Power of Prophecy

‘Christians regularly assert that the Bible predicts future historical events. For instance, Deuteronomy 28:64 says, “And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other.” Jesus says, in Luke 19:43-44, “For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.” We are meant to believe that these utterances predict the subsequent history of the Jews with such uncanny specificity so as to admit of only a supernatural explanation.

But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as “In the latter half of the twentieth century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers—the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus—and this system shall be called the Internet.” The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you. […]

Why doesn’t the Bible say anything about electricity, or about DNA, or about the actual age and size of the universe? What about a cure for cancer? When we fully understand the biology of cancer, this understanding will be easily summarized in a few pages of text. Why aren’t these pages, or anything remotely like them, found in the Bible? Good, pious people are dying horribly from cancer at this very moment, and many of them are children. The Bible is a very big book. God had room to instruct us in great detail about how to keep slaves and sacrifice a wide variety of animals. To one who stands outside the Christian faith, it is utterly astonishing how ordinary a book can be and still be thought the product of omniscience.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 20

5 thoughts on “Power of Prophecy

  1. The Bible’s ability to prophecy lost me when it failed to mention the list of those saved souls as being recorded in “The Lamb’s Laptop of Life” —

  2. Valid. Anyway, that seems a heck of a penalty for failing to read the time! :)

    Also, what can be the value of prophesies only recognised as such (using wild stretches of imagination) after they have happened?

  3. Precisely, “after they have happened” – a kind of postdiction. Vague nonsense of any kind can be written about wars, oranges, couch cushions, et cetera; it can hardly be argued that ‘prophesies’ (whatever those may be) are the kind of things that civilised society should occupy themselves with, now or at any time.

    ‘For one thing, he certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.” Then he says, “There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom”; and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed that His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living.

    That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of a good deal of His moral teaching. When He said, “Take no thought for the morrow,” and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought that the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count. I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did believe that the second coming was imminent.

    I knew a parson who frightened his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was very imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he was planting trees in his garden. The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent. In that respect, clearly He was not so wise as some other people have been, and He was certainly not superlatively wise.’

    – Russell. B. (1927) Why I am not a Christian. An essay based on a lecture delivered to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall on March 6, 1927.

    Chandler: I am here, on my knees, holding up these couch cushions as a symbol of my sorrow and regret, much like they did in biblical times… Though you may haveth anger now…!
    – Friends (1996) Season 2, Episode 14; “The One with the Prom Video” [No. 38]

  4. Third-century theologian, Hippolytus of Rome, late second- and early third-century historian, Sextus Julius Africanus, and even early Church Father and apologist, Irenaeus, were erroneous when all three independently predicted the end of the world in 500 CE. Africanus later revised his estimate to 800 CE, just to be on the safe side.

    In 1284, Pope Innocent III predicted that the world would end 666 years after the rise of Islam. On the Islamic side of the coin, Egyptian bio-chemist and self-proclaimed Messenger of Allah, Rashad Khalifa (assassinated, 1990), predicted the end in 2280.


  5. How convenient to make an utterly unfounded prediction about an event outside your own lifetime. Although, I guess such an individual is more cunning than some fool suffering from religious hysteria who convinces people to sell lock, stock and barrel – less dangerous too I might add.

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