April 30, 2008

Is the Bible True? -- A Debate

"Somebody ought to tell the truth about the Bible."

Read more.


Luis Fernandez said...

I haven't bombarded your comment section in a while, so I'll take the bait and dig into this article :) I'll have to skip some points, because otherwise I'll be here for days, but I'll try to hit the major points (or at least the ones I find most attractive). Hope you'll forgive me if I'm a bit snarky in tone, but I'm feeling uppity ;)

I want to begin by pointing that Mr. S's chosen opponent is an article from www.christiananswers.net: How do we know the Bible is true? It's important to note that this is much less an essay as it is an advertisement... the ChristianAnswers folks are kind enough to peddle their wares (which furthers their discussion) at the end of the page. I'll not carry on about how this builds a strawman because I tend to think that the accompanying DVDs and books contribute little more scholarly information behind the argument ChristianAnswers would offer. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of the ChristianAnswers folks ;)

Ok, on to Mr. S's arguments. In Section 1, we have...
The Bible is full of violence and ugly stories, with a few "feel-good" platitudes and parables interspersed.

He sets the tone quickly. There is a problem because of the "violence and ugly stories". That is, religious and philosophical tracts are more credible if they are filled with puppies and sugar cookie recipes.

In S2, Mr. S writes, Yes, these "forty or so men" (it's probably closer to 40,000) were lying or insane or both. The Bible does not "contain the most beautiful literature" by any stretch of the imagination. The "Song of Solomon" and some "Psalms" could be accepted as "beautiful literature," but much of the Bible is obscene and vile.

There are two statements here worth commenting on. First, the "40,000" claim. What I like about this is the lack of evidence. Is 40K an accurate number, or is it more like 100K? Or maybe a million? Or did he just mean "a whole lot of people"? If so, could it then be 200? Or maybe 100? I'd sure like to know what he's basing his claims on.

The second statement of note addresses the beautiful literature of the Bible. As he writes, "much of the Bible is obscene and vile". Yikes. Is he drawing the line for beautiful literature at obscene and vile? Where does that leave Homer, Virgil, and Dante? Is he arguing that such great works of literature are disqualified? Or is this all part of the sugar cookie argument?

Later in S2, Mr. S writes, The Dhammapada or the Tao Te Ching, to name but a couple, are far more beautifully and comprehensibly written and conveyed, a sign of perfection. Much of the Bible's "moral code" is based on the far older Code of Hammurabi and the Hindu Vedas. A cheap knockoff - hardly "perfect." These are old arguments. I don't have references off-hand, but I can liken these claims to the even more popular claims that Christianity is a knock-off/influenced-by Zoroastroism, which has been, IMO, reasonably refuted by James VanderKam. Again, without citing references, Mr. S is doing nothing more than spouting propoganda.

Later still in S2, Mr. S writes, Throughout the OT, the "moral" characters are depicted as practicing adultery, lying, killing, and so on.

Mr. S would almost assuredly accuse me of falling back on a stand-by Christian "trick" by saying that he simply doesn't understand what he is reading, but the truth is that most of the behavior he points to is understood in the broader religious/historical context. For instance, take his problem with "killing". Jimmy Akin (a Catholic apologist) addresses a good number of these issues in his article, Hard Sayings Of The Old Testament.

Even later in S2, Mr. S writes, On an imperfect world, one would expect not only naive bending of "transmissions," a la the children's game "Telephone," but outright deceit. ... As proof of this fascism, here's a taste of propaganda from Romans 13:1-7: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. ... Now, does this sound like something "Jesus," the mythical rabble-rouser and anti-authoritarian would say? No.

This one's a good one. I think Mr. S got a little mixed up in what he was wanting to say. We start with the Telephone analogy, but instead of a modified message, we result in added propoganda. That's like having a game start with the phrase "Ducks eat popcorn" and having it end with "ducks eat poptarts, and give Jimmy your stereo." But we can forgive Mr. S... since he probably wanted to use the Telephone game analogy later on, when he quotes the Catholic Encyclopedia (we'll get to this in a bit). His point here is that there have been nogoodniks who have modified the Bible to further their own ends. Unfortunately, he fails to identify a Telephone-style change... but instead goes with an "addition" made by Paul (or, as Mr. S would no doubt argue, the thousands of authors of the Pauline letters).

So what did Mr. S decide to go with? The good ol' "respect their authoritah" quote. That's a favorite amongst New Testament critics, it seems. Here's Mr. S's argument... the "artists formerly known as Paul" added this section in order to establish their positions as "the man", and thereby hold a brotha down for centuries to come. This is clear, because obviously Jesus wouldn't go along with this, since he was so busy rousing the rabble. Of course, there's the whole thing of Jesus getting killed by the Roman authorities. That kinda throws a little glitch into Mr. S's argument. And there's the bit where Jesus tells Jews to listen to the scribes and Pharisees, even when they were corrupt. Maybe Mr. S doesn't, in this instance, know what Jesus would do. Something tells me that there might be a little more to what Paul was saying than Mr. S understands.

I'll ignore the bit on prophesy, science, and archaeology. Regarding the "truthiness" of the Bible, we could prove that each of these aspects could have been 100% right (or wrong) and this would still ultimately have no real implication of the validity of the library. These sections are a result of our friends at ChristianAnswers using the "yields good fruits" argument, and Mr. S falling for the bait.

I do want to highlight one statement Mr. S made in S7, but I'll just put a pin in it and save my discussion for later: If the Bible is history, then only Jews are "chosen people" and all those peoples that they committed genocide against were in fact diabolical.

At this point I'll skip down to S9, which I've been itching to get to. Mr. S would have furthered his arugment to fit in his Telephone analogy here instead of earlier. He outsmarts Christians by referring to that insidious source, The Catholic Encyclopedia, to expose the Bible for the sham it is. He quotes from: New Testament:
More than 150,000 different readings have been found in the older witnesses to the text of the New Testament--which in itself is a proof that Scriptures are not the only, nor the principal, means of revelation.

This is where Mr. S's telephone must've dropped, because had he just heard the next few sentences, he could've saved himself from making a bit of a mistake:
In the concrete order of the present economy God had only to prevent any such alteration of the sacred texts as would put the Church in the moral necessity of announcing with certainty as the word of God what in reality was only a human utterance. Let us say, however, from the start, that the substantial tenor of the sacred text has not been altered, not withstanding the uncertainty which hangs over some more or less long and more or less important historical or dogmatical passages. Moreover--and this is very important--these alterations are not irremediable; we can at least very often, by studying the variants of the texts, eliminate the defective readings and thus re-establish the primitive text. This is the object of textual criticism.

Yikes. That kinda puts a damper on his previous Telephone argument (even though he never bothered developing it very well). But luckily for Mr. S, we've moved past that. He wants this passage to somehow support his criticism of "talking snakes" and such. And he'll accept none of that relying on the "mysteries of God" business.

It looks like I may have to concede a point. Without referring to God's mysterious ways, it may be difficult to explain certain bits of the Bible. But perhaps not as many as he may think. As he himself cites (via the Catholic Encyclopedia), Scriptures were not the only means of revelation. Where else may one turn? If we follow Paul (or "the Pauls", as Mr. S would argue), "the Church of the living God" is "the pillar and bullwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:14-15). So while I'll have to concede that, if God exists, I may not be able to fully understand his mind, he'll have to concede that he has to contend with actual Church teachings if he wants to achieve his goal, not simply argue from his own limited perspective.

And this makes statements such as he made in S10, The Bible is utterly inconsistent and nonsensical in innumerable places, much easier to address. The Bible may be inconsistent and nonsensical to him, but there are many answers to be found, if only one is willing to wade through the works of more experienced authors. But there's something that tells me that he wouldn't be willing to do this. Not because he has something better to do, and not because he already has "the answer".

Let's look at some miscellaneous statements he's made, starting with the one from back in S7: (emphasis mine)

S7: If the Bible is history, then only Jews are "chosen people" and all those peoples that they committed genocide against were in fact diabolical.

S10: And, if God's work in creation is so great, why does it need redemption? Why does God make such an imperfect creation that needs saving, and how can this be called "great?" The whole plot - God makes a rotten creation that needs saving, so he sends his only-begotten and much-beloved son to be viciously crucified - is grotesque. What kind of Almighty Creator chooses this as his creation?

S12: A heck of a lot more have found tremendous disappointment when prayers haven't been answered and Jesus hasn't arrived riding on a white horse. ... Without the original sin and fall of mankind, there would be no need for saving. Again, why did the "perfect" God make such an imperfect creature in the first place that he would need to save it? Is this some sadistic cat-and-mouse game?

This may be the Christian in me, but I can't help but see resentment in Mr. S's writing.

The thought that Jews are God's "chosen people" is a thought that many people, especially many atheists, can't bear (and I say this with the assumption that Mr. S is an atheist, but I don't really know if he is or not... I didn't bother looking into it). I'm surprised at how offended people get by the notion that Jews are God's chosen people, thinking that non-Jews get delegated as second-class citizens. But, to be fair, I'm also surprised at how many Christians (and I'm looking mostly towards the Evangelical lot) fail to recognize the role Christians play in the New Testament, also placing (in a different way) non-Jews in a secondary status.

Mr. S does not stop there. He continues to show his hand with statements like, "what kind of Almighty Creator...", "why did the 'perfect' God...", etc. This reminds me of a line from an earlier link The Fall of Humanity, "Why I am not a Christian Part I": "...if such a god existed I would refuse to worship it." It seems to me that Mr. S would agree with this statement. Now, I am certainly willing to concede that I believe in the God of Abraham, and I am equally willing to concede that I have neither the intellect nor capacity to understand what this God intends. But Mr. S, and Mr. Ry (the author of the "Why I am not a Christian" articles) would, even in the face of such a divinity, offer defiance instead of recognizing their own ignorance. I can't help but see a problem in this.

Unfortunately for believers in the Bible, there are some very strong arguments that can be made against the "truth" of the Bible, based on history, archaeology, anthropology, and linguistics. Unfortunately for Mr. S, it seems that he is entirely unaware of any of these arguments, instead favoring to follow popular anti-Christian critics. Earlier I stated that there are many answers to be found, if only Mr. S would be willing to investigate the works of more experiened authors. There happen to also be many questions to be asked, but it seems that Mr. S has difficulty looking beyond his own understanding, perception, interpretation and bias to become familiar with them.

The more I study the works of those involved in scholarly Biblical debate, the more I see the evidence that folks like ChristianAnswers and Mr. S are over their heads when they address the deeper questions.

I can't, however, blame them for trying.

Randy Anderson said...

Jesus, Luis! I'm freakin' tired from reading your novel! ;-)

For some strange reason, I thought you might respond to this particular story. As always, thanks for your input.