Does the Bible Predict the Future?

May 24, 2017

Summary: Recent thought on future contingents brings fresh interest to discussions on premonitions. Leading scholar, Nassim Taleb, holds that the future is unpredictable. We offer insight from Bible prophecy to show proof that the future has been accurately predicted. Click here to subscribe to future blog posts. 

The Sable Swan

 

In his bestselling book, The Black Swan, writer, Nassim Taleb, penned a ground-breaking thesis. Engrossingly authored, the volume chronicles the unexpected impact of highly improbable events. The book opens with a brief summary of the theory, describing the first ever sighting of a black swan, noting that prior to it’s detection, no one could have predicted such an animal existed. [1] 

 

“The sighting of the first black swan,” writes Taleb, “…illustrates a severe limitation to our…knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from…millions of white swans.” [2] Taleb thus surmises: “[Our] inability to predict [a Black Swan] implies [our] inability to predict the course of history.” [3] Today, Taleb’s concept sits well alongside other undirected models (such as the theory of evolution). 

 

But is Taleb’s chance view of history correct? Was the outcome of our last presidential election, for example, just a freak “Black Swan?” Or, might we discover other hidden explanations to account for the strange appearances of these kinds of unexpected occurrences? In the eyes of most atheists, the question is already settled: There is no ultimate direction to which any single historical event aspires. In the eyes of most Christians, however, Taleb is simply mistaken: the game is fixed, the outcome rigged, the end—already determined. 

 

So then how do we go about deciding who is right? Is Taleb’s thesis really the only sensible option? Or, to borrow his own words, could a “single observation” rather serve to invalidate his own supremely winsome thinking? Normally atheists hold that Christian beliefs, such as Divine providence, depend too naively upon ideas which cannot themselves be proven. But could the opposite in this case be more accurate—that a provident God has somehow predetermined human history? 

 

Weird Premonitions

 

Some time ago, I confronted these issues directly. I spoke with an atheist friend on the subject of Bible prophecy. I had only just begun to explain that the Bible predicts the future when my friend suddenly objected, declaring: “But ancient prophecies are nonsense!” 

 

Recognizing his obvious conviction, I sought him for greater clarity. I asked him to explain to me precisely what he meant. Within a few moments, it became abundantly obvious what my doubt-filled companion had attempted to convey. On his view, all Bible prophecies are inherently uncertain. Their un-particular predictions can be joined to almost anything. Like the contents of a fortune cookie, their words are pan-applicable, and can thus be easily adapted to fit the remotest situation. 

 

I therefore nodded my head as I listened to my friend’s reply. I communicated my empathy regarding his incredulous views. Yet I was also deeply aware of several significant philosophical problems which lay at the very root of this all-too-familiar objection. The issues were quite similar to those I’d previously encountered as I’d familiarized myself with the work of Nassim Taleb. In fact, they were part and partial to the very same problems invoked by the grand thematic predictions of the Black Swan theory.

 

Turning to the popular book, I thus addressed my friend’s complaint. I compared it with Taleb’s own questionable description of his views. For in the inside dust jacket of the volume, the best-selling author defines the concept as follows: “A Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principle characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and after the fact we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random…” [4] 

 

Due therefore entirely to his own highly suspicious wording, Taleb’s favored theory is made impossible to question. For the moment we offer God as an alternative to “the random,” we have already, in a sense, proven that Taleb is right. It's a bit like my claiming that watermelons are blue on the inside until the precise moment that you cut the skin. Simply put, such a theory is unfalsifiable. For the very same reason—neither could it be tested. 

 

The Faltering Argument

 

I therefore urged my friend to see that we needed to restate his argument. We needed to distill his basic premise prior to comparing it with the pages of scripture. For the only sure way to know if Bible prophecies are truly indeterminate is to simply question point blank: What do they actually claim? Provided we discover any narrow predictions are scarce, then my friend would be correct and Bible prophecy would be nonsense. As it turns out, however, the opposite appears to be true: Extremely specific predictions appear which bring such arguments to task. 

 

Perhaps the most noteworthy of these comes from the mind of a pagan king. The story is found in the ancient and mysterious biblical book of “Daniel.” The startling prediction carries a marvelous fulfillment—one which, if true would have a devastating impact on Taleb’s theory. The text records the intriguing story which opens with a troubled king sweating in his bed. As he tosses and turns, his dreams deeply disturb him, causing his mind to be filled with unrest. 

 

Accordingly, the story tells us that the king became greatly frightened. The text reads: “…his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him.” [5] He therefore commanded that his royal astrologers be summoned in order that they might come and interpret to him his dreams. The king demanded: “if you do not make the dream known to me and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you show me the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts, rewards and great honor.” [6]

 

At this, the astrologers were brought to utter silence. None in fact were able to show to the king his dreams. For he had enjoined unto them the impossible task of perfectly reciting the dream apart from his first-hand telling of it. No one was therefore courageous enough to venture a guess. (Would you?) For how could anyone know for certain what the king had dreamed? Only one man, in fact, dared to offer an explanation. His answer, if authentic, proves that history is divinely directed.   

 

Intellectual Jazz

 

“But surely you see the problem!” my friend replied, missing the point. “These kinds of ambiguous predictions can be understood as referring to almost anything!” Sadly, this was merely a second helping of Taleb’s argument—a problem which caused the entire point to be cast into endless questioning. For returning to the book, the eminent author writes: “…as I formulated my ideas on the perception of random events, I developed the governing impression that our minds are wonderful explanation machines, capable of making sense out of almost anything…” [7] 

 

For this reason, I advised my friend to behave himself more cautiously. I pleaded with him to resist the temptation to become so easily duped. For this was none other than the very same fallacy I’d earlier warned of. Remember? The watermelon mysteriously turns red the precise moment that you cut it! So the “superstitious” Christian reader becomes the proof of the skeptic’s argument. He’s accused of playing jazz, of merely improvising with the story. Like a man reading a Rorschach ink blot, he’s simply seeing what he wants to. The problem is—theories that can’t be falsified are only shaky at best.   

 

I therefore advocated for a shift in our approach. I encouraged my friend to adopt a renewed willingness to hear such stories out. For to form a comparison, no Christian today would seriously base an argument for the authenticity of Bible prophecy solely on it’s own prediction that some people will reject it. [8] Such reasoning is clearly circular, not to mention, simplistic. For the very same reason, we ought to reject the skeptic’s argument. Instead, we should make it our aim to discover truth wherever it lies, even if the source of that truth is the Bible—which in this case—it is. 

 

Supernatural? 

 

Returning then to our story, our king is Nebuchadnezzar. The year is 604 B.C. History shows us that Nebuchadnezzar had been utterly successful in ushering the Neo-Babylonian empire to it’s world-wide ascendency. The whole of the civilized world now lay prostrate at his feet. Not a single solitary challenger was anywhere to be found. It was then that out of nowhere, the king suddenly grew childishly frightened and commanded that his subjects be forced to interpret to him his dreams. 

 

In turn, all who heard the king despaired before him, but one. A young Jewish Lad, named Daniel, quietly crossed the stage. He confidently declared, “I will show…the interpretation,” and proceeded to reveal to the king all that was in his heart. [9] “To you O king…came thoughts of what would be after this and he who reveals mysteries has made known to you what [will be].” [10] The boy then went on to show the exact details of the dream along with their clear and un-ambiguous meaning. 

 

“Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a…statue…” [11] The young boy accurately described its brazen human form. The sculpture was an effigy of the history of western civilization, spanning from the time of Babylon clear to Jesus’ day. The head was made of gold, and the chest and arms of silver, while the torso was molded from a single slab of bronze. Finally, the legs were fashioned from a piece of hefty iron with feet that formed a mixture of iron and clay. 

 

“While you were watching,” the boy declared, “a rock was cut….[and it] struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay…” [12] Instantly, the idol burst into powder and a curious wind blew the remaining fragments away. Yet the stone that remained, which had been cast by God, became a great and mighty mountain, filling the whole earth. To this day, the predictive character of the dream is so undeniable, even secular historians have wondered at it’s powerfully accurate claims. 

 

The Golden Age of Babylon

 

According to the text, the statue was a symbol, featuring four successive kingdoms which would rule over the earth. The first kingdom, Babylon, was symbolized by gold, and spoke of the tremendous wealth of her lauded capital city. Explorer and historian, Francis H. Buzzacott, described it as a “…golden kingdom of a golden age.” [13] The statement doubtless spoke of Nebuchadnezzar’s taking of Jerusalem—a move which brought Babylon unparalleled fame. 

 

The Silver Age of Persia

 

Next came the age of the medo-persian empire, symbolized by the pair of silver arms. Silver was the sign of this kingdom’s power, which was founded on its system of universal taxation. Darius the Great, the kingdom’s third ruler, introduced the system of coinage, increasing her strength. It was then that the “Daric” emerged as its primary legal tender, a silver coin which became the source of Persia’s notable fame. 

 

The Bronze Age of Greece

 

Following the fall of Persia, the Greek empire arose, lead by military genius, Alexander the Great. The kingdom of Greece was symbolized in the text by “bronze” which denoted her dauntless soldierly strength. According to period experts, her troops were clad with breastplates of bronze, helmets of bronze, and shields and swords of bronze. [14] By these unique weapons, Greece gained power, and fulfilled Bible prophecy, ensuing the third age. 

 

The Iron Age of Rome

 

Last of all, the mighty Roman empire arose, inaugurating the fourth and final phase. Noted secular historian, Edward Gibbon, made this remarkable mention of Rome’s iron power: “The arms of the republic, sometimes vanquished in battle, always victorious in war, advanced with paid steps to the Euphrates…and the images of gold, or silver or [bronze], that might serve to represent the nations and their kings, were successively broken by the Iron Monarchy of Rome.” [15] 

 

Rome thus fulfilled Bible prophecy for the fourth time with weapons of iron which fueled her bloody campaigns. The short iron gladius, Rome’s saber of choice, was attended by a breastplate, forged from the same. Hence, the case for Biblical prophecy powerfully confronts Taleb’s views and lays before the skeptic a formidable point: Random universe models, such as the Black Swan Theory, simply cannot account for what the Bible predictively claims. 

 

Sadly, my companion chose to cut short our talk. It seemed he was unable to squarely face the point. For he imagined that the laws of probability (by chance alone) had somehow pre-determined Daniel’s account of Babylon’s fate. Unfortunately, my friend had only succeeded in one thing—namely, in formulating an incoherent case. For how could the future be random and fully un-determined, yet somehow pre-determined at the same time? 

 

The Unpredictable Conclusion

 

In conclusion, we thus return to Taleb’s argument which though logically flawed, nevertheless, remains consistent. For if the future is truly indeterminate, it would therefore follow that all predictive science is nothing but a sham. Thus the probability calculous, according to Taleb, is just a fraud—a high level hoodwink—mystic prayer in a cheap tuxedo. Perhaps given such a problem, skeptics could begin to reconsider whether or not their beliefs are actually correct? 

 

You answer the question. ⧉

—————--

End Notes:

[1]. Nassim Nicholas Taleb; The Black Swan, Random House Publishing, © 2007; pg. xvii.

[2]. ibid.

[3]. Nassim Nicholas Taleb; The Black Swan, Random House Publishing, © 2007; pg. xx.

[4]. ibid. dust jacket. 

[5]. Dan 2:2; ESV. 

[6]. ibid. vs. 5-6. 

[7]. Nassim Nicholas Taleb; The Black Swan, Random House Publishing, © 2007; pg. 10. 

[8]. see Ezek 33:30-33. 

[9]. Dan 2:24; ESV.

[10]. ibid. vs. 29.

[11]. ibid. vs. 31; NIV.

[12]. Dan 2:34; NIV.

[13]. Francis H. Buzzacott; Astounding Revelations; Fidelity Publishing Company; Chicago Ill. USA; © 1909; pg. 141. 

[14]. [shm.com.au/tv/military/alexander-the-great-27566964.html]

[15]. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. III, generational observations following chapter 38; pg. 634.

 

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