimes and “rational” people.
Come Reason Ministries: I think we can leave it at that. Thanks so much for the discussion, Scott!

I must say, at least Scott is honest! Of course, he's completely misunderstood Chesterton (that would be for another post), but to think that if 100% complete mental consistency isn't possible we should give upon the endeavor altogether is, well, breath-taking. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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