Trust But Verify; The Three Big Questions

“Trust But Verify” was a phrase made famous by President Ronald Reagan.  It gave him  the politcal breathing space he needed to make arms deals with the Soviet Union while retaining his hawkish political persona.

There are three big questions skeptics ask of Christians.  They have to do with the  Christian narrative used to “prove” the existence of a god.  The narrative is that prophesies in the Old Testiment were fulfilled in the New.

The first question is, who wrote these prophesies?  The ancient writings were found to have passed through many generations of peoples, each of whom edited the previous one.  (There were also tens of thousands of years human experience before the written word.  Were there no prophets in all those generations?)

The second is, were the prophesies chosen after the prophesied event had already occurred?  It is not difficult to conclude this could have happened.

The third question is, can we be certain the Biblical character, Jesus, was the person prophets were referring to?  We know the Jewish faith still awaits the real deal.

This is where the “trust but verify” applies.  It seems only reasonable spokespersons for the faith verify all three questions have powerful anwers.

Founders of the faith must have known they were on thin ice when they preached and wrote their material.  They specifically ruled out Reagan’s, “trust but verify.”

“Have faith” was not acceptable to Reagan. It’s not to skeptics either.


57 Responses

  1. Bob

    I like, I like, clever, using the right wing’s hero against them. Very clever, Jon.

    But then they’ll just use their failsafe tool called, faith, to get over the verify part.
    Which is too bad.

  2. entech

    Definition of PROPHECY
    1: an inspired utterance of a prophet
    2: the function or vocation of a prophet; specifically: the inspired declaration of divine will and purpose
    3: a prediction of something to come

    Nasa observations talk of increasing sunspot activity, solar flares and a possible Electro Magnetic Pulse damaging all the earth’s electronic systems, this is all expected to peak next year. There will possibly be more Hurricanes, earthquake induced tsunami. Repent, the end of the world is nigh.
    And all this is prophesied in Luke.
    Luke 21:25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”
    And this is reiterated a verse or two later, as a parable, metaphorically
    21:29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
    21:30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

    Now in the southern hemisphere where I live it is coming into summer and you can see the leaves sprouting almost everywhere. I say almost everywhere, because a strange exception is the fig where the fruit starts to appear before the leaves.

    When you have an example that is plain and simple, unambiguous, not open to interpretation, specific and any other qualifications that will “verify” the event you will be believable when you talk of Biblical prophecy fulfilled. Until then it will all need to be taken with faith and a grain of salt.

    1. Henry

      entech, you need a shot of the Holy Spirit. Your hyper-literalism is sending you off course. Your engineer won’t be too happy with you when you run out of fuel when you finally make the realization.

  3. entech

    Interesting comment.
    I wasn’t being hyper-literal merely doing a bit of quoting from a “prophecy” web site.
    I only give any validity to 3: a prediction of something to come, and this is the interesting point. In my days in the merchant navy I was the engineer and I was paid to predict how much fuel would be required allowing for contingencies such as being blown of course or the captain being eaten by a large fish. Too much fuel means less cargo, means less freight fees, means fewer bonuses for a job well done: on the other hand, too little fuel could mean big problems and no further employment.

    “Holy Spirit”, sorry no whiskey or brandy either, did you know that a ship entering American waters can be boarded by the Coast Guard and all men on duty or about to go on duty can be breathalyzed to ensure that they are below the legal blood alcohol level?

  4. Wanna B Sure

    Jon; your “We know the Jewish faith still awaits the real deal”. Oh that it were that simple. There are roughly four umbrella groups of understanding within the Jewish tradition. Yes, some deny Jesus was the Messiah, and they still await Him. Others are not so sure there is a human/divine messiah to come, Other”s understanding of a messiah, or after-life is a philosophical exercise with being a “good person” in memory is the equivilent of eternality. Then there are the non-believing cultural Jews. I could include more subsets, but that’s not necessary for this.

    1. Wanna B Sure

      PS; I should also say unfortunately there are some paralells of some of the above within some who call themselves Christian too.

    2. Wanna 4:03 “Oh, were it that simple.”
      I know a lot of Jewish people from 16 years as a Mayor and from other experienes. My wife is related to a large extended family of Jews through marriage we are quite involved with them. Those two sources of experience cover most of the categories you mentioned.

      I’ll agree it’s not simple, but I’ll stand by my generalization they are all waiting for the real deal. That view reflects to one degree or another all of them. Heck, I’m still waiting for the real deal.

      1. Wanna B Sure

        Jon; I think that it could be easily said that ALL are looking for “the real deal”. A universal concern, not exclusive to anyone, or group. Which begs the question; Why is that?

        1. Wanna 3:16 “Why is that?”

          I can’t speak for you, but the only reason I’m looking for the real deal is because you have said it’s there, or, maybe coming. I don’t believe you, so I’m looking to see if you are right. Haven’t seen anything yet.

          Well, it isn’t just you, of course. It’s you and several million others. Still, I haven’t seen anything and remain curious.

          1. Wanna B Sure

            The “why is that” is in refference to the univerality of it. The “it” is an often repeated theme by you just by your denial of it, or your “I’m still waiting”. For Bob, it is the lottery and going down under on barbe.

          2. Wanna 4:03 “Interesting that you would use the word curious.”

            That is in keeping with the Dawkins definition of not believing, there are things about the universe we do not know. That is to say, we do not know them yet. So, like all people who are, or, who think like, scientists, I remain curious about these unknowns.

            It seems to me, while there may be some universality about this curiousity, there are folks who long for this knowledge, needing to know it for some inner reason, and people who are just plain curious and have not emotional need to know. Just my opinion.

          3. Wanna B Sure

            Yes, there are some that get emotional on both sides of the discussion. As though the louder they are, (both sides), the more true it is….or isn’t.

      1. entech 2:18 That there people who call themselves Jews and believe in Jesus–it’s another miracle. If they believe in their god, then add Jesus, I wonder if they roll in the holy ghost like Christian Christians?

  5. Bob

    Jon 4:46 “Heck, I’m still waiting for the real deal.”

    Me too! It would be a miracle to win the lottery. If I ever win, I’m coming down to Australia and visit Entech.

  6. Bob

    This is a tangent, but I gotta thank you Jon for me not being kicked off from commenting here at your blog. Thank you.
    The reason I’m so thankful is because areavoices kicked my computer IP off from being able to comment at all areavoices comments on the online The Herald, and Fargo Forum.
    I think its because of my atheism, and my libertarian stance on the education system. But especially my atheism. They don’t honor free speech very well.
    I never cussed or attacked anyone. I just relentlessly voiced my atheism position and sometimes my libertarian position. It sucks.

    1. Bob 12:10 Glad to have you in our eclectic conversation here. I greatful, too, that areavoices allows Mac to have his blog, The Gay Agenda and mine on their site. I also post this blog on the Bismarck Tribune, though I can’t take comments there anymore because they don’t have a spam filter. Things are getting better.

  7. Bob

    NASA just launched its newest biggest ever Rover to Mars, to look for evidence of life, or “organic material” as they are saying it. Tears came to my eyes as I watched the launch while I was shouting, “Go, go, go!” and throwing my fist in the air. I am so proud of this, proud to be human.
    What makes me sad though, is how the media is having to downplay the search for “organic material” or evidence of life on Mars, which is what they are really trying to do with this launch. Sometimes they are just saying they’re looking for water with no mention of the “organic material.”
    We wouldn’t want to offend the magic believing faithheads would we.
    Afterall, the highest technology mentioned in the bible, is perhaps all the giants, dragons, 800 year old Noahs, and other Gandolf, fantasy Lord of the Rings magical stuff, including the Gandolf like dude called Jesus who can magically come back to life after being toast for three days.

    No thanks, I’ll take the real scientific magic of NASA anyday.
    Live Long and Prosper, baby.

  8. Dan

    I certain that the people who wrote the prophesies where scoffed at in earlier times as people that adhere to them today are. There have always been scoffers. I’m also certain that many of these people lost their lives writing them since they didn’t adher to the popular belief system of their time. The question should be asked, Why risk ones life to get a message out? It must have been important for them. Lastly, verification of the prophesies will occur at time of a persons death. Whether or not someone likes what they verify is another thing but everyone will get verification.

    1. Dan 5:20 “…but everyone will get verification.”

      That’s part of what makes skeptics, skeptics. It’s a sin to doubt. Then, the verification is a secret kept after until after death so no one knows if it is true or not.

      I’d suggest the only place most people would buy a story like that is in religion. For everything else in their lives, it’s “trust but verify”, like Reagon said.

      That’s what is so baffling. Why is there one common sense rule that applies everywhere, but is tossed aside for religion?

      1. We start with a book written by unknown people. It tells us of an invisible god who provides us with reward, that is also invisible, and warns us not to doubt all these things are true. The more invisible the being and the rewards, the more believable it all is to the faithful.

    2. entech

      If the prophets were scoffed at as you say, why did they write so many books about them? Why are they held in such high regard? Why do people say such things as “you don’t need any more proof than the scriptures and the prophets”? Why keep digging into the obscure stuff that they wrote to try and make the case for the new Testament?
      If you want prophets and prophecies to be taken seriously then you need verification now!

      1. Dan

        According to historical accounts, the prophets were tortured and killed for their beliefs. Some of their followers were also tortured and killed. Have you ever heard about the coliseum in Rome? Have you ever hear of Nero and how he blamed the burning of Rome on that worthless bunch of Christians. Study history because it always repeats itself.

        1. entech

          Not many Old Testament prophets made it to Rome. Christians were persecuted as atheists because they rejected the gods of the Roman Empire. Interesting to bring Nero into the conversation, the histories were not written until many years after his death, nothing of any original documents remain and the histories were either excessively critical or exaggerated in their praise. Reminds me of someone else about the same time.

        2. entech

          History you say? Study the history of the church when it took over the empire. If history repeats itself all these modern offshoots and variations would burn.

    1. Dan

      Bob, In response to your scoffing, this has been addressed before in Matthew: But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign (verification), and there will no sign be given it but the sign of Yonah, the prophet.

      1. Dan 11:04 “Bob, In response to your scoffing, this has been addressed before in Matthew: But he answered them, ‘An evil and adutterous generation seeks after a sign (verification), and there will be no sign given it but the sign of Yonan, the prophet.'”

        Dan, here is where our two groups, believers and nonbelievers, approach truth so differently. You, if I understand this correctly, are using the Bible to verify what is in the Bible. When we secular people use the term, verify, we are looking for something completely separate from the Bible. For example, if there is an implied date and national leader mentioned in the Bible, we would call verificatin of this the searching of separate documents to find agreement with what is in the Bible.

        So, when the Bible says, “Sinners will go to hell”, we are looking to some independent source that this is true, a source other than the Bible.

        1. Dan


          A little background on myself. I grew up in a Christian home. I am throughly familiar with just about everything in the bible. For over twenty years, I have studied history looking for something that would discount the notion that a man named Jesus died and was resurrected from the grave. I have maintained an open mind considering at all different points of view. I have never been able to disprove it. I am still looking but what is frustrating for me is how quickly people like to discount various aspects of recorded history. Many have not done their homework. It is very easy for a person to say they don’t in the resurrection because it can’t be verified. Really??? How much time has been spent on trying to discount the evidece? In all honesty, I been trying to for over 20 years and I haven’t been able to! Maybe you’ve found the smoking gun that puts this issue to rest. If so, I would like to know what it is. One thing that really preplexes me is the book of Enoch. How in the hell did Enoch know so much about the universe over 10,000 years ago (so the carbon dating suggests)? He knew more than Nicolaus Copernicus. What about the great flood? I can’t even discount that. According to some geologists, sea creature fossils have been found high in the mountains. Some (not all) conclude that world wide flooding did occur sometime in the past. Really? So in conclusion, you can be a freethinker or you can be a critical thinker. I consider myself a critical thinker. I don’t ask believers for verification, I look for the answers myself.

          1. Dan 7:00 Thank you for the effort to present a detailed and thoughful post. I can discuss only a bit of it here. First, you have been taking, I would suggest, an approach to the resurrection story that will lead nowhere. I will not be possible to find a counter story that Jesus died of old age in France, for example. A better approach, I would suggest, would be to ask, “Who wrote the story(s), What audience were the stories aimed at and what impression was meant to be left with the reader?”

            Virtually every religion has a death and resurrection story. I would venture to say it is impossible to “disprove” a single one of them. Do we then conclude all of them are myth, or, all of them are myth except the Jesus one? My own approach would be to ask why the resurrection story holds so much appeal to the human mind that it is virtually universal?

            On the flood story, several of us discussed that at length here some months ago. The amount of moisture in the earths weather system is finite. It just moves from one area to another, is in the atmophere or on the ground. The earth’s surface is also known and finite. If all the moisture were taken out of the atmosphere in rain at once, it would only cover the earth with six or eight inches of water.

            A couple of other people have argued that maybe God sent down extra moisture and then sucked it up and hid it somewhere. Whatever!

          2. Wanna B Sure

            Jon; Just thinking about the “flood”. The subject of world flood, regional flood, where all the water, where all the land ? Well hows bout; before “the flood” period, techtonic movement had not yet produced ocean trenches, ridges, mountain ranges, or other geological structures. Suppose the “Pre Flood ” Earth was like a basketball? Not that much water would be needed to cover any” mountain.” What defines a hill/or mountain depends a lot on where one lives. Here in the valley (flat), “up the hill” can mean a change of elevation of two feet. Sooo, all things considered, not much water is needed to flood anything relatively flat in the first place. Think of the Fargo flooding, up and down the whole valley. If Fargo was only 200 ft. higher, and the red was 50 feet deeper, and wider, there would be no flood, and Christine would not be forced to eat your sorry- ass Fargo water held back artifically. You live on a basketball in Fargo, and up and down the valley. Techtonics could / has made that basketball into a relatively round, sometimes high, sometimes low in places, like a hubbard squash. Just a thought.

          3. Wanna 2:40 re: The earth before mountains and valleys.

            That the earth did not originally have mountains and valleys may well be the case. I think, however, the times when this was the case can be estimately as can the times of earliest life and human life and they don’t overlapp. That’s my reccollectin anyway.

            To be honest, my many hobbies and interests do not include looking up stuff to verify the great flood. This includes the flood story at a Native American muesum in the Black Hills in South Dakota. I’m an equal opportunity great flood skeptic.

          4. Wanna B Sure

            Jon; To be honest also, “the flood” is not on my horizon as being terribly important,( unless you are in a flood zone.) Stay off basketballs, and live on a hubbard squash, prefferably a heritage variety.(they are much more rough and deformed.) And yes, don’t live in the bottom of a funnell and don’t force your southern neighbors to move when their natural elevation has not been flood prone. A flood wall does two things. 1. Keeps water our, 2. Prevents you from escaping. Carefull what you choose. Or— just build an ark just in case.

          5. Wanna B Sure

            Jon; Yes, there could be a problem with timelines. A typical solution would be to re-write the possible history, —or theory. All solved.

  9. loki

    John—Each of your questions contain false premises rendering them and your conclusion all void. I will not take the time to explain, as it would do no good. Thank you.

    1. loki 1:29 “…questions contain false premises…I will not take time to explain, as it would do no good.”

      loki, you will never know until you try. Just might be successful.

  10. Henry

    I believe it was Voltaire who had his panties in a bunch. He said something to the effect that Christianity would be no more after a period of time. They had science! The story continued on after his death, his printing press was used to print Bibles.

    1. Henry 7:10 “…Christianity would be no more after a period of time.”

      Christianity certainly has out lived predictions of its death. But, in Europe it polls at less than 50%.

      It seems to me it can survive for a long while yet if it keeps morphing in the same direction as the culture. We are seeing some nice survival moves with major denominations willing to accept gay pastors. Many versions call themselves Christian, Mormonism, Unification Church, and so on, that are large deviations from Jesus getting huffy over the currency exchange table in the temple. Now, it’s Starbucks in the recreaton hall.

      1. Henry

        “We are seeing some nice survival moves with major denominations willing to accept gay pastors.”

        Survival moves? Hardly. More like suicide pacts.

        How is that good ol’ presbyterian church doing? Peace, unity, and purity has added how many more members? Seemed like in the hetero days, things were going better.

        1. Henry 7:42 “How is that good ol’ presbyterian church doing?”

          It’s, as you know, doing poorly. Ever since the gay rights movement started, it and the mainline Protestant denominations have resisted accepting gays and the membership has fallen. Now, the majority of members and churches, in the Presbyterian denomination where votes run most policies, want at least a little more acceptance. Some churches, the majority of them in small towns and rural areas, are leaving.

          I don’t think the new liberal view will reverse the slide, it has not in the United Church of Christ which has been accepting of gays for several years. But, some individual churches will do well that, I think, would not have under the old discriminatory policy.

          One would expect the gay issue to run its course like segregation did. It still remains in some southren churches, but in a generation or two not much will be left.

          1. Wanna B Sure

            Jon; I don’t know what your definition of “mainline churches” is, but in reality, the term applies to those more/most liberally bent. Most of whom have gone to embrace the feminist movement, the gay issues, strong biblical non-literalism, political activism, and a strong tendency towards ecunimism/syncretism. Included in this is doctrinal indifference, both internally, and community wide. I can see why you would be against the political activism, but the rest of their activities and practices should be more to your liking and benefit, or at least a good step towards your way of thinking. Perhaps it would be advisable for you to study the history of the term, its roots, and what motivates them. I’m afraid that you are confusing them with orthodoxy, as verses modern heterodoxy, which is what they are.

          2. entech 9:56 “Jon, I don’t know what your definition of ‘mainline churches’ is but in reality, the term applies to those more/most liberally bent.”

            On Bing, it says the denominations include Contregationalists, Episcopalians, Northern Baptists, Most Lutherans, most Presbyterians and other smaller ones.

            The term comes from churches in Philadelphia located along the Pennsylvania Railroad Mainline.

            As to what the average church in this group says it believes, we can be sure of only one thing. Each one of them thinks the other Mainline churches, and all the nonMainline churches, are guilty of theological error. One thing all Christian groups agree on, all other Christian groups are wrong.

          3. Wanna B Sure

            Next step past “Mainline” would be, (if not already in some), Unitarianism/Universalism, and the next natural step would be atheism. They may bring with them some light form of rituals, but that shouldn’t matter, as the content should not be ofensive to most atheists. So you see, “Mainline ” is only two steps away from where you are today. There may be some disagreement within the ranks of Freethinkers, as you are not in agreement in all things either.

          4. Henry

            Whatever smiley face you want to paint on it Jon, it still is a death sentence. In the end, I would imagine acording to Kinnsy, you’d have 10% of the congregants remaining, that is if prisoners were part of a particular congregation. Statistics/science you know.

          5. entech

            Jon 2011 at 12:41 am: “entech 9:56 “Jon, I don’t know …”
            Jon I do think that was an inadvertent slip, you were actually quoting WannaBSure, the one who does know, the one who is sure – I am the other elderly gentleperson, the one that does not know but keeps looking.

          6. Wanna B Sure

            Jon; Sooooo, what you just read proves my point. Now all you have to do is look at the results, their trajectory, and approve. See/review my 10;12, and my9;56. If it continues, 50 yr. from now, you will have competition in the non-faith area. A couple of them almost seem to be on a race to get there first.

          7. Wanna B Sure

            Jon; I must add, There are some in the classification of “Old Line” churches who are just getting on the way, while others are much farther down the road.There is a chance of reversal for the late starters, but I am not hopefull. As for the ones that are farther down the road, I’m afraid they are not reversable, in fact speeding up towards” liturgical atheism.”

    2. entech

      I sometimes wonder where Henry gets so much arrant nonsense and why he thinks he has a trump card? Voltaire for instance, was not an atheist but deist and the story of his printing press?

      This story has been queried and disputed for years and amongst other similar answers:
      A categorical denial was received from Pierre Barreto, Communications Officer of the Alliance Biblique Franqaise: That absurd rumor [was] born some time ago in the US but it is completely false: no house where Voltaire lived is currently or has been occupied by a Bible Society, and not even by a printing company working for a Bible Society, neither in France nor in Switzerland.

      1. Henry

        “Voltaire for instance, was not an atheist but deist and the story of his printing press?”

        And who made the initial claim of his faith, whether atheist or deist? Not I. I made neither claim.

        But the point still stands. Voltaire said Christianity couldn’t stand a few centuries back. This is the same tune Jon is playing to us. Christianity is still here.

        1. Henry

          Now it appears the Voltaire/Printing Press story has been recently disputed. Some atheist organization out of New Zealand had done some research and found someone on the other end of a phone line that disputed the Voltaire/Printing Press story. This is the basis to their dispute. Meanwhile, they ignore the records dating back to 1823, much closer to the time of Voltaire, which describe the story. Which is more credible, the published article from 1823 or the atheist organization contacting an unknown clerk in a bible society office in 2004?

          The Freethinking Christians’ quarterly register, Volume 1 1823 pg 174
          By Freethinking Christians

          “Thus it was lately mentioned, at a public religious meeting, that the present possessor of the estate purchased by Gibbon,(English historian and scholar) in Switzerland, from the profits of his writings against religion, expends a large sum annually, in promulgating that gospel which his predecessor sought to undermine.

          That the printing-press, at Ferney, which Voltaire employed to print his blasphemies, was now employed, at Geneva, in printing the holy scriptures; and that the room in which David Hume (The most important philosopher ever to write in English, some say), died, at Edinburgh, was used for the first provincial meeting of an Auxiliary Bible Society!”

      2. entech

        I have been digging further and the only in depth article is the New Zealand one that you mention.

        The statement has been found on many Christian sites, usually without citation, but occasionally from ‘Norman Geisler &William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press), 1968, p124’
        “Voltaire, the skeptic, predicted that the Bible and Christianity would be swept into obsolescence, but only fifty years after his death the Geneva Bible Society used his press and house to produce stacks of Bibles.” but this appears to be due to a misunderstanding of the 1849 annual report of the American Bible Society
        Apparently this reference has been removed from later editions

        Now here is a site I would never have thought of using as support on their page about arguments that should never be used under the category Common misconceptions/misunderstandings.
        Item number 8 reads:
        The Geneva Bible Society used Voltaire’s house to produce Bibles. (This has never been verified.)

        One site even uses it as proof of Biblical Prophecy:
        In the 1700″s the atheist French writer Voltaire said, “within 100 years, the Bible and Christianity will be swept out of existence, and pass into history.” Well, within 50 years, Voltaire was swept out of existence and passed into history, and the Geneva Bible Society used Voltaire’s house and printing press to print and distribute thousands of Bibles. This ironic twist of events should not have surprised anyone, because God had promised that “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

        On the point about Voltaire being an atheist I was incorrectly interpolating based on your frequent references. I was wrong. It does show how careful we all need to be about seeing what we are expecting to see.

        That Voltaire was wrong about the persistence of Christianity is irrelevant to Bible printing. Even if it were true the location of Bible printings is a coincidence (an example of irony, true) and I am guilty of falling for the proverbial sucker punch. It was an interesting bit of research, but totally without any point.
        I know of at least two Church buildings in the Country areas of Australia that have been converted for other uses, one as a restaurant and the other as a private residence by an unmarried couple: does this have any relevance to the sins of gluttony and fornication? Or is it irony?

        1. Henry

          Your examples would hold both relavance and irony.

          We have those examples around here. I know of one church building used for storage, one as a shop, and one as a residence. If it were a situation where the congregation were to move into a larger building, that is one thing. Unfortunately, my examples illustrate the application of some community’s first fruits in an area not dedicated to God. Along with this cause is rural population decline. Are all these people unchurched? No. Some get their church from other sources. Driving some amount of distance is not a big thing to some.

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