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Atheist Tuesday: The Prophetic Apologetic

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When all else fails in trying to convince an unbeliever of the veracity of the Bible, point to the prophecies: There are nearly 300 prophecies  about the Messiah that Jesus fulfills in the bible.

Mathematician Peter Stoner, in his book, Science Speaks, did the math. The odds of Jesus fulfilling just 8 of the 300 prophecies written about the Messiah are incredible. There is just one chance in 10 to the 28th power that this could happen. That looks like this:

1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!!!

“But could Jesus have merely fulfilled these prophecies by accident?” Lee Strobel asked in The Case for Christ. “Could it be that he’s just one of many throughout history who have coincidentally fit the prophetic fingerprint?”

Put it this way: Take 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 silver dollars and spread them out across the State of Texas. That would cover the land to a depth of two feet. Now mark one silver dollar with an X and have a blind man walk the entire state, bend down and pick up one coin. What would be the odds of him choosing the marked coin? Those are the same odds that anybody in history could have fulfilled just 8 of those prophecies.

Dr. Stoner estimated that the probability of fulfilling 48 prophecies was one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion.

That is, one chance in trillion to the 13th power.

That’s equal to the number of miniscule atoms in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, billion universes the size of our universe.

“The odds alone say it would be impossible for anyone to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies. Yet Jesus—and only Jesus throughout all of history—managed to do it,” says  Louis Lapides a Jewish convert to Christ.

This was taken from a sermon based on Matthew 4:13-17 that I preached four times last weekend. You can listen to it or watch it by clicking here.

18 Comments

  1. It annoys me when people who don’t understand probability calculations decide to discuss probability calculations, especially ones that aren’t even correct.

    For example, I’d like to see ANY believer here do the work to show how you get the results claimed in this post (i.e., “The odds of Jesus fulfilling just 8 of the 300 prophecies written about the Messiah are incredible. There is just one chance in 10 to the 28th power that this could happen.“).

    I hate seeing math get abused like this; it’s completely dispersuasive.

    Hey! I just rolled 20 dice and got a 5, 4, 1, 3, 4, 6, 6, 5, 1, 1, 1, 1, 4, 2, 1, 6, 5, 6, 5, 3!

    Oh my goodness! What are the chances of that happening? Especially that string of four 1s!! Do you know what the chance of that happening is??

    Of course not, because you guys don’t know or understand probability calculations, and you make that point abundantly clear every time you bring it up.

    And here we’re talking about a situation where the gospel authors knew of the prophecies. Ask a Jew sometime just how many prophecies Jesus fulfilled; their answer is very different from yours, and it was the Jews who wrote the prophecies.

    /rant

    Lastly, who can find the problem with the following statement?

    The odds alone say it would be impossible for anyone to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies.

    Question for Steve: at what point do odds go from “possible” to “impossible”? 1 in 10^100? 1 in 10^200? What’s the magical threshold?

    • I’m still waiting for a believer to show me the probability calculation used to determine who will win a Lucha Libre match, based on the heights and weights of the competitors.

      Anyone see a small problem with that idea?

  2. Oh my gosh!!!

    I just found the calculations!!

    Anyone that understands probability calculations, here it is: http://lamblion.com/articles/articles_bible6.php (and that’s a believer’s site).

    And… wow. The errors made are absolutely astounding. I won’t spend a lot of time explaining them to people who don’t really care (because, let’s be honest, you like these numbers because they agree with you, and not because they were calculated correctly), but I’ll explain one thing:

    In his calculation for the 8 prophecies, he multiplies the probabilities together, even though some of those prophecies rely on another prophecy to be correct!

    For example, you can’t buy the potter’s field with the betrayal money, unless you first have the betrayal money, right? Yet he multiplies those two probabilities together! :-O He also estimates (not calculates, but estimates) the chance of a man being betrayed and receiving wounds in his hands to be 1 in 1,000.

    Why? Oh, no reason, he just made it up.

    Yeeesh. So much wrong with this.

    • For even more fun, use Prof Stoner’s logic to calculate the probability of every single person that was in church at Hope Chapel this past Sunday, given that they were sitting, listening, singing hymns, and talking after the service.

      OHMYGOODNESS IT MUST BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR THAT TO HAPPEN!

      😀

    • P(A and B) = P(A) * P(B|A)
      P(A) = The probability of A = The probability that the Messiah will be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver = 1 in 1000
      P(B|A) = The probability of A given B = The probability that the betrayal money will be used to purchase a potter’s field given that 30 pieces of silver of betrayal money was received = 1 in 1000
      P(A and B) = The probability of A and B = The probability that the Messiah will be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver and the betrayal money will be used to purchase a potter’s field = 1 in 1,000,000

      • Wow! And that’s just two prophecies! Think our atheists friends will refute your formula too?

      • The refutation is pretty easy:

        How did sciencewhiz get “1 in 1000” for both P(A) and P(B|A)? Where did that come from? What is that based on?

        I’ll say it again: use this same logic to calculate the probability of the exact group of people who where attending service at Hope Chapel this past Sunday, and you’ll see the problem.

        In other news, I realized last night that all sciencewhiz and Prof Stoner are really doing is stating a tautology:

        If the Bible is accurate and correct with its messianic claims, then the Bible is correct and accurate with its messianic claims

        Which… is not too persuasive.

  3. Thanks for straightening me out on that one, Nohm. Man, if I can’t trust a renowned mathematician, then I gotta trust…you?

    • That’s the genuine, loving, completely free of condescension, attitude that brings all the lost to know Christ!

    • Man, if I can’t trust a renowned mathematician, then I gotta trust…you?
      Dishonest people understand the dangers of trusting others…

    • You don’t have to trust either of us, Steve</b; you can do the work yourself to see that it doesn’t work out. That’s the great thing about math; you can do the work yourself to see if it’s correct or not without having to take the word of anyone.

      But that goes back to my earlier point: let’s be blunt, Steve, you don’t know how to do probability calculations. I do. To be honest, I’m curious if Prof Stoner was even serious when he wrote this, because I don’t know how you can justify those estimations (pulled out of his backside) that are then multiplied together as if they are wholly independent probabilities (which they are clearly not… for example, how does a person get betrayed by someone he doesn’t know?). Steve, that has never been a correct way of calculating probabilities.

      That’s why I suggested you do the calculation of Hope Chapel’s attendance this past weekend, with the idea that you could see the glaring problem with Prof Stoner’s math. You can actually do the work, Steve, if you were curious about honesty and accuracy.

      But I gotta say, I find it strange (and incredibly convenient) that when a Professor (of math) agrees with you, he’s an authority. But when a Professor (of biology) disagrees with you, he’s not an authority.

      What’s up with that?

      • I read the math that you posted, Nohm, and I completely agree with you. (And yes, I know how to do the calculations as well).

        Steve, it’d be appreciated that, even if you disagree with Nohm, you at least not have a condescending attitude when speaking to him or the rest of us. It simply isn’t polite and most certainly doesn’t paint you or your religion in a light that I want to associate with.

      • I am not aware that I am being condescending. I apologize if I have been. Truly.

      • For the record, I think that some of what I wrote was also condescending, so I wasn’t offended by anything you said, Steve.

        Having said that, let me give a little bit of background: my primary hobby — game design — relies heavily on doing accurate calculations of probabilities. If I don’t do the calculations correctly, I’m going to end up with a very different game experience than the one I intended. For example, a combat game might be significantly more or less lethal than intended if I don’t do the calculations correctly.

        Therefore, when I started getting serious about game design, I started to get serious about probability calculations.

        That’s why this post rankled me as much as it did; seeing people, especially a math professor, manipulate the calculations in such an incorrect way, just to arrive at a desired conclusion, is a major pet peeve of mine.

        Regarding Prof Stoner, I think it’s completely possible that his area of expertise within mathematics had nothing to do with probabilities, just like a biologist might focus on marine biology and not know much about insects, or a physicist might be less knowledgeable about quantum physics. I don’t know. I’d much rather assume all sorts of things about it than “he was being dishonest”, but the issue is that math is not subjective; 2+2 is not a matter of opinion. 5x+3=13, x=2 is not a matter of opinion.

        Probability calculations are not a matter of opinion.

        Therefore, I simply don’t understand why Prof Stoner did what he did. In fact, if you research him, you’ll find that his results changed from the ones you find in Science Speaks compared to the ones you find in Evidence That Demands A Verdict.

        So we have a question: why? Why did Prof Stoner do the calculations the way he did them? Did he honestly not know any better? Was he so blinkered by his desire to be correct that he didn’t focus on being accurate? Did he ever consider the many objections to the methods that he used?

        I don’t know.

        All I do know is that, even if I accepted all his premises (which I don’t), and even if I accepted his interpretations of the translations of the prophecies (which I don’t), we still end up with a situation where he did the math incorrectly.

        And it’s a pet peeve of mine to see people who haven’t done the work pass along made-up probabilities that are objectively incorrect; it disparages the entire point of doing the calculations.

        But, Steve, like I said before, that’s the really cool thing with math; you can reproduce the work. And I really wish you would, so you could see where Prof Stoner went wrong. I can demonstrate to you where and how he went wrong until I’m blue in the face, but that’s nothing compared to you doing the work yourself.

        What’s more important? That these numbers support your opinion, or that these numbers are honest and accurate? I understand that even if you agreed that the numbers aren’t accurate, you’d still be a believer, but does it not bother you at all that people — yourself included — keep passing along these numbers without ever having done the work to verify their accuracy?

        That’s the part that really confuses me.

        Be well.

      • Thank you for the clarification!

      • Hi Steve,

        Just for my own curiosity, I’ll try asking this to you again:

        What’s more important? That these numbers support your opinion, or that these numbers are honest and accurate?

  4. Then it should matter that the numbers aren’t accurate.

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