Friday, March 30, 2007


Critical Responses to the 'Lost Tomb of Jesus' documentry

In February 2007 the Discovery Channel and HarperSanFrancisco announced the release of"The Jesus Family Tomb," a television documentary and a book claiming to reveal the discovery of Jesus' family tomb, complete with Jesus' bones.

The documentry was made by TV director Simcha Jacobovici, and was produced by Titanic director James Cameron.

If these claims are true then, according to the New Testament itself, Christianity is false (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:13-14).

The majority of scholars, both Christian and Non-Christian, agree that the claims made in 'The Jesus Family Tomb' are not true.

Here are a selection of web-links to resources on the controversy surrounding Jacobovici's claims:

Kirby Anderson, 'Tales From the Crypt: Do We Have the Bones of Jesus?'
Dr. John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs 'Nine Facts That Disprove the Discovery Channel's The Lost Tomb of Jesus'
Richard Bauckham, 'The alleged Jesus Family Tomb'
Biola Professors Respond to 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus'
Darell Bock, 'Hollywood Hype: The Oscars and Jesus' Family Tomb - What do they share?'
'A Discussion with Dr. Darrell Bock Regarding Discovery's The Lost Tomb of Jesus' by Dr. John Ankerberg and edited by Dillon Burroughs
Rich Deem, 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus: Have the Bones of Jesus Christ Been Found in Jerusalem?'
Craig A. Evans, 'The Tomb of Jesus and Family?'
Matt Gutman, 'Bones of Contention' (ABC News)
Gary R. Habermas, 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Response'
Melinda Penner, 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus'
Jonathan L. Reed, 'Response to The Lost Tomb of Jesus'
Sceptico: 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus (Not)'
Ben Witherington, 'The Jesus Tomb: "Titanic" Talpiot Theory Sunk From The Start'
Ben Witherington, 'Problems Multiply For Jesus Tomb Theory'
Christianity Today, 'Remains of the Day'
New York Times: 'Leaning on Theory, Colliding With Faith'

'A Response to "The Lost Tomb of Jesus"' - with Ben Witherington

Related Papers on Jesus' Tomb
William Lane Craig, 'The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus'
William Lane Craig, 'The Guard at the Tomb'

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Peter S. Williams discusses UFO's, Aliens and Christianity on Premier Christian Radio

I recently took part in an edition of Justin Brierly's Unbelievable apologetics discussion show on Premier Christian Radio discussing UFO's, Aliens and Christianity as one of two Christian guests providing input along with two non-Christian guests to the show.

There was of course so much more that could have been said than was - on radio one really has to choose one's points with care and make them precisely. For example, some of our discussion centred around Ezekiel's vision of 'wheels within wheels' etc. in 1 Eziekiel. John Allan, the other Christian guest does a good job with discussing the biblical context and hermenutical issues around this passage, but it is worth adding that the passage is known as Eziekiel's 'vision' for a reason: the passage claims not to represent a depiction of something Eziekiel actually saw in space-time history; rather, it is explicitly presented as a mystical, visionary experience, and an experience of God at that. Verses one-three of Ezekiel one read:

'In the thirteenth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exhiles by the Chenbar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exhile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Cenbar canal, and the hand of the LORD was upon him there.'

All of the italicized language makes it clear that when the descriptive passage begins Ezekiel is not trying to describe something that he physically saw with his eyes, something that is either very odd or very hard to describe with the vovabulary available to him (the position of the 'Ezekiel saw a UFO' interpretation). Instead, he is describing a mystical, visionary, religious experience using religious symbolism (for example, wheels represent God's omnipotent power, by analogy with the wheels of the chariots of the military powers of the time), the eyes represent God's omniscience, and so on. By jumping into the book of Ezekiel after verse 3, the visionary nature of what is being described is partly obscured.

On the subject of aliens and so forth, allow me to bring to your attention my paper on Christianity, Space and Aliens also available (with pictures) here and in pdf format here.

Also, the book I mention in the show, Back in Time: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Doctor Who, which I co-wrote with Steve Couch and Tony Watkins, and which contains a chapter on the evidence relevant to the question of whether sentient alien life exists.

Relevant data is also discussed in this paper: Dr. Ray Bohlin, 'Are we alone in the Universe?'

More detailed presentations of the relevant astrobiological data can be found in the books Rare Earth and The Privilaged Planet.

Even if sentient aliens do exist, could they get here from where they live? Astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross thinks this is unlikely. cf. 'Aliens from another world? Geeting from there to here'

Taking boths sets of data into account, it seems very unlikely that UFO's are alien space-craft.

What isn't unlikely is that people misinterpret experiences of everything from tricks of the light to secret military aircraft as extra-terrestiral craft. cf. 'The American Black Triangle', 'MoD confirms "black" military aviation projects exist, sort of', Wikipedia, 'Military Flying Saucers'

cf. The UFO Skeptics Page

Saturday, March 24, 2007


As featured in Wikipedia

Not only does Wikipedia carry a short biography stub of yours truly, the Wikipedia article on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion quotes from one of my published reviews of the book (cf. last but one paragraph):

"Peter S Williams, a Christian philosopher and author, in a review for the Christian charity Damaris International, says that while "The God Delusion is the work of a passionate and rhetorically savvy writer capable of making good points against religious fundamentalism," Dawkins "is out of his philosophical depth". Williams proposes rebuttals to two of the book's arguments against the existence of God: Dawkins' use of the anthropic principle and the "who designed the designer?" objection that according to Williams is at the heart of the 747 Gambit."

(Well, the 'who designed the designer' objection is half the objection made by Dawkins anyway - the other half being the 'you shouldn' explain anything by reference to something more complex' objection. Questions: 1) would it be reasonable to explain this post in terms of intelligent design even if you had no answer to the 'who designed the designer' objection in this case? 2) Is it reasonable to explain this post by reference to intelligent design even though the designer is clearly far more complex than the post? Answers: 1) Yes. Suppose you are wholly agnostic about all proffered explanations of human existence - you are agnostic about evolution, creationism, intelligent design, etc. etc. It would still be rational to posit design to explain this post. Suppose you are the first human being to land on another planet and you discover there a parchment bearing a text. You have no idea who may have designed the text - but you are nonetheless sure that the text was designed. Answer 2) Yes. Humans have yet to design anything more complex than a human - but we routinely explain things with reference to intelligent design by humans.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Bethinking re-publish paper on Dawkins' faith

cf. The Faith Based Dawkins - which is a re-print of my verbosely titled paper 'What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?' – Comparing Dawkins' Blind Faith to Flew's evidence

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Lewis Wolpert’s Question-Begging Obscurantism

Cell biologist and atheist Lewis Wolpert (who is a vice-president of the British Humanist Association and who recently debated God's existence with William Lane Craig) admits that he ‘stopped believing in God when I was 15 or 16 because he didn’t give me what I asked for’[i]; but he contends that his continued atheism is justified because: ‘There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of God.’[ii] Keith Ward had the following revealing exchange with Wolpert concerning this justification in the course of an interview for Third Way magazine:

Ward: What sort of evidence would count for you? Would it have to be scientific evidence of some sort?
Wolpert: Well, no… I think I read somewhere: If he turned the pond on Hamstead Heath into good champagne, it would be quite impressive…
Ward: A miracle would be sufficient?
Wolpert: But then you have to remember what David Hume said, that you wouldn’t believe in a reported miracle unless ‘the falsehood of [the] testimony would be more miraculous than the event which [it] relates.’
Ward: Its one of his worst arguments, in my view.
Wolpert: Hume is the only philosopher I take seriously. I’m big against philosophy…

Wolpert justifies his atheism by complaining that there is no evidence for the existence of God (a complaint that assumes evidence is required for warranted belief in God, but we can let this assumption pass for now). So what sort of evidence would Wolpert accept? Would he accept scientific evidence? On Humean grounds, he would not. Later in the same interview Ward asked Wolpert whether (in principle) there could be evidence of providence in history? Wolpert replied that there ‘absolutely [could] not’[iv] be any such evidence. Wolpert seems to include the evidence of religious experience among purported scientific evidence for God, because having provided a standard explanation of such experience in terms of evolutionary psychology (and despite admitting ‘I don’t have a good explanation, to be quite honest’[v] for why he himself has escaped the evolutionary pressure to believe), Wolpert feels that he can dismiss all such experiences as delusional (an unsurprising move for someone who is a self-confessed ‘reductionist and a materialist’[vi]). If Wolpert rules out scientific evidence for theism, will he accept philosophical evidence? He will not, because he is ‘big against philosophy’ (although he will embrace a double standard in order to allow Hume into the fold, to shore it up against scientific evidence for deity). Having excluded a priori the possibility of there being any evidence for God it is unsurprising that Wolpert can find none. What is surprising is that having excluded a priori the possibility of there being any evidence for God Wolpert should seek to justify his atheism by complaining that ‘the evidence for God is not very good from my point of view.’[vii] Wolpert’s complaint is ultimately not that there is insufficient evidence for theism, but the question begging argument that since the possibility of there being evidence for theism would require reductionistic materialism to be false, and since reductionistic materialism is true, there can’t possibly be any sound evidence for theism!

[i] Lewis Wolpert, ‘The Hard Cell’, Third Way, March 2007, p. 16.
[ii] ibid, p. 17.
[iii] ibid.
[iv] ibid.
[v] ibid, p. 18.
[vi] ibid, p. 17.
[vii] ibid, p. 16.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Carl Sagan says something I agree with!

The March/April edition of Skeptical Inquirer features an excerpt from the new book The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by atheist Carl Sagan. I thought I would re-produce for you the following quote, with which I wholeheartedly agree:

'Does trying to understand the universe at all betray a lack of humility? I believe it is true that humility is the only just response in a confruntation with the universe, but not humility that prevents us from seeking the nature of the universe we are admiring. If we seek that nature, then love can be informed by truth instead of being based on ignorance or self-deception. If a Creator God exists, would He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is, prefer a kind of Sodden blockhead who worships while understanding nothing? Or would he prefer his votaries to admire the real universe in all its intricacy? I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship. My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, then our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves.'

Here here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Richard Fortey rants at straw man of ID

Richard Fortey is the President Of The Geological Society Of London, and received the Michael Faraday Prize on Tuesday 30th January. He wrote the following opinion piece in The Daily Telegraph. The piece is so chock-full of straw men that I just had to make a response. My comments are inserted:

Why I hate this intelligent design story. It's simply IDiotic, writes Richard Fortey

Scientists have found themselves trapped into appearing to be unreasonable in their pursuit of rationality. A snare has been cleverly set by the proponents of Intelligent Design [who are thereby all rhetorically banished from counting as scientists] in their quest to prove that Charles Darwin got it wrong [well, partly wrong]. The vast majority of scientists feel nothing but distress that the teaching of Intelligent Design has been promoted in a number of our schools, particularly the faith schools apparently beloved by Tony Blair. Fundamentalists of both Islamic and Christian persuasion meet on this rather implausible common ground [this is true enough, but it gives the false impression that all ID proponents are religious fundamentalists. Many, perhaps most ID proponents are not fundamentalists. Many fundamentalists dislike ID because it is not creationism! Indeed, some ID proponents are not even religious!]. Both these groups of religious hard liners deplore Darwin and all his works. Scientists tend to get angry when confronted by what they see as the gross distortion of truth promulgated by Intelligent Designers [Once again: some scientists are ID proponents!]. This has come across badly in 'balanced' debates in the media. As was the case with arguments over the MMR vaccine, the scientist when provoked can unwittingly appear to be a fulminating zealot. By contrast, many of the proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) have contrived to appear to be in favour of free speech [they are in favour of free speech!]. Aren't those scientists empurpled with rage and crying "nonsense" the very picture of a threatened Establishment? [Yes.] On this platform the evolutionary scientist rather than the ID enthusiast can seem to be the less reasonable of the two. The trouble stems from the use of the weasel word "theory". Successive Presidents of the United States have got themselves off the hook with the influential Christian fundamentalist lobby by the deployment of this useful but traitorous word. Ronald Reagan would flash his aw-shucks smile and amiably reiterate: "I guess Evolution is just a theory". This has become a mantra among ID proponents [Has it? I hadn't noticed! Note yet again the equation of ID with Christian fundamentalism and creationism. They are not the same thing!]. If evolution is one theory - then ID is another, or so the argument goes. [Rubbish. The argument is that ID is a scientific theory because it uses design detection criteria acceptable to science and applies them to empirical evidence, make falsifiable empirical claims, and so on.] Only a bigot would object to the airing of the alternative explanations. [It certainly seems narrow minded to equate ID with religious fundamentalism and creationism and to object to thinking about it on these grounds.] The crux of ID is that evolution is purposeful, and that an 'invisible hand' has operated at crucial stages to direct the course of life onwards and upwards. The Intelligence of the Designer is manifest at certain critical points - such as the creation of life itself [Actually, it is the activity of an intelligence that is detectable - the intelligence of the designer in the IQ sense is certainly a debateable question]. On the other hand, the scientific 'theory' of evolution actually breaks into two components. The first part is to assert that descent of all organisms from a common ancestor has, indeed, happened [Even some Darwinians question the hypothesis of a universal common ancestor]. To deny this is the equivalent of believing that the earth is flat as a pancake, or that the sun goes round it. [No, it is to follow the evidence where it leads using inferential argumentation.] Both could be described as theories, though nobody has taken them seriously for hundreds of years. Some fundamentalists still believe that creation happened a few thousand years ago. No respectable scientist believes this. [Why are we even discussing this in an article on intelligent design theory??] Since the unscrambling of the genome has recently been added to evidence from the fossil record, it might be said that descent is simply a fact. We share genes with bananas and bacteria. At this deep level, DNA proves that humans are joined to all other life. [The argument from homologous genes is riddled with problems - there is a better argument to be given, from shared genetic mistakes; but this argument does not support universal common ancestry.] This ought to awake nothing but wonder in all of us, but some find the thought of such a brotherhood of life scary [All ID proponents certainly do not fall under this description!]. The other part of Darwinism says that natural selection is the driving force behind evolution. This is where the ID protagonists come in. They accept the long time scale required from what we know of the age of the earth, but substitute supernaturally directed selection at critical points in life's long history [Incorrect, we introduce intelligently directed action, which may or may not be philosophically explained in supernatural terms]. They might say that proteins are too darn complicated to have arisen by natural selection alone [This is an oversimplification - the ID argument does not concern mere complexity, but specified complexity]. This kind of assertion drives rationalists crazy, because it is impossible to refute by a critical experiment. There will always be another protein, another example of that supposed extra, guiding ingredient. [In other words, each and every claim of specified complexity is open to refutation by a critical experiment! If ID kept on making falsified claims then it would certainly suffer epistemic suspicion!] The problem for scientists is that when this additional design factor is added it serves only to suppress questions - and science is all about tackling questions head-on. Why should we spend money on setting up experiments to simulate the creation of the first living cell if the motive force was a "designer"? No experiment can detect such metaphysical seasoning in the primeval soup. [But we don't have to empirically detect the metaphysical nature of a designer to detect the intelligent activity of a designer. Natural and supernatural designers can leave empirically identical signs of design. And suggesting that inferring design is a science stopper is fallacious, as can be seen by suggesting that forensic scientists should no longer infer murder from empirical evidence because this stops them looking for natural causes!!] Science has always been about tackling new areas of knowledge, with theory and experiment interacting creatively . If God's influence is invoked for any breakthrough in life's story, research is simply stopped dead in its tracks: no point in investigating further. ID therefore becomes a brake on discovery, not a way of enriching it. [Did the archaeologist who inferred intelligence as the cause of the Rosetta stone put a break on discovery, or did he open up a new field of fruitful investigations?] In my view, God has overly got mixed into the argument. Scientists are often presented as the champions of atheism. This is typified by Richard Dawkins' views of theistic "delusion". Although I might agree with much of what Dawkins has to say, it might be that his almost theological espousal of atheism has served to up the stakes in the ID debate. In fact, there are many world-class scientists who are also believers [Indeed, and some of them support ID]. But they also believe that God should not be introduced into the explanation of nature [Not all of them believe this! And what about introducing intelligence to explain things in science?]. Scientists of my generation remember the meretricious attractions of Tielhard de Chardin and his noosphere, the idea that the end of evolution is a kind of super-consciousness: not one scientific hypothesis of worth was generated from this metaphysical mayhem. A worthwhile theory always suggests new lines of investigation, and on this criterion Darwinism has passed with flying colours [The same could be said for ID. For example, ID promotes the search for function whereas Darwinism retards the search for function - hence the whole 'pseudo-gene' episode!]. Field and laboratory studies helping us to understanding how evolution works are beyond counting. The behaviour of Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands has been studied for decades. A million generations of fruit flies have given up their lives to unravel the mysteries of the expression of genes. [All of which is largely irrelevant to the ID debate, or serves to show the limitations of natural processes to create new information!] In the process many debates have opened up - like the relative importance of sex or geography in generating new species. This does not mean that Darwin is in trouble. It just means that the science is still vigorous, that understanding is honed progressively. So that is why biologists get so mad at the propagation of ID. It wastes time. It suppresses research rather than encouraging it. It's not really a theory, it's a story. It deflects the young from asking the important questions. It serves to kill curiosity rather than encourage it. [No, no, no, no and no! ID encourages the search for function, it encourages research into a broader range of questions than those allowed by Darwinists, it is a scientific theory that encourages curiosity and asking the really big questions! Darwinists assume nature can do everything and anything, whereas ID forces us to see how much it can really do in order to see how much it cannot do.] Sometimes it is right to get angry in the face of unreason. Darwinists are readily labelled. There should be an equivalent term for the proponents of Intelligent Design. May I suggest IDiots? [While Darwinists provided their own name, this childishly rude title does not allow the proponents of the ID theory to choose their own name for their theory. Descending to name-calling is not going to help the Darwinist cause shift the appearance of 'a threatened Establishment'! Rather, it confirms it.]

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Is Religion the World's 10th Worst Invention?

According to a poll conducted by BBC Focus Magazine this month, religion is number 10 candidate for the world's worst invention. Of course, it begs the question to assume that religion is a human invention rather than a discovery! Here's what Focus has to say about religion:

'Religion. Many blame religion for starting or fuelling wars. It has often had a difficult relationship with science. Many early scientists believed in a deity - Sir Issac Newton regognised that the Sun's gravity caused the orbits of the planets, but believed God created the solar system. Science and religion sit uncomfortably together today, with the theories of intelligent design and natural selection battling it out.'

Some observations. The 'warfare' model of the relationship between science and Christianity is largely abandoned by informed scholarship today. The comment that science and religion sit ill at ease today, 'with the theories of intelligent design and natural selection battling it out', incorrectly assumes that intelligent design theory is not a scientific theory. It also overlooks the fact that many religious people are entirely happy with the theory of evolution, as long as it is not subsumed within a metaphysically naturalistic philosophical frame (as in the writing of Richard Dawkins). Finally, it is too simplistic to say that ID is battling it out with natural selection, since ID accepts the reality of natural selection. What many ID theorists to not accept, it is extrapolated idea that natural selection acting upon random genetic variations can fully account for all of the available empirical data. ID and natural selection is a both/and, not an either/or situation.

A final observation: Many people do indeed look upon religion as a) an invention and b) a bad invention at that. However, religion only came in tenth place in this poll. Beating religion into tenth place were such horrible realities as: speed cameras (9th), fast food (8th), and television (7th). Mobile phones came in second!

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Craig vs. Wolpert - a mini-debate from radio 4

Have a listen to this mini debate between William Lane Craig and Lewis Wolpert on BBC Radio 4.

Wolpert just doesn't get Craig's philosophical points, which are correct. Having said that he thinks there is evidence for God (Craig mentions the kalam cosmological argument, the moral argument and the fine tuning design argument), Craig challenges Wolpert's assumption that one must have evidence for God in order to rationally believe in God. Craig points to the existence of properly basic beliefs, beliefs that are rational to hold but which are not justified on the basis of other beliefs. If there were no properly basic beliefs humans could not rationally believe anything because we would have to have an infinite regress of evidence for all our beliefs, which is impossible. Havind had this explained with several analogies, Wolpert reveals that he just didn't get the point by simply repeating the same objection.

The same point about infinite regress and explanation comes into play when Craig answers Wolpert's 'who designed the designer?' objection to the design argument. Craig points out that for an explanation of some set of data to be rational, one need not have an explanation of the explanation - if one did have to do that, then explanation would be inmpossible because once again to explain anything would invoke an infinite regress, in which case science would be impossible. Hence Wolpert's use of the 'explain that explanation' demand is rather ironic!

Tom Price has a neat summary of the actual debate between Craig and Wolpert, which shows Wolpert failing to learn the lessons of his mini-debate with Craig:

William Lane Craig vs. Lewis Wolpert

Craig, 'God exists, here is the evidence.'
Wolpert, 'God doesn't exist, there is no evidence.'
Craig, 'God exists, here is the evidence.'
Wolpert, 'God doesn't exist, who made God?'
Craig, 'God does exist, he is an uncaused eternal being. Here is the evidence.'
Wolpert, 'God doesn't exist. He hasn't done anything in the last 2,000 years.'
Craig, 'That's chronological snobbery. You don't tell the time with an argument, you don't tell if an argument is true or false, of if evidence is good or bad with a watch.'
Wolpert, 'God doesn't exist. We believe because we have a notion of cause and effect, this leads to toolmaking, and also to belief in God.'
Craig, 'That's the genetic fallacy. To confuse the origin of a belief with it's truth or falsity. You need to deal with the arguments and evidence that I have presented.'
Wolpert, 'God doesn't exist. There is no evidence. Who made God?'
Craig, 'Here is the evidence. God is an uncaused being. God does exist.'
Wolpert, 'God doesn't exist. There is no evidence.'
Craig, 'God does exist. Here is the evidence.'

Here is another eye-witness report of the Lewis-Wolpert debate from Raskolnikov (P.S. The Peter Williams who has a comment on this page is not me!)

Craig is currently touring England with UCCF in the 'Reasonable Faith' Tour of debates and lectures.

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