The Fivefold Challenge
[ref002]_The_Skeptical_Review_: 1995: Number
Four: The Fivefold Challenge
Fundamentalist Christians claim that the Bible is a historically accurate
work in every detail. They delight in showing how "modern archaeology"
has verified this little biblical detail or that minor biblical event.
But something they don't talk about much is the failure of
modern archaeology to confirm some major events in the Bible.
Specifically, there are five major miraculous events in the Bible
which are completely unconfirmed by modern archaeology. These
The parting of the sea by Moses
The stopping of the sun by Joshua
The reversal of the sun's course by Isaiah
The feeding of thousands of people by Jesus using
only five loaves of bread and two fishes
(Mark 6:34-44; see also the parallel accounts in
Luke 9:12-17, and
The resurrection of the saints, and their subsequent
appearance to many
The Argument From Silence
When skeptics point out that some event in the Bible is
unconfirmed by non-biblical records, fundamentalists usually
respond by claiming that this is an argument from silence, and
that just because nobody else confirms it doesn't mean it
didn't happen. Sometimes, this is a legitimate response--
the argument from silence is not always valid. If
the event is an ordinary event which attracted little
attention, or a private event not witnessed by others, than
the argument from silence cannot be used to show the event
But in the case of the above five miracles, the argument from
silence is perfectly valid. All five of these miracles
were allegedly witnessed by thousands of people-- indeed, two of these
miracles would have been visible worldwide. Hence, fundamentalists
cannot claim that the events were simply not noticed by others.
Furthermore, all five of these events were of an extraordinary
nature. They are the most impressive miracles in the Bible,
more impressive than even the resurrection of Jesus. It would
be absurd to claim that other people could have witnessed a change
in the sun's course, or the resurrection of a large number of
long dead people, without having been amazed by it.
Such events would have attracted widespread attention
and generated dozens of documents concerning them. Take the
resurrection of the saints, for instance. Other first-century
Christians would have used this event as further proof of
Jesus' divinity-- Paul and the other gospels would certainly
have mentioned it, for instance. Or how about the sun turning
backwards? This would have been visible worldwide, and thus
other cultures active at the time would have noticed the
event and offered their own explanations, in keeping with
their own cultural and religious beliefs. And so forth.
Hence, the argument from silence is valid in the case of
these miracles. If no other evidence can be found to
support them, we are justified in concluding that they
never happened, and thus that the Bible is wrong in at
least five points.
With this in mind, I present The Fivefold Challenge. The challenge is
this: Pick any one of the five miracles listed above, and provide
one piece of documentary evidence that confirms this miracle.
The evidence must conform to the following requirements:
The evidence must be contemporary. It should have been
written shortly after the miracle in question.
The evidence must be independent. The author must
have obtained his information about this miracle from a
source other than the biblical book(s) in which the miracle is
The evidence must be unambiguous. The document
should clearly describe the miracle in question. I will not accept
claims which argue from double entendre or hidden meanings, unless you
can prove that a person living in the time and place
in which the document was
written would have clearly understood the hidden reference.
The evidence must be reliable. The evidence
must have been written by a person known to be reliable. If the
document's author is unknown, the rest of the document must be
shown to be reliable. Other miraculous claims within the document
will disqualify the document unless
these additional miracle claims can themselves be independently
Reward (Sort Of)
I wish I could offer a monetary reward for anybody meeting the
challenge, a la Ralph Nielsen or the Skeptical Review.
Alas, I just don't have $1,000 to toss around-- not that I'm
worried about losing it, but I believe it's wrong to offer a
reward you can't pay, even if you know you'll never need to
pay it. I'm also not interested in getting sued over the
matter, which has happened to some skeptics who offer rewards.
So instead, I'll
offer something more valuable-- a chance at saving my eternal
soul. If somebody manages to meet the challenge successfully,
I will either read three books of that person's choice, or attend
a church of the denomination of that person's choice for three
months. To a fundamentalist, that kind of reward is probably
more valuable than money anyway.
Those wishing to take me up on The Fivefold Challenge may
contact me at the following address:
2496 Hard Road
Dublin, OH 43016
specifically ask me not to, I reserve the right to publish
your answers, with your name intact.
So to those fundamentalists who truly believe that
archaeology confirms the Bible (and who would like a shot at
impressing, and maybe even converting, an atheist) here's your
chance to prove it. I wish you luck-- you'll need it.
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