A systematic life change, of a radical sort, is certainly a 'conversion'
(in the psychological sense of the word, not the religious sense), but
conversions are paradigm shifts, which may or may not be due to a 'revelation'.
It might be due to standard phil.science type issues, or even due to flashes
of insight, or even value-adjustments (as often occur in life-change or
But, as I mentioned in part one, 'insight' is not the same as 'revelation'. Revelation requires a 'revealer'-a conscious, choosing agent. As such, the very word 'revelation'-if STRICTLY used-requires some kind of personal or supra-personal being. Any other usage is metaphorical at best. A simple monism of 'substance' or 'cosmic unity' [a la many of the Eastern religions and some brands of pure mysticism] will not do. Someone claiming "special knowledge" in those religious will have to do so on the basis of 'insight' NOT 'revelation'. Big, big difference.
For example, a sweet-spirited Buddhist visited the Tank via email and let what amounts to a 'no comment' on this issue:
"Since Buddhists became aware of Jesus Christ (after all, he is a relative newcomer), he has traditionally been viewed as a Buddha. That is, an enlightened being who appeared in a certain culture at a certain time and taught a message designed to ease suffering based on the karma of that culture and time. On the whole, I accept this interpretation but it would require a full explanation of the nature of buddhas and the nature of karma to make this a truly meaningful statement. An understanding of the meaning of enlightenment would require a detailed study of many other eastern ideas, premises, and proofs and confirmation through experience in this world of illusions and a penetration or transcendence of those illusions.
SO, even a buddha-like experience still nets out at 'insight'-he claimed to see clearly for the first time the 'real nature of reality'. As such, for me the skeptic, I still have to place this in the 'human opinion' category-noble, insightful, even beautiful in many ways-but still at the epistemic 'privilege' level of the man in the street. The change in lifestyle associated with Buddha's change, accordingly, falls into the category of psychological conversion or value-shift. It can only appeal in a 'competitive' situation (like at my apartment door) to a pragmatic value set (e.g.. 'it historically has been shown to reduce human experience of suffering') rather than to some transcendental 'revealed' truth (e.g. 'this can be accepted as being transcendentally better because Someone in a better epistemic position-Creator/God-has shared this 'secret' with us).
So, a life-change-if consistent with the alleged revelation and pervasive to the extreme-tells us more about how much the recipient believed the content than whether we should or not. If the claim is to 'insight' rather than to non-metaphorical 'revelation' by a cognitive Revealer, then it does not even fall into the category of 'evidence' for special, privileged knowledge. The systematic consistency or pragmatic 'cure' value of the insight is its 'evidence'-NOT some evidence that its source transcended human limitations.
The contrast between a Buddha whose life was 'consistently and pervasively changed' by the vividness of his 'insight' and a Moses who experienced an audible voice, identifying itself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob cannot be stronger. Buddha will have to 'discover' and 'extract' rules of right living from experience; Moses will have to 'hear' and 'understand' the 'real' rules disclosed by a cognitively competent God, through language and symbol.
[From a pure precision standpoint, the probability of humans getting the correct understanding of 'right living' or 'right being' from language is significantly higher that from pure (or even meditative) experience. Language-although it is subject to its own type of ambiguity-is orders of magnitude more easily 'parsed', disambiguated, and interpreted than is brute experience, meditative states, mystical experiences, and observed patterns. And this interpretation into propositional or normative statements (e.g. 'you should believe this about reality' or 'you should treat your fellow this way' or 'you should avoid these common practices') must PRECEED validation and authentication of the law-like obligatory status of those statements. The 'workload' is greatly increased, and the confidence level accordingly reduced, in those systems of belief based on 'insight' and authenticated by pragmatics.]
A systemic life-change of the recipient, then, would be a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for claims of a revealed truth.
Evidence Type Number TWO: Possession of knowledge not previously
known by the 'prophet'.
This is often considered a standard theme of prophets-that the prophet knows facts about the future (e.g. the destruction of Tyre), or suddenly knows present facts unknowable to himself/herself given their personal histories (e.g. Joseph Smith and 'New Hieroglyphs', Mohammed and literacy, modern day psychics).
It must be remembered that to constitute 'revelation' this knowledge must already be known (in the fullest sense of the word) by some Revealer, and be imparted or disclosed to the recipient in some way.
The main challenge in this arena should be obvious-how to demonstrate that prior knowledge or guesses were not covertly involved or sub-consciously emergent. A second challenge-not altogether independent form the first-is to determine the 'probability' of random insights or guesses. This last challenge can be greatly aggravated by the precision level of the 'revelation'. The knowledge MUST be very specific and detailed to count as support or evidence. A mere 'God will do something in our land' is not generally specific enough to count (by itself) as evidence, nor is "knowledge" that someone in a crowd of a thousand people is 'experiencing deep emotional stress'.
The special knowledge must therefore be (1) precise enough to be low probability without 'outside' personal-and-disclosive involvement; and (2) demonstrably 'incompatible' with the individual history of the recipient. And, of course, this special knowledge must be correct.
Let's look briefly at two of the people at the door--one is a Muslim and one is a Mormon.
When I ask the Muslim about his holy book (Quran), concerning miraculous claims, he seems unsure as to what to say. He tells me that the Quran itself offers no miraculous evidence for its inspiration (neither did Mohammed, of course) so the 'precise knowledge of the future' cannot apply here. I find this curious, but he assures me that Surah 3.181-84 is understood this way. However, the door-person does volunteer (albeit somewhat hesitantly) the statement that subsequent Islamic leaders have found miraculous prophecies in the Quran. [At this point, I hear the Christian giggle and mutter "Ouch! That's gotta hurt!", but I shut him up quickly by asking him to reconcile Jesus' statement of 'no sign will be given' with His disciples' use of His miracles as proof of His deity...I see the mental torque paralyzing him for a moment, so I turn back to my Muslim door-friend.] Puzzled, I ask why the Quran and Mohammed didn't argue this, but I cannot make sense out of the reply. When the door-person starts talking about the Quran's pre-knowledge of the speed of light and genetic theory and the such like, I ask how precise is the wording of this in the Quran for these prophecies? (For I DO allow that a future prediction COULD be embedded in the text without the prophet knowing it--that could make sense to me, since the Quran was supposedly dictated by God and/or an Angel). For calculating the speed of light through the vacuum of space in 1000 lunar years, he first gives me Surah 22:47: "And they ask you to hasten on the punishment, and Allah will by no means fail in His promise, and surely a day with your Lord is as a thousand years of what you number"...[whereupon we are interrupted by screams of outrage from the Jew: "Hey, he ripped half of that off of Moses in Psalm 90!" and from the Christian: "Hey, he ripped ALL of that off of 2 Peter 3.8-9!"...but I assure them both that we will come back to that issue...]...and then the Muslim delivers the specific Surah that teaches this scientific truth (32.5): "He regulates the affair from the heaven to the earth; then shall it ascend to Him in a day the measure of which is a thousand years of what you count"...hmmm...maybe it's clearer and more forceful in the original Arabic...I am underwhelmed...
And for the pre-knowledge of human reproduction and genetics, I get Surahs like 75.37-38: "Was he not a small seed in the seminal elements, Then he was a clot of blood, so He created (him) then made (him) perfect" and Surah 22.5: "We created you from dust, then from a small seed, then from a clot, then from a lump of flesh, complete in make and incomplete, that We may make clear to you; and We cause what We please to stay in the wombs till an appointed time, then We bring you forth as babies..." And I have to ask my door-person a simple question--would not every person in antiquity know this? (I even hear the Jew and the Christian whispering--"ask him about Onan in Genesis 38 and the 'semen' passages in Leviticus".) Do these Surahs describe anything that a person who had seen the common miscarriage in ancient time would not have known? [Also, it is all I can do to refrain from asking him why Allah called His monotheistic-Self 'We', but I don't want to get into a theologix-fight this early...]
I comment that we should have stuck with the original position--no special knowledge claimed by the original prophet/revelation and gone from there. I then ask if there is any other thing he wishes to adduce as evidence for the inspiration of the Quran and he says he will wait until we get to Evidence Type 9. But as I am turning to the Mormon guy, he does mumble something about Mohammed being illiterate as evidence for the miraculous nature and/or special knowledge. Hmmm....now we may have something here...
I ask him if this is a common argument and he says that Islamic apologists do sometimes cite this. I ask how they know this about the Prophet and he says that the Quran affirms it in Surah 7.157, calling him the 'unlettered' prophet. I ask about the word 'unlettered'--is it always translated that way? The door-person admits that not only is it not always translated that way, but that it is not even normally translated that way. I am astonished, but he states that it is normally translated 'Gentile' in Surahs such as 62.2; 2.73; 3.19, 69; 7.159..."Oh", and I point out that illiteracy could still be true, and I ask what M. did for a living...I am told that he was a successful merchant in very cosmopolitan and international Mecca...hmmm...I ask if there are any traditions about him writing anything, and the door-person points out that he did apparently read/modify some treaty of Hudaibah himself, by editing the document with a pen and that he called for pen and ink on his deathbed...Hmmm...Trying one more angle, I ask how old was he when he began to write down his revelations, and I am told that he did not write them down himself--that his followers and students wrote them down over a 3-5 decade process.
This case seems to violate the 'precision' issue AND the 'incompatibility' issue, although my visitor was careful not to bank on this to begin with. So, I know now to wait until Evidence Type 9 for the Muslim dude...
At this point, I notice the Jew and Christian looking superior and motioning to say something. I give them the floor for a minute and then they both start talking about historical inaccuracies and contradictions within the Koran [The Muslim shouts out 'alleged' every time either of them use the word 'contradiction']. After about 120 seconds of this, I stop them and ask them if no one accuses THEIR revelatory book of the same charges. I ask the Muslim if he has web sites accusing the bible of contradictions and historical inaccuracies and he says 'yes'...I hear the Christian and Jew mutter 'alleged' under their breath, so I tell the guys to be quiet while we continue...And as I turn to the next door-person, I hear the Muslim gloat in the general direction of the Christian--"Just wait until we get to Type9, subcategory "preservation of the text"--you'll be soooorrrryyyyyy!" And the Christian smiles back and says, "No problem. At this rate, we will have the whole world evangelized by the time Glenn gets to EvidenceTypeNine!"...
The Mormon brightens as I turn to him (actually, it is a pair of them). I ask them to state the 'special knowledge' of their revelation, and they produce detailed lists of previously unknown cities, inscriptions, events, persons, etc. NOW this is something to work with--very detailed, although most of it is historical and not prophetic in nature. But at least we can test it against some historical data. After all, it specifically makes historical claims that SHOULD have at least some evidence in archeology and history to support it. I am excited!
So, being an amateur historian-type, I start down my list:
So, the lack of ANY confirming data from archeological data for the Mormon is a show-stopper problem, but ONLY IF there is some negative data. [If there is neither confirming nor contrary data, I cannot take it seriously--there is nothing there that compels assent, and from an epistemic standpoint, I would be unjustified in believing such a system.].
So, I have to ask the dissonant-data question to the Mor-mim: is there archex/historical data AGAINST your book, and if so, how extensive or strong is it? He said the only issue he/they knew of was something about Smith's alleged 'special ignorance' of actual hieroglyphs. I didn't understand all of the story, but it had to do with some actual Egyptian papyri that Smith 'translated' from hieroglyphics into English and published as the Book of Abraham in Times and Seasons in 1842. He claimed that Abraham himself signed the papyri. It seems, however, that the leading Egyptologists and linguists of the day (including scholars like Breasted and Flinders Petrie!) repudiated completely his translation. The manuscripts were subsequently lost until 1967, when the repudiation by Egyptologists occurred all over again. The scholars documented that not a single word of Smith's translation matched the document, and that the document in fact was 1,500 years too late for Abraham.
This bothered me a little, but it was all the contrary data they had...but standing behind them was the Jew and the Christian waving raised hands (like students) begging to speak their piece...I instructed them quite firmly to be kind and fair in their criticism and make SURE it related ONLY to the issue of historical problems in the BOM--no theologies or ritual or basketball team type issues...[They looked dejected, but nodded mutely...]
At first they both started speaking excitedly about 'contradictions' and 'historical inaccuracies' in the BOM, but I remind them of the 'been there, done that' deal we with had with the Muslim, and they quiet down.
I let the Jewish guy go first...He advanced an interesting point. He asked the Mormon group when the BOM was supposed to be in existence. They replied that the BOM was in the possession of the Nephites back in 600 BC. So the Jew said: "So how then can your BOM quote or allude to OT books that were written AFTER that, huh?!" And he cites a section of I Nephi 22.15 ("for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned") and has me read Malachi 4.1 ("For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts.").
The Mormon shifts his weight, and the Jew attacks again. "And what about 3rd Nephi 28.21-22 ("And thrice they were cast into a furnace and received no harm. And twice they were cast into a den of wild beasts; and behold they did play with the beasts as a child with a suckling lamb and received no harm")? Looks to me like you simply 'remembered' the experiences of the book of Daniel, no?" (He also begged me to compare Alma 10.2 with Daniel's 'handwriting on the wall' passage, but I told him I already got the point.)
The Mormon seems a little confused, so I ask the obvious question of the Jew: "But who borrowed from whom? How do you know Daniel and Malachi weren't alluding to Nephi or whatever?" But the Jew was characteristically quick--"Well, it might make sense in the case of the discourse of Malachi, but NOT in the case of the event of Daniel! You wouldn't get the rulers of the foreign governments in the experiences to follow the pattern in Nephi!" hmmm....good point.
As I was pondering this, the Christian piped up "But it gets MUCH worse, dude...the BOM also quotes or alludes to the New Testament, some 6 centuries later, over 400 times!"
Well, that got my attention. If that were true, that would constitute a very strong argument against the 'special knowledge' claims of the Mor-men before me. I asked the Christian guy to give me a couple of the strongest and clearest examples first. He started down a list...
I ask the Mormon leader about this, and all I get is "Well, we would EXPECT God to use similar language in His various revelations"...and then I protest slightly with a "but translation errors?!"...
At this point, in all honesty, and without even getting into the issue of theology, I have to give up on the 'standard' BOM claim to revelation. [This is not to say that Mormon arguments from some OTHER revelatory base would still be subject to consideration, or that certain more-biblically based Mormons should not be taken quite seriously, but only that the 'post-biblical' revelations around Smith have anti-credibility.]
The Mormons turn to leave dejectedly, but I stop them for a second. I explain that they could still help me, because I will want their input when I get around to grilling the bible-types. Surely they have some issue with how the Jews and Christians deal with this issue, I reason, and they good-naturedly agree to stay for that part.
For a second, let me talk about specificity in this category of 'special knowledge'.
I received an email in 1996 with alleged revelations and prophecies in it. It gave places and dates of where/when the prophecies occurred, but the prophecies were so general as to be useless for 'apologetic' purposes and probably for theological purposes as well. Here are some of the prophecies:
The first one he mentions is Isaiah's knowledge of the name of the Persian king Cyrus. In Isaiah 44.28 and 45.1, the prophet Isaiah names this person by name as someone the Lord will use to rebuild Jerusalem. This sounds interesting, so I ask for more detail.
Isaiah was an 8th century BCE prophet. Cyrus was born two centuries later. At the time of the prophecy, Jerusalem was a thriving city, yet the prophecy is worded thus:
So, the next question is clear--was this knowledge "un-knowable" to Isaiah?
Well, there are two questions here--the first is easy: the relative life spans of Isaiah and Cyrus. But the second is more difficult: what reason do we believe that Isaiah actually WROTE the word 'Cyrus' in there? Could not someone have simply ADDED the word in there to make the prophecy be more convincing?
The Jew is apparently primed for this question, for he is grinning as I even frame these concerns. The first one he answers very easily, by simple dictionary and encyclopedia entries. Isaiah was simply way too early to know about Cyrus (or Persia's rise even), and Cyrus was not a generic name, etc.
The second question involves a bit more complex (and logical) reasoning. Cyrus was after the Prophet Daniel, and Daniel quotes from the prophet Jeremiah in Daniel 9.2. But Jeremiah knew of and alluded to Isaiah (and specifically the sections in which the Cyrus passages reside). And this puts the Isaiah passage way too early. He also points out that the post-exilic writers (2 Chr 36; Ezra) have knowledge of this as well, which would not be the case if Cyrus were a much later interjection. He also points out that ALL interpreters see a very tight literary structure and integration in the passage. The linkages seem fairly tight.
I am impressed and ask for another. The Jews speaks of the prophecies of the inter-testamental empires in the Book of Daniel. He reads this passage to me but it has so much symbolism in it, I have to object. But he counters well. He points out that in the first part of this century the vast majority of biblical scholarship was anti-miraculous and would not even admit to the possibility of predictive prophecy. Yet this same group (with a strongly anti-supernaturalistic bias!) saw an incredible correspondence between the succession of empires in history and the descriptions in this passage in Daniel, that they HAD to date the passage after the fact! In other words, competent historical understanding of the imagery upheld the Jewish guy's use of the passage.
"So, they dated it after the fact--why don't you believe them?" I asked.
His response was once again well-prepared. "Because it's too late! Had we had this conversation back then, before the Dead Sea Scrolls, I might have agreed with them. But the linguistic data from Qumran shows that the language of Daniel ONLY FITS the traditional period!"
And example number three? (And keep it short--I have to get ready for a business trip.) He proceeds then to take me through some detailed prophecy about Tyre and Sidon and some island being scraped clean, followed by descriptions in ancient history books about the fulfillment of this prediction. I ask about how cities were normally destroyed in the ancient world (to see how unusual this prediction was), and it didn't match the prophecy at all. So, at this point I have to give the Jew credit.
Now, it began to dawn on me that we might be headed for a different (but related issue)--the percentage of hits versus misses.
I remember being impressed as a college student when I found out that Jeanne Dixon had predicted the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It was quite impressive until I found out the real truth: she had predicted the assassination of the President AND had predicted that Nixon would win the election! I learned both a lesson on precision and specificity and a lesson on 'accidental' hits.
The issue this raises of course is the hit:miss ration of these prophets. What was a considered a 'good' ratio for that religion and how did they stack up against it. His answer was odd enough to make me take notice: the record had to be perfect. Eh? The criterion for a prophet was that he could not even miss ONE (Deut 18). This was so strange (but something that MIGHT make sense if the god were involved somehow). When I asked him about the actual ratio of the prophets in the Tanakh, he said it was perfect (or close to perfect). When I pressed him on this last point, he said that the data on some of the prophecies is not in yet, since they are still yet future. But he added that the pattern of abnormal fulfillment gave adequate warrant for expecting the best of those...
And at this point...I had to give my computer up to my daughter to work
on her college project, while I pack for my business trip...more to come
(and soon--I have to get to Type9 before the Muslim accuses me of letting
the Christian win by default or filibuster)...