Shouldn’t We Give the Authors of the Gospels the Benefit of the Doubt?

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How often have you heard the following from conservative Christians:  “Skeptics of the Bible are so hypocritical.  Skeptics do not question the honesty of Herodotus, Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, or Plutarch regarding their writings, so why do they question the honesty of the authors of the Gospels?  Shouldn’t the authors of the Gospels be given the same benefit of the doubt as any other author from Antiquity?”

Regarding the internal evidence test, John Warwick Montgomery reports that literary critics still follow Aristotle’s dictum that “the benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.”  Therefore, “one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualified himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.”  (John Warwick Montgomery, EA, 29)

–evangelical Christian authors, Josh and Sean McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 68

Do skeptics hold the authors of the Gospels to a different standard?  I don’t think so, and here is why:  If Herodotus, Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, or Plutarch had claimed in their writings that they knew a man who had been fathered by a god, born of a virgin, walked on water, turned water into wine, healed lepers, raised people from the dead, had been resurrected from the dead himself, and finally, had levitated into outer space, I would bet that most skeptics would question the veracity of these claims just as strenuously as we do the very same claims made by the authors of the Gospels!

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Where are All the Missing-Link Fossils?

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Many conservative Christians are skeptical of evolution due to the fact that there aren’t a lot of fossils of creatures known as “missing-links” between two species, such as between reptiles and birds or between an ape-like creature and humans.  As a former conservative Christian, I held this view.  As the image above demonstrates, it seems odd to many conservative Christians that scientists can find millions of skeletons of modern apes and millions of skeletons of modern humans, but where are the millions of intermediary part ape/part human (missing-link) skeletons?  If these creatures existed as scientists claim, where are their skeletons???

The problem here is a lack of knowledge regarding fossils.

Many laypersons assume that the bones of all dead animals are preserved in the dirt, except for those scattered by scavengers.  If this were true, then the skeletons of the thousands or millions of alleged intermediate (missing-link) creatures which scientists claim existed at one time, should be buried in the ground and just as easy to find as the skeletons of modern apes and humans.

But that is not how fossils are formed!

The formation of fossils is straightforward, but requires a very specific set of circumstances, First, the remains of an animal or plant must find their way into water, sink to the bottom, and get quickly covered by sediment so that they don’t decay or get scattered by scavengers.  Only rarely do dead plants and land dwelling creatures find themselves on the bottom of a lake or ocean.

–biologist Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, pp. 22-23

What Conservative Christians Just Don’t Get About “Missing Links”

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As a former fundamentalist Christian myself one of the principle arguments used by fundamentalist Christians against evolution is:  If evolution is true, why don’t we find fossils that are half one species, such as a reptile, and half another, such as a bird? Since we never find such intermediate fossils, this is proof that evolution is false.

Where are the missing links???!!!

But nature doesn’t work that way.  Changes in species typically occur very gradually, over many, many years.  As an example, the common ancestor of reptiles and birds was most likely an animal that looked like a reptile.  The immediate offspring of this animal would have also looked like reptiles.  The immediate offspring whose descendants would eventually be modern reptiles and the immediate offspring whose descendants would eventually be modern birds would have looked very similar.  But as these two lines of immediate offspring reproduced, and their descendants reproduced, over many generations, small changes began to occur in one branch of descendants, many times due to environmental factors (maybe some environmental event occurred that separated one branch of descendants from their “cousins”, so that breeding between the two groups ceased to occur).   Over many, many generations, bird-like features slowly began to appear in one branch of descendants of the original off-spring while these features did not develop in the other branch of descendants.  The fossil record perfectly matches this theory.

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Because reptiles appear in the fossil record before birds, we can guess that the common ancestor of birds and reptiles was an ancient reptile, and would have looked like one.  Its overall appearance would give few clues that it was indeed a “missing link”—that one lineage of descendants would later give rise to all modern birds, and the other to more dinosaurs.  Truly birdlike traits, such as wings and a large breastbone for anchoring the flight muscles, would have evolved only later on the branch leading to birds.  And as the lineage itself progressed from reptiles to birds, it sprouted off many species having mixtures of reptilelike and birdlike traits.  Some of those species went extinct, while others continued evolving into what are now modern birds.  It is to these groups of ancient species, the relatives of species near the branch point, that we must look for evidence of common ancestry. 

Showing common ancestry of two groups, then, does not require that we produce fossils of the precise single species that was their common ancestor, or even species on the direct line of descent from an ancestor to descendant.  Rather, we need only produce fossils having the types of traits that link two groups together, and, importantly, we must also have the dating evidence showing that those fossils occur at the right time in the geological record.

…dinosaurs that gave rise to birds sported feathers, but some feathered dinosaurs continued to persist well after more birdlike creatures had evolved.  Those later feathered dinosaurs still provide evidence for evolution, because they tell us something about where birds came from.

–biologist Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, pp. 34-35


Satellites Provide Devastating Evidence Against Young Earth Creationism

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In the process of becoming truths, or facts, scientific theories are usually tested against alternative theories.  …For many years, the position of the earth’s landmasses was thought to have been the same throughout the history of life.  But in 1912, the German geophysicist Alfred Wegner came up with the rival theory of “continental drift,” proposing that continents had moved about.

  Initially, his theory was inspired by the observation that the shapes of continents like South America and Africa could be fitted together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  Continental drift then became more certain as fossils accumulated and paleontologists found that the distribution of ancient species suggested that the continents were once joined.  Later, “plate tectonics” was suggested as a mechanism for continental movement, just as natural selection was suggested as the mechanism of evolution, the plates of the earth’s crust and mantle floated about on more liquid material in the earth’s interior.  And although plate tectonics was also greeted with skepticism by geologists [similar to the initial skepticism regarding the theory of evolution], it was subject to rigorous testing on many fronts, yielding convincing evidence that it is true.  Now thanks to global positioning satellite technology, we can even see the continents moving apart, at a speed of two to four inches per year, about the same rate that your fingernails grow.

This, combined with the unassailable evidence that the continents were once connected, is evidence against the claim of “young-earth” creationists that the earth is only six to ten thousand years old.  If that were the case, we’d be able to stand on the west coast of Spain and see the skyline of New York City, for Europe and America would have moved less than a mile apart!

–biologist Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, pp. 16-17

Intelligent Design, if True, Was Not Very Intelligent

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Ninety-nine percent of all species that have ever lived have become extinct.  All cases of extinction represent a failure to adapt.  This fact poses an enormous problem for theories of intelligent design (ID).  It doesn’t seem so intelligent to design millions of species that are destined to go extinct, and then replace them with other, similar species, most of which will also vanish.  Intelligent Design supporters have never addressed this difficulty.

–biologist Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, p. 12


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Evidence Against Creationism: Individual Species Were Not Created De Novo

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Creationists believe that God created all species of animals de novo (out of nothing).  They reject the evolutionist’s claim that all species, including humans, evolved over a period of millions of years from lower life forms.  The tulip, Redwood tree, cat, and beetle that you see today descend from the original tulip, Redwood tree, cat, and beetle that God created during the Six Day Creation of the universe.  The characteristics of individual species may have changed within that species due to environmental factors, but new species have never evolved from other species.

The biologic evidence proves this belief patently false.

All species form a nested hierarchy:  a hierarchy in which big groups of species whose members share a few traits are subdivided into smaller groups of species sharing more traits, and so on down to species, like black bears and grizzly bears that share nearly all their traits.

Actually, the nested arrangement of life was recognized long before Darwin.  Starting with the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1735, biologists began classifying animals and plants, discovering that they consistently fell into what was called a “natural” classification.  Strikingly, different biologists came up with nearly identical groupings.  This means that these groupings are not subjective artifacts of a human need to classify, but tell us something real and fundamental about nature.  But nobody knew what that something was until Darwin came along and showed that the nested arrangement of life is precisely what evolution predicts.  Creatures with recent common ancestors share many traits, while those whose common ancestors lay in the distant past are more dissimilar.  The “natural” classification is itself strong evidence for evolution.

Why?  Because we don’t see such a nested arrangement if we’re trying to arrange objects that haven’t arisen by an evolutionary process of splitting and descent.  Matchbooks, for example, resemble the kinds of creatures expected under a creationist explanation of life.  There are many ways to order [organize] matchbooks.  You could for example, sort matchbooks hierarchically beginning with size, and then by [location of the business:  country or state] within size, then by color within that country or state, and so on.  Or you could start with the product advertised etc..  There are many ways to organize the matchbooks and everyone will do it differently.  There is no sorting system that all collectors agree on.  This is because rather than evolving, so that each matchbook gives rise to another that is only slightly different, each matchbook design was created from scratch [de novo] by human whim.

–biologist Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True, p. 9

Gary:  As someone who once believed in a literal six-day Creation even after graduating from a public university and medical school, I fully understand the reluctance of fundamentalist Christians to accept that the biblical Creation account is not historical fact; that the evidence only appears to confirm evolutionary theory; that God created this fake “evidence” to confound the wise and arrogant.

In a world involving the supernatural, this is certainly possible.  However, dear fundamentalist Christian friend, I encourage you to study the evidence for yourself.  Read Jerry Coyne’s book and then make your own decision.  Did God create “fake” evidence, or is it your belief about God that is incorrect?

Dear Christian Conservatives: Evolution is Not Just a Theory. Evolution is a Fact.

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EvolutionLife on earth began gradually beginning with one primitive species—perhaps a self-replicating molecule—that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago; it then branched out over time, throwing off many new and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection.

Today scientists have as much confidence in Darwinism as they do in the existence of atoms, or in microorganisms as the cause of infectious disease.

Jerry Coyne, biologist and professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, in his book, Why Evolution is True, pp. xvii; 3

Gary:  There is nothing that destroys a superstition, religious our otherwise, like good scientific evidence.  I believe that if any person takes the time to sit down with a good, simple primer on evolution, such as Coyne’s book referenced above, it will be impossible for him or her to continue believing that a supernatural being created the universe and every species of living organism that has ever existed in six literal days.

And think about this:  If humans are the product of a long process of evolutionary development from lower life forms, why would we ever need a Savior?

The best antidote for fundamentalist religious ignorance is science and a college education!