Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

June 9, 2008

Improving the Bible

Filed under: culture, religion, science — Tags: , , — codesmithy @ 9:58 am

(h/t Pharyngula)

In an episode of what might be preaching to choir, Phil Hellenes (AFAIK) explores what a creation story would look like if it corresponded with current scientific understanding of chemistry, biology, astronomy among others.

If there were a book that described in general details, planetary formation, stars, nuclear fusion, the vast time-scales involved, details which had to have been dictated from someone/something with a greater knowledge that far exceeded the tools and understanding of the time I don’t think there would be much doubt such knowledge had to have come from someone/something that possessed a greater understanding of the universe, quite possibly a personally-interested god. As it stands, any conception of god has to reconcile the fact that this god seems to have handed down some incredibly flawed works.

The easy reconciliation is to reject the premise, or at least examine it skeptically. An atheistic conception of history can reconcile holy works as social products of certain societies. Accepting the holy books as unassailable truth and working backward causes all sort of mental catastrophe as this discussion between Lee Silver and a creationist demonstrates.

It was quite the coup for the church to laud faith. I think it does take more faith to believe in god now than it during the Dark Ages. At least during the Dark Ages, there wasn’t a very clear understanding of genetics. Today, one has to be a denialist in order to believe. Faith in god isn’t just a “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” (source) Today, faith in Jehovah, Allah, etc. requires a belief that is held in contradiction to logical proof and material evidence.

Maybe this is too harsh, theodicy has always been problematic in the conception of god. As this quote from Epicurus shows:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? (source)

However, this is just a logical problem that can be apologized for with notions of free will.  When the physical evidence starts piling up, then the cognitive dissonance really starts kicking in.  It is probably too much to ask of a person to overthrow a belief they have so much personally invested in overnight, especially given the social circumstances that enabled the indoctrination in the first place.  This isn’t an excuse for apathy, every opportunity should be taken to point out how absurd these beliefs truly are.  It is just to understand the magnitude of the problem and adjust the expectation.  I think we could see a non-religious majority in America in my lifetime.  It is my hope this will make us more rational as a nation, but there are no guarantees.

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6 Comments »

  1. The problem with the premise of this post is one that atheists and some Christians alike make: that the creation story in Genesis is supposed to be taken literally.

    The Bible has never been (or at least should never have been) taken to be the literal word of God in the same manner that Quran is.

    Another mistake is to view the Bible as one book.

    On a side note though, I couldn’t watch the video, so I may be way of topic :-/

    Comment by Zacharias — June 9, 2008 @ 5:56 pm

  2. It is too bad you couldn’t watch the video, since your comment is off-topic.

    The point of the post is that bible could have been written different and in such a way to leave no doubt that it was, at least, divinely inspired. It is not written in that fashion and while this is not conclusive proof of god‘s non-existence, I think it does raise some issues for a believer.

    I think it is a little unfair to lump atheists and young Earth creationists together in terms of reading Genesis literally. Atheists, in general, view nothing in the bible as literal truth. It is the young Earth creationists who do that. Atheists are merely responding to young Earth creationists. If you aren’t a young Earth creationist, then fine, the argument doesn’t apply to you. I do have an expectation that the audience has the ability to be self-discriminating. But, the argument is not a straw-man as the discussion with Lee Silver demonstrates.

    On a different note, I think it is also important to understand your argument in a historical context. Your argument is one of an apologist. It is not an argument offered proactively, but rather reactively to certain ideological trends. The apology for the creationist tale in Genesis is because it is demonstrably absurd and is recognized as such. The apology is that: sure, Genesis may not be literally true, but other parts of the bible are. Is that because raising people from the dead, curing the leper, virgin birth, water into wine, walking on water, etc is more plausible? No. It is because they are not as easily, demonstrably false as the creation story is.

    You can give your reaction to that, but here are some questions to ponder in your reply: what is the objective criteria that you use to determine the veracity of a particular part of the bible? What sanction do you have to make this determination and go against the word of the bible? How does this standard apply in various instances to other spectacularly unlikely miracles in the bible (some which are previously mentioned)?

    Comment by codesmithy — June 10, 2008 @ 5:42 am

  3. Ah, I thought I might be a little off topic 😛 so feel free to delete that first comment if you’d like.

    As far as grouping atheists and young Earth Christian’s together, you’re completely right. I should have made myself more clear, as the athiests are, as you said, just reacting to the young Earthers.

    As far as being an apologist, you’re absolutely correct. Though, when I make apologist posts on athiestic (or any really) blogs my intention isn’t to sway the person or convince them of anything, those arguments usually either fall on deaf ears, or to loud mouths, Christian or not! I just try to further explain the point from an Orthodox standpoint as it is way too just skim the surface of theological points without really delving into what they are. So, I’m satisfied with trying to clear up misconceptions and then still leaving the reader to decide as they wish.

    As for your questions:

    The way I determine and interpret the Bible is how the Orthodox Church teaches it. Of all the different traditions, denominations, sects, etc. which Christianity claims, I believe that it is the Orthodox Church which has best preserved the original teachings of the Apostles, and how they interpreted the Bible.

    Christianity is a revealed religion, meaning that all we know of it is what has been revealed to us. This means that it is dependant on a certain point in history, in this case the life of Jesus. Does this mean that it’s possible that over the past 2000 some odd years things might have been corrupted? Of course! However, we have to make to due with what we have, and that’s why it’s so important for revealed religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to lean towards the ultra-conservative, anti-innovative side.

    It’s that way with any history in general I suppose (all the seemingly anti-scientific events not-withstanding). We depend on events to be transmitted uncorrupted in order for us to know the real truth, but over time certain inconsistancies are inevitable, as well as the fact that with history in particular, it is written by the victors 😉

    But anyways, sorry to jump into your post and start typing away without full understanding. The whole ‘fundamentalist’ interpretation of the Bible is just something that really irks me. -laugh-

    Have a good day!

    Comment by Zacharias — June 10, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

  4. So you believe the teachings of the Orthodox church because you feel they best preserved the teachings of the Bible. How do you know that is the case?

    I mean your argument sounds circular. You believe the orthodox church because “the Orthodox Church which has best preserved the original teachings of the Apostles, and how they interpreted the Bible” while admitting that it is a revealed religion. And you know this because… that is what the Orthodox Church tells you? Where you raised orthodox, or did you convert?

    From what I can tell, the Orthodox Church teaches the resurrection of Christ. What makes the resurrection of Jesus more plausible than let’s say Jonah and the whale, or the great flood?

    Comment by codesmithy — June 11, 2008 @ 7:05 am

  5. “So you believe the teachings of the Orthodox church because you feel they best preserved the teachings of the Bible. How do you know that is the case?”

    No, I said they pest preserved the teachings of the Apostles and how they interpreted the Bible. This might sound like a minor mutation of your statement, but at the time of the Apostles there was no “Bible” per se, there was the five books of Moses, and numerous other Jewish texts, so maybe my use of the word Bible there wasn’t so correct. And I know this is the case because Orthodox theologians through the ages haven’t majorly deviated from what they’ve taught. What they were teaching in the 2nd and 3rd centuries is the same thing they are teaching now.

    Maybe I’m a little confused, but how does something being revealed, and then preserved and taught in that same form, constitute a circular argument? Maybe if I had something to the effect of “I believe in God because the Word of God says he’s real” would have been circular. Rather, what I said was that some event happened in history, namely God taking the form of Jesus and revealing to the world some teachings, and then an organization called the Orthodox Church preserved and promulgated those teachings for the most part unaltered.

    “And you know this because… that is what the Orthodox Church tells you? Where you raised orthodox, or did you convert?”

    I am a convert. I know this because history shows it to be true, as I said above, what the Orthodox is teaching today is the same exact thing it has been teaching for about 2,000 years. There might have been a few clarifications here and there, through the Ecumenical Councils for instance, but the basic teachings are still exactly the same. There have been no new dogmas, as in the Catholic Church, no real innovation to the Liturgy, (i.e. Vatican II in the Catholic Church again) etc. I seriously doubt you are, but if you’re interested in the history of the Orthodox Church, the first half of Timothy (Kallistos) Ware’s book “The Orthodox Church” does a very good job of explaining it.

    “From what I can tell, the Orthodox Church teaches the resurrection of Christ. What makes the resurrection of Jesus more plausible than let’s say Jonah and the whale, or the great flood?”

    As far as this statement goes, to the (strictly) rational, western mind they do both present a stumbling block. However, I could in the like manner say, “What makes the idea that all of the order in the universe, all of the complexity, just appeared by chance through an explosion of material…that wasn’t there before the explosion…more plausible than the idea that a God became Man, died, and because he was God, came back from death?”

    Comment by Zacharias — June 12, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

  6. Thanks for clarifying the point on the Apostles.

    As for your question: Maybe I’m a little confused, but how does something being revealed, and then preserved and taught in that same form, constitute a circular argument?

    It is circular if it rests solely on the claims of Orthodox church. It may be Ware’s book provides some independent historical evidence to support the Orthodox church’s claims. Textual criticism of the bible and church documents would be a good basis for showing that the church doctrines hadn’t changed. In Bart D. Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus” he notes some mistrust of the Orthodox Church’s text (they aren’t considered the best sources for whatever reason), it didn’t make complete sense to me at the time. In fact, it seemed to be a little bit of a misdirection. It could very well be a product of lingering bias. If you want to claim better texts on the part of the Orthodox church, I’m not going to argue with you.

    However, it seems that you believe there is a historical basis to make that claim in favor the Orthodox church, I was curious if you had any sources for that claim. Ware’s book is more than acceptable. I might even get around to reading it at some point, probably not soon though. I’m a little bit backlogged at the moment.

    What makes the idea that all of the order in the universe, all of the complexity, just appeared by chance through an explosion of material…that wasn’t there before the explosion…more plausible than the idea that a God became Man, died, and because he was God, came back from death?

    The historical record shows we are animals, as such we have limitations. We might never know exactly how the universe began for a number of reasons. However, just because we don’t know everything, doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. The issue with god in particular is that if a god is the singular creator of the universe, this means god is more complex than the universe. As such, however incomprehensible it is for the universe to just come into being, it is more incomprehensible for a god to just spring into being, then create the universe. I’m not a particular fan of a multi-verse, however, it provides one explanation as to why we find the universe so apparently tuned for our existence. If it weren’t so tuned, well, we wouldn’t be here and wouldn‘t be having this discussion. The simple conclusion is that I have not existed for a long-time, billions of years as the best evidence suggests, and it seemed to make no difference. Similarly, humanity itself didn’t exist for billions of years. If we went away, it is not clear anything would miss us, much like the many gods we’ve abandoned through history.

    With this perspective, it is nearly impossible not to view statements like “God became Man, died, and because he was God, came back from death?” as a product of some type of absurd self-importance and unbridled vanity. First of all, you aren’t claiming a god in an abstract sense. It is Jehovah. A god with a scandalous history if the old testament is to be believed with obvious mythological elements. There are particular issues this god renders with respect to theodicy. However, the whole conception is obviously based on a conceit.
    As for Jesus, when is he coming back? Any day now. How long have people been saying that one year, 5 years, 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years, now we’re up to nearly 2000 years, and now what? At what point do you say, hey, maybe this Jesus guy isn’t coming back? I know, I know, it is a matter of faith. How about you loan me $10,000? I promise to pay you back when Jesus arrives.

    Comment by codesmithy — June 13, 2008 @ 8:12 am


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