errors in the Bible

Prayer for an Atheist

Dear Russell and Friends,

Recently, J’s brother became suddenly and severely ill.  Russell texted me that she was going to say goodbye as he was in a coma and not expected to live.  Some of J’s family believe.  Some don’t.  As she stands in the middle it can hurt.  Whether you believe or not, whether they believe or not – – when someone you love is hurting, you hurt.  That is part of love’s definition.  I said that I would pray.  I wrote it down so that my promise would not be hollow.  Then I ran.  That is where I do much of my thinking directed to God – – prayer if you will. Then I wrote.  That is where I write letters to God and leave a record of his answers and how they have changed my life.  I write several times a week in a large journal.  The entry is below.  I’ve addressed it Dear Father as I usually do – – my title for God.  As a father myself, I’m haunted and pricked each time I write those words.  So many incomplete fathers.  I am one of them.  One father who balances discipline and love.

I’ll end with the letter’s actual sign off.  Before I begin:

1)  Believers – – do you pray for skeptics?  How?

2)  Skeptics – – would this prayer offend you?  Would any?

Pascal – – 1:16

Dear Father,

I told a friend that I would pray this week for her brother who is severely ill.  He is an atheist.  She doubts.  His sudden fall has sent waves through a family and community.  A middle aged man scaling a noble cliff fell suddenly.  His back is broken and he writhes in blinding pain.  Will he walk again or even live?  I don’t know him, but I love him.  We’re the same age.  I too have fallen before.  I too have been rebuilt.  But what if I hadn’t.  What if I never recovered the sentience to hear your whisper of presence and reassurance?  What if I never thanked those who loved me despite my far flung successes and foundational failures?

I believe that you made and gifted this man.  I believe that you used his gifts to enrich men whether he knew you or not.  I think his metal is like mine – – an alloy of base and precious.  I think his heart is like mine – – a dividing line between good and evil.  I think his family is like mine – – loving him, hurting deeply, hoping for a chance to reconnect perhaps reconcile.

What if he doesn’t wake up?  If he was right about you then he’ll live in the memories he constructed.  His family and his work will stand as a testament to what he built and how he built it.  If I am right about you let me beg you this – – when the veil is lifted, when the choice is clear – – then let him choose.  You know that my heart has grown for those who deny you and even for those who hate me for following Christ.  We know it is illogical to hate the non-existent.  But it does make sense to hate Christ followers – – especially if they have hurt others by twisting your words or following a broad rather than narrow path.  I’ve done that.

I haven’t met this man, but I love him.  Please bring him back to the family that needs him.  I suspect that he has much to say and that they are needful of hearing it.  Please especially strengthen his sister – – my friend.  She thought, perhaps thinks, that she shares his atheism.  Comfort without you is thin.  Please comfort her.  I’m not sure what my good friend her husband thinks.  He is so hopeful that science will soothe the sting of death.  In my work with the dying I knew he was wrong.  I sit with families facing death from different perspectives – – four this week alone.  It is different.

I’m not asking for a deathbed conversion for a mind that may grasp nothing.  I do not understand completely how you will save all men through the work of Christ, but I know that you will.  And if this man lives to die another day please let me meet him and offer my admiration and compassion in person.

Love,

Pascal

Non-contradiction via wikimedia commons

Why I Can’t Trust The Bible

Hi Pascal!

Thank you for an exciting 6 AM breakfast! I always feel like our time in person is too short. 🙂 I’d like to continue my attempt to explain why I can’t suspend judgment about the Bible. I’m still sleep-deprived (so no promises on how this will come out) but let me start with an analogy.

Let’s imagine two people – we’ll call them Russell and Pascal 🙂 – who are each similar to us both in character and in how they think but neither of them have evaluated any theological claims yet. It seems that you feel like one of them thinks in a little more binary manner and is more skeptical than the other, and I’m probably naturally more skeptical of that conclusion :). So here’s the hypothetical situation. Let’s imagine that as adults (who already have their basic modes of processing the world in tact) they’re each given a book that describes a God. The book might be the Bible, or it might be some other religious book. For this thought experiment we can’t know what book it is (we’re behind a “veil of ignorance”). What we want to do is to reach one of the following conclusions about what we think they should do:

  1. completely trust the book’s description
  2. reject at least some portion(s) of the book.

We don’t know anything about the book other than the following. It contains some supernatural claims which can’t be tested but which do have an impact on what they will believe, how they will live their life, and what they will live for. It also contains some claims which command that they love the God with all their heart and worship him faithfully. Finally, it promises great rewards if they believe in the key tenants of the book and great punishments if they do not.

We’d love to learn more about the specific claims but this is all we have to start with. One thing our alter-selves would probably like to do is see if the God described accords or conflicts with reality in any significant ways. Since they are like us, they agree that Truth is Truth, 1 = 1, and if there is a true God, he will likely not make nature the “Devil’s workshop” (playing tricks to confuse us by creating one set of logic for our minds to reason with for making sense of reality while simultaneously requiring that we find confidence and coherence in breaking through to a second conflicting logic in order to be saved).

Before committing to love and follow this God faithfully, our hypothetical-selves would probably evaluate the claims made in their book to see if they accord with reality. Errors they find may have a simple explanation if they could understand the meaning the author’s intended. Upon examination they find a large number of errors, a few which remain unresolvable in any logical context and appear to be unambiguous contradictions. If they’ve committed to belief before realizing these issues, it may be different, but Russell and Pascal are each skeptical and trying to be objective. They’ll want to know if the book paints a logically coherent concept or even logically possible concept of “God” before either of them become emotionally invested in the belief and devotion to that God.

Here are some of the claims they see – and they are without specific details in order to help us focus on the logic rather than motivated reasoning due to how we feel about the claims. To serve this purpose we’ll use the term “quality X” which possesses the following characteristics. “Quality X” is well defined in the book so there is very little room for ambiguity in its meaning. The book also makes it clear that the God’s nature never changes, thus timing is not a factor in the claims.

Claim 1: This God possesses quality X

Claim 2: This God does not possess quality X

This appears to be a contradiction. If we agree that timing and ambiguity about the meaning of quality X are not factors, then it is a contradiction. As we know, the law of noncontradiction states that both claims cannot be true in the same sense at the same time since they are mutually exclusive.

Given the background information that claims 1 and 2 are said to be held in the same sense at the same time, then according to the principle of noncontradiction:

If we accept one of the claims as true, the other claim cannot be logically true while preserving the principle of noncontradiction. Therefore we must either reject the principle of noncontradiction or reject at least some portion of the book (conclusion 2 above). This dichotomy holds whether or not we attempt to “reserve judgment” on either claim. If we accept one of them, the other must be rejected or we must choose to give up logic in order to preserve our belief in the infallibility of the book.

If we accept neither claim, we are accepting conclusion 2 above by rejecting at least some portion of the book.

If we accept both claims as true, or possibly true by reserving judgment, then we can completely trust the book’s description (“claim 1 above”), but we are doing so in violation of the fundamental laws of logic in the form of the principle of noncontradiction. That conclusion would necessitate the further conclusion that belief in this God is in conflict with the laws of science – which is in opposition to “Truth is Truth” and “God is not trying to deceive us.” Claims about God’s deceptive actions are also in conflict with claims about his character, but that’s another issue.

When someone sees an unambiguous contradiction and decides to “suspend judgment,” I understand. The faith encourages that. However, it seems that suspending judgment about one end of a contradiction is still a judgment whether or not we face it. It does not get someone out of the logical problem. In a contradiction, either we accept that both claims are true and thus reject logic, or we reject at least one of them and thus distrust a portion of the set of both claims (thus my diagram this morning). Reserving judgment sounds like sticking my head in the sand and refusing to look at either conclusion. I can and do reserve judgment for the vast majority of what appear to be Bible contradictions, because most do have a potential explanation in some context (which we aren’t always privy to). However, most of those are distractions because people tend to assume that doubters are always talking about them instead of the meatier issues that remain unresolved and seem unresolvable. Distractions do add up though, and even without direct contradictions the number of smaller errors seem vast enough to force me to distrust that the Bible is infallible and wholly inspired by a perfect being.

If this book does seem to contain unambiguous contradictions, I don’t think we’d advise Russell and Pascal to reject logic. We might advise them to distrust portions of the book, but they’d probably be in a better place to judge it than we are – having not grown up with it. Some of the unambiguous and contradictory claims about God’s character from our own Bible (replacing quality X with “evil”, for example) have caused many facing the issue to conclude “I don’t know, but I trust.” I want to explain why I can’t choose that answer. I can’t “just trust” that the claims are all accurate because I cannot bring myself to believe that a God who exists possesses qualities that are not just logically incoherent, but are actually logically impossible in our current reality. I don’t think that means such a God could not exist (not actually impossible). I just think it means I shouldn’t try to persuade myself to abandon logic in favor of belief in such a God. God can be beyond logic, but it’s less likely that He is in direct conflict with the logic he made than it is that the claims someone made about him are mistaken.

We can’t talk honestly about contradictions without making sure there’s no wiggle room in the meanings, and some people disagree there which enables them to suspend judgment. If there is wiggle room, I just can’t see it right now. If I could, I’d give the Bible the benefit of the doubt. The only hypotheticals I can come up with to keep God’s actions entirely not-evil (according to the Bible) involve Him being controlled by other God-like forces in His higher reality in order to justify his actions in ours. But that would still leave many deceptions of purpose in the Bible. It’s just not likely. Understand that I’m definitely not saying, “God is evil.” I am saying that the Bible’s claims about God’s character are inconsistent. Therefore, I can’t fully trust that the set of all claims accurately reflect a God that exists.

Why do we suspend judgment about the Bible so often and not the Quran? A sufficient explanation may be that we were taught to love, trust, and believe in that God-concept with heart, soul, mind, and strength before we learned about contradictions, logic, our own reasoning failures and biases (The Problem), etc. Once we’re in love with God-concept-Y and believe that everything rests on our ability to maintain our belief despite evidence it becomes very difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of our alter-selves in this thought experiment – even one meant to help us evaluate the claims afresh without the prior emotional commitment. For the longest time I could not bring myself to admit that I distrusted the Bible for fear that my solid ground would reveal itself as a landslide to oblivion.

My aim is absolutely not to convince you. I want to explain “my way of thinking” that led to my doubt. Do I agree with you? Yes! I feel uneasy when I hear “I suspend judgment but I trust the entire Bible is infallible or trustworthy, useful, etc.,” because if there is really an unambiguous contradiction in this reality, I can’t find a way to believe that those things can all be true without rejecting our basic principles of logic. However, if you and J (CC) find that it resonates more with you to believe that some version of God described in the Bible exists – one who performed many similar actions and possesses similar qualities, intents, desires for us – if that connects with you and you can believe it, I support and envy you. Such belief pulls at me from an incoherent ephemeral place. Perhaps it will solidify someday. If you think that the Bible is logically consistent throughout, if only we can find a way to choose to trust it – I can’t get there. We’re just in a different place. 🙂

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

(Is God) Good Friday?

512px-TWELFTH_STATION_Jesus_dies_on_the_Cross

Dear Russell & Friends,

Is God good? Of all the skeptical questions to consider as life unfolds, this one rings truest to me. If you answer the way I used to, please stop here. I thought that the objectors protested too much. Why care about the qualities of the non-existent? Then I considered – – does the skeptic care more about God’s character than I do? Couldn’t God exist and be bad? Why conflate goodness and existence? Probably because the faithful say and mean – – God is good, and that’s how I can handle the bad. So this is no straw man. Is God good?

I’ll start with a syllogism that logical people of faith could accept on this Passover & Good Friday: God created everything. Evil is part of everything. Therefore, God created evil. Maybe God only created the capacity for evil with natural laws and crooked hearts that could do wrong. Would do wrong. Nature and the heart of man are violent albeit beautiful places. They are broken. How can a good God willingly create evil?

Passover and the Hebrew Scriptures

Perhaps you’ve seen the new Exodus movie about Gods and Kings. I have not yet. I’m fairly sure that this retelling of the Moses story will at least include the last plague that occurred on the night we now celebrate with the Passover meal – – every first born son of Egypt from heir of Pharaoh to slave — murdered by God’s agent. Every first born of the Jews spared by the substitute blood of a sacrificed animal. Follow Moses and the Israelites into the 40 years of desert wandering and find a record in Deuteronomy 2 of Sihon the King of Heshbon when he refused Moses safe passage to the promised land:

And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. (v. 34)

Why did Moses do this?

And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land. (v. 31)

Why didn’t Sihon just let Moses pass?

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand as he is this day. (v. 30)

Don’t stop yourself from asking – – is God good? Can’t I find passage after passage of what could honestly be called genocide without sensationalism? I am glad that the skeptic asks this and says: one reason I can’t believe is that I can’t reconcile this God with what my heart wants to be.

Several posts ago I was asked, “Does the Bible read like I think it does in Deuteronomy? Did God instruct Moses to kill men, women, and children?” I had just finished Karen Armstrong’s book. She spoke of the Deuteronomist editors in Babylonian exile who constructed the book and others from the 7th to 5th century BCE. She thought, as do many Biblical scholars, that God’s wrath was written into the text as an explanation of Israel’s failure to maintain sovereignty.

Armstrong vindicated God and ascribed the violent depictions to human invention. I was tempted to join her, just as I’m always tempted to blame humanity instead of God for the evil that is all too evident in my own heart and all around me. Another syllogism for believers: God created humans, humans are violent beings, God created violent beings. Did God instruct the death of men, women, and children? Did Moses and his soldiers obey the order with dread or glee? The line between good and evil runs down the middle of every human heart.

Does this bother you? It has always bothered me. It bothers me because I don’t have a clear answer. It bothers me because I desperately want to worship someone good – – clearly better than my instincts and selfishness.

Good Friday

See a man on the cross dying. It is a common sight in imperial Rome and others before and since have certainly had equal and greater physical pain and humiliation. But this man claimed to be from God, even to be God. Is it cosmic child abuse? Is it God completing what he asked Abraham to be willing to do to Isaac? What could be good about the God who requires his son to suffer for others?

Heaven & Hell

If heaven is a restoration of our intended humanity – – complete, not selfish, and a restoration of a groaning earth – – green, not black topped, then what is hell? Isn’t it the place where suffering lasts forever? Isn’t it the place where 100 years of evil purchases 1 trillion years of pain? Isn’t it exhibit A-Z writ large that God cannot be good? And so, says the skeptic, it causes me less dissonance to say – – God does not exist. Who lives in Heaven and who can’t die in Hell? God decides, even chooses – – just as he did with the hearts of Pharaoh and King Sihon.

If separation and suffering like this does not cause you grief, then how do you call yourself compassionate?

Answers

I’ve just tried to be honest with the questions – – to show you that a follower of Christ agrees with a skeptic’s stumbling block: If God is like this then I cannot worship him. How have I answered the questions?

Passover and the Hebrew Scriptures

I see more than wrath and genocide in the pages of the Old Testament. I see new instructions on how to treat the poor, dispossessed, and sojourner. I finished Deuteronomy yesterday. With this reading I opened my eyes to both – – wrath that I cannot understand, mercy that I cannot live authentically. Did we put words in God’s mouth to define our behavior? Did God command us to the evil that our genes enjoyed? I don’t know.

I do see that the Exodus began something different in my heart. I was a slave to my nature and my nurture. I fear that I would have enjoyed the command to battle. I was invited into a new covenant and way of life. Justice and mercy came to oppose fearsome wrath. I found both in Deuteronomy.  That resonated with reality.

Good Friday

Why does a triune view of God matter to the Christ follower? Consider two scenarios:

You are distracted while crossing the street, bending down to pick up an important dropped slip of paper. A woman behind you in the crosswalk sees your danger and responds:

a) She pushes her stroller and the child in it ahead of her to divert the vehicle that will hit you. It works. You are saved. Her baby dies.

b) She leaves her stroller on the curb and jumps herself to push you out of the way. It works. You are saved. She dies.

We can easily accuse God of being the woman in scenario A, doing a wonderful thing in a truly awful way – – the ends just can’t justify the means.   But — if Jesus was the body and God the mind, joining the Holy Spirit in divinity – – it makes more sense. I understand and admire someone dying for me in sacrifice and hope that I would have the courage and love to die for my family or even for you.

I am so thankful for the God who came himself to join our suffering then conquer it.

Heaven and Hell

I’ve meditated on hell before and it still causes me grief. I think that hell avoidance is a poor theology and is the main reason I reject Pascal’s wager. I don’t know if the flames of hell are a metaphor or actual. I do, however, believe in God’s ultimate justice. I actually believe, with C.S. Lewis, that the door to hell will be locked from the inside. It is less about flames and more about continuing to get your own way and be your own center. I fear a perpetual self-centeredness. It is taking all my life to be less self-centered and Jesus has been the way that allows it. So no – – I don’t understand hell. I’m not sure that I was ever supposed to.

Heaven? I don’t think it is escape – – rather restoration. I’ll be kind without constant struggle. I’ll love you for who God created you to be. We’ll enjoy a new earth that looks and feels and smells like it was supposed to be. Fantasy? When religious faith wanes through history, utopian hopes rise. I’m glad that we have hope. It is a good way to live and a better way to not fear the death that comes to us all.

Is God good? Yes. Is he complicated? More than I every imagined. I feel loved by this good God and feel called to love you, whether you believe with me or only want a safe place to rest and talk. I won’t promise you answers that I don’t have. But I’ll tell the truth to the best of my ability.

Pascal,

–1:16

photo credit: Church of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Avranches, Manche, Normandie, France. Fourteen enamel paintings, technique from Limoges, representing the Stations of the Cross by Tango7174 (Tango7174) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Breakfast Table

rustic table

Dear Russell and Friends,

I’m sitting at the same table we leaned on last night.  The table above is just a depiction, but evokes the memory and stirs my hope just the same.  At the table we were seven with a little Pascal darting in and out on spare occasions.  It was a better table than the taco booth.  It was hard dark wood and smithed cold metal with warm lines of approach.  It was not plastic, cramped, or formica.  Our nucleus was complete with our brides J and Mrs. Pascal there.  The valences of friends were three and strong.  Yes – – I just spent 15 minutes with a fantastic high school chemistry powerpoint deck on the periodic table.  Thank you anonymous chemistry teacher and internet Alexandria.  By the way – – you’re a noble gas and I’m an alkali metal, best kept dry.

In person we gained what is so difficult in writing.  We had synchrony.  What writing wins in posterity it loses in the ability to speed, slow, watch, listen, and sub-cognitively interpret what is said and heard, implied and felt.  Smile, posture, tone of voice and stuttering silence were all apparent to me.  I felt at times like an extracorporeal observer.  I suppose for all except myself, I was.  This from a man who claims to love writing in fact to see the world through a writer’s lens.  In person was better.  But here I am at that table.  The sun rose quickly, the grass is greening and birds sing the elegy of night’s retreat.

I asked our readers, some of whom are becoming friends, where to go with this blog after I finished telling the first part of my story.  J was the strongest voice asking for a back and forth about your 42 reasons.  She wants to be convinced and I honestly think you do too.  I just can’t do it.  We will live and die with different ways of seeing the world, different criteria for being convinced, different emphases on the subjective and objective vicissitudes of life.  Madalyn expressed my views well.  Can we respect each other and try to understand each other?  Can we find room in the middle for a rustic table?  That is more where my heart, mind, and soul lie.  I invited a different couple to Détente last night.  They are the age of my older brother, mature, kind, generous, engaged, faithful to work and each other.  She is an agnostic who likes Karen Armstrong’s last book.  He an atheist who likes her first.  They are an amazing couple who love each other and care deeply about other people.  I wanted you and J to see a healthy couple who do not follow Christ but do model his care for humanity.  They care about the homosexual community, racially discounted, urban poor, and those without access to strong education.  I liked this couple when I met them – – just like I liked you and J.

This isn’t only your journey.  As I explained last night, I was raised with inherent biases against gay people, or worse – – Democrats.  These biases are hard to deconstruct.  I was also raised with an abiding love for Christ and the Bible.  The latter has inspired me to leave the former biases.  Just as you and I have come to very different conclusions about the usefulness of scripture, I feel as if my conclusions about people and politics are isolating in the evangelical strands of Christianity that I know best.

The only thing that really bothers me about the journey you and J are on?  You’re leading a double life, expending enormous energy by maintaining a lie.  You’re having to remember who knows what when.  Just tell the truth to real people in person.  “We want to believe, but we don’t right now.”  I can promise one thing and hold myself accountable to any who read here.  You can leave Christ and not leave me.  I will not isolate my circle to an echo chamber reinforcing my own views.  My circle includes you, at the rustic table, in person and here.

This post may feel like a pivot.  Probably because it is a pivot.  I am a strong believer in failure as a teacher and I felt as if I failed you and myself over the past two weeks.  Your posts were not the problem.  I’m glad that you’ve outlined a cogent reason for your non-belief that can allow others to be more authentic.  I will indeed reply to several points that you raised about the Bible.  How can I reconcile the concept that one error causes the whole house of cards to collapse?  Do I think God is bad?  And that’s about where I’ll stop.  Books have been written for and against, and that’s not the book I intend to write.  What about Victoria’s comment post on Miracles?  That deeply affected me and deserves a reply.  What would I like to see from you?  More positive assertions.  You are a positive and gentle person who loves his wife and daughters.  Could you please tell our friends about your curiosity alarm?

Pascal,

–1:16

 

photocredit:  ogstore.com

Trusting the Bible – Ex-nihilo, The 10 Commandments, And The Tapestry

Greetings, my friends!

Pascal, I just read your Counting Threads post and I wanted to respond as soon as possible. I actually wanted to write something last night to smooth things over a bit after my last post and our difficult breakfast conversation, but I fell asleep. We went to the early service at your church today. I want to reassure you of our friendship despite the tough spot where we ended breakfast the other morning, and my rather direct questions in my last post. I don’t want to push you into a corner or make you feel pressure. Seriously. I know that I did that without thinking about it and I’ll probably do it again. I apologize. Your beliefs are valid for you, and I’m very glad that you care enough to express your reasons to those who disagree.

I also want to apologize for working so hard to keep my last post, Is The Bible Trustworthy?, under 3000 words that I didn’t go back and add the soft touches that I normally try to add. As I mentioned at breakfast, I usually write the facts first, and then go back and fill in my emotions about those facts. Writing is a very dangerous medium for communicating about such closely-held, heartfelt worldviews, especially for me, because I often forget to communicate my heart effectively. You can judge how quickly I rushed through a post by two things. The typos, and how soft the direct statements feel. If I made it sound like an interrogation, that means I didn’t go back through to turn my computer voice into my human voice. I think that sometimes has an impact on how my writing is perceived. I’ll work on it, and I’ll try to use more emoticons, as P3 wisely pointed out. 🙂

I’m not going to try to restrain the length of this post. Honestly, it’s not that I can’t be concise. I actually specialize in concise, simple phrases for marketing and content at work. It’s just not my goal here. This is an online record, and here’s to hoping my posterity has a super-computer to parse the relevant info directly into their brain whenever they want it. I know that you presently lack this computer, and for that, I also apologize. 🙂

Okay, so where are we? I’m sorry that I pressed you and I apologize if I said something that made you feel that your position was misrepresented in some way. That happens often in such dialogues and I want to at least try to avoid it. I can tell you make an effort to do so with me. I understand your anger over our last two communications, even if I don’t share it. I readily admit to feeling a bit challenged at breakfast – and feeling like I needed to take time to clarify my position. Your latest post seems to confirm that. So, here we go.

Are the 10 Commandments the best moral system?

I think our issues at breakfast started when you made a statement, or perhaps asked a question about the 10 commandments. I don’t want to misrepresent you, and science shows us that my memory of the conversation cannot be fully relied upon since it’s been a few days. I will refrain from saying what you said and instead state what I think I heard. I believe the gist of the challenge was that you believed the 10 commandments were the best moral guide and do I agree? Please clarify if that’s not what you meant. I responded in person with three things that make it difficult for me to accept that the 10 commandments are the best moral guide. I actually started by saying that I think there are better ones but then I backed up from that because it depends on what we mean. We started by agreeing that the first 3 (I said maybe the first 4) are not very relevant to the skeptic, but the last 6 are. Here are the three things I mentioned (as I recall them) in no particular order about the 10:

  • It’s not just 10. There are something like 613 commandments (I read that somewhere, I didn’t count them all, haha) and it is not clear to me that the other 603 were significantly less important.
  • The other 613 commandments include many things that are not moral.
  • The 10 commandments that we traditionally think of are not the only set of 10 commandments listed in the Bible.

When you pulled out the Bible and asked where this second set was and I couldn’t remember the verse, I can see why you’d question my understanding of the Bible. I said the last commandment in the section was something like, “You shall not boil a baby goat in it’s mother’s milk.” Yes, I do know about sanitary laws in the Old Testament and I understand the reasons for many of them. I’m not offended by your response that I don’t understand scripture because my comment made it sound like it wasn’t taught to me well. That’s a very fair question. You asked me several times at breakfast, “Russell, who taught you the Bible?” Your question is a good one and it deserves an answer.

Who taught me the Bible

I grew up hearing storybook lessons on cassette tape and hearing sermons and Bible lessons from my grandfather, the evangelist with a Bible degree. I also went to church with my parents until about age 7 or so. My father, the missionary and pastor with a Bible degree, taught me some as a child, then my mother. I listened to and read the Bible growing up and attending many different churches and Bible studies from ages 16-24. I took 5 Bible courses in college including focused studies from Seminary accredited teachers in Old Testament Studies and prophecies, Minor Prophet studies, New Testament, Studies on the life and teachings of Paul, and on Romans. I taught Bible studies and read popular books about the Bible. I had commentaries, learned some Hebrew, and built tools to help people memorize Bible verses. I studied the Bible daily and read it through multiple times (Old and New Testament). I referenced the Strong’s Concordance very regularly. I memorized over 300 verses and passages, some of them long. I prayed for people regularly with them, lead people to faith along the Roman road, and read apologetics books to learn to defend and share my faith in a secular world. My bible was heavily highlighted and circled.

Who taught me? Many people. My experiences ranged from the fundamentalist, Young Earth Creationists, to the liberal arm of many different denominations. My Christian route went from Pentecostal, to Baptist, to Catholic, to Non-denominational, to Church of Christ, to Episcopalian, to Methodist, back to Baptist, to Church of Christ, to Lutheran, to Presbyterian, to non-denominational again, and finally again to Baptist. Along the way I had studies of comparative religions, and delved into other non-Christian schools of thought for a time in high-school, including shintoism, taoism, buddhism (mainly Zen) and others. In my 20’s I spent a decent amount of time studying Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, traditional Judaism, Hinduism and Islam to understand where our beliefs differ so I could communicate with them.

I studied the Bible and wrote in journals and read books on journaling and how to study the Bible. I experienced many different methods (slow, deep exegesis and quick daily messages). Each led to reflection, self-evaluation, change, and magnification, and worship. I taught the Bible so I could learn it better. I led as many Church of Christ ministries as Baptist ones. When I accepted the role as president of the Baptist Student Ministry at my college I actually had my eyes set on seminary after a few years because I wanted to learn as much about God’s love letter as I could in this short life. Since my college didn’t offer any more than 5 Bible classes total, I actually dropped out of my major and left school to dedicate more time in Bible study and local mission work (planning to come back to school in a few years to aim for seminary). That’s why I graduated so much later in life. It may sound like a crazy idea to you now, but college degrees just didn’t matter much to my family at the time and the Bible and its message were of ultimate, eternal importance.

So, who taught me the Bible? Like most people, it’s many “who’s.” I learned from many people. Do I think I understand the Bible any better than you or any Bible scholar or self-taught student of the Bible? Absolutely not. Do I admit of my own blindspots? Yes! Definitely. In fact, I know I have the wrong interpretation in many areas, I just don’t know which ones they are. I know I was taught wrong and still hold a many incorrect interpretations, so I’m definitely not claiming superiority here. It’s also been over eight years since I’ve read it all the way through. I fear overcommitting to the wrong view, which is why I’m generally a skeptic and an agnostic. I know enough to know how little our best scholars know compared to the working-class people at the time that these events took place. I would never say that I understand the Bible correctly. We all seek for a coherent concept of God based on our interpretations of the verses. We wiggle things around in our minds until they fit. Even now, I feel that I’m learning. I’m just doing it in a different way than you are. A way that is comfortable and natural for me. 🙂

For years now I’ve felt I read it differently than my believing friends. It’s not that I don’t see the bigger picture, or the tapestry as you put it. It’s just that I also see problems. Contradictions or conflicts jump out at me so very easily. I’m not looking for them. I just can read far without noticing them. A friend may read the flood account and notice something new about God’s providence. I notice that some animals came 2 by 2, and others came 14 by 14, depending on whether they were clean or not. I just read things the way my mind is wired and the way I’m taught in my field. I can’t turn that off. You say the Bible understands you. I remember what that feels like. But that was before I was cursed? with reading it objectively. When I tried to make my faith stand up to reason, my personal attempt failed. Yours may fair better. The faith of many others has.

Am I just rejecting fundamentalism?

As you can read in Not an outsider, I experienced life through the filter of the Bible. My views were sometimes firm, but they were often held loosely depending on the topic and how close I felt it was to the core message of Christianity. I can understand how one would want to assume that if someone is rejecting their faith, they’re really rejecting the extreme versions of the faith that should be rejected. I do not think that is the case for me, though I do of course admit that I could be wrong. It’s really not that I’m rebelling against a 6000 Year Old Earth. That is not the whole of my cognitive dissonance. There is so much more that is claimed by the Bible that must be accepted, even in the liberal interpretations that I was familiar with. I’m not just rejecting the extreme versions of Christianity. I’m rejecting all of them that I’ve heard and can make sense of. Some of the more moderate/liberal/progressive interpretations are definitely compatible with science and help me maintain cognitive resonance, but they also leave me unable to trust the Bible enough to believe the core claims – which is why we’re in this apparent circle.

I started with belief in fundamentalism or conservatism. But as I grew and my reasoning matured, I held some of those views as less relevant to the core faith and left them as an open question. I actually haven’t read anything from N.T. Wright in Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today or in Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues that I didn’t agree with at some point in my faith journey. When even the more moderate claims seemed unlikely, I felt myself slipping down a slope that had no ledge to grasp. Now I’m at the bottom of the abyss staring up at a ledge of confidence far above and no obvious way to scale the torn web of what I used to think were valid arguments for belief. You may have given up a few paces, maybe not. It’s still unclear to me. I hope you find your footing. As much as I’d like company, I’d much prefer you safe and confident in your worldview, your answers about eternity, your support system for grief, and your reasons for denying yourself for the sake of others.

Am I just rejecting some other false doctrine?

I’d like to answer what I think is behind your question, am I rejecting the Bible as it was meant to be understood, or am I rejecting some false version that should be rejected? Might it really be that I just lack the proper understanding what the authors meant? To this I say, absolutely. That’s why I’m blogging. That’s why I’m still engaged in Christianity, still go to church, and blog things like Calling All Christians – Help An Atheist Believe. It’s why I opened my last post (Is The Bible Trustworthy?) with the idea that my goal is not challenging you, but finding a way to get to where you are. I need the understanding and the proper reasoning to get there. I hope my interpretation of the Bible is wrong and that I can find a coherent version of a God that I can believe is likely to exist. I don’t want to lead my family astray. I want to be the spiritual leader they need. With that said, the problem I mentioned in Inerrancy? is that we can’t know the author(s)’ intents. Nobody should have great confidence that they have it right in all cases, or that they ever truly properly understand the Bible. I suspect you agree. I’m just looking for a version that is coherent. If you know of one, please show it to me. I think that’s where our friendship is headed. Maybe not to finding such a version, but to exploring options to see if there is a place where we can both comfortably land.

Back to the 10 commandments

So, what about my statement about the things that didn’t sit well with me regarding the perfection of the 10 commandments, specifically the statement about there being two different places where the 10 commandments were mentioned (and they weren’t the same commandments)? Again, I completely get why this made you feel attacked in some way, and like I must not understand scripture. I was calling into question a book that you love and that hurts. I don’t want to hurt you. I do want to avoid what I did for the first several months of our friendship, which was holding in my honest thoughts to the point that you had little idea what I actually struggled with. If I can be honest, my friend, I think that the future will hold much more of this. We’ll need to decide in many situations if we place more value on honesty or peace, and I know you said you yearn for the struggle. I suspect that I will be bringing up answers to your questions about my doubts that will challenge the way you see scripture. As long as you can expect that and try to be prepared for it, I think it will help you not feel attacked personally. Remember that I validate your beliefs, I just don’t hold them myself. I want to be able to share why that is.

You’ll recall from my text I sent just after breakfast that the verses I was referring to but couldn’t remember were here in Exodus 34.

This tells that God will actually write on the stones this time. You can compare the story (the second writing of the 10 commandments on the tablets, this time being written by God rather than by Moses) to that told in Deuteronomy 10 which leaves out the actual commandments. Deuteronomy 5 is another version of Exodus 20. In the Exodus account the verses are followed with many other laws that must be obeyed. The writers in the Exodus 34 version say that God calls it a covenant in that version, which doesn’t explicitly happen right around those verses in the commonly accepted Deuteronomy 5 version or in the Exodus 20 version. Some of the same verses are included (don’t worship another God, don’t make idols, don’t work on the seventh day, etc.), but others also make it in that don’t seem all that relevant for modern morality. Edit: I edited the rest of this paragraph a bit to clear up some poor wording and clarify my interpretation. I knew the passage well enough to know that there’s significant wiggle room. It could have been (and very likely was, given what’s said about the event in Deuteronomy 10) talking about the words which were to follow (which aren’t recorded in the story), but the wording was a little confusing. That’s basically all I meant. As an example, the chapter has God introducing the words as the “covenant,” giving some commandments in verses spread about in 12-26 (some of which were in the original 10 commandments), asking Moses to write “these words,” and then affirming the covenant with “these words” – implying the words that were just spoken. There are more than 10 rules there, but they could be combined easily enough. At a surface reading, the laws given right there could easily be interpreted to be 10 commandments, though we both agree they aren’t. Taken in full context with the other tellings, it’s clear there are only one set of 10 commandments. I think I was wrong to suggest they might be. I do think that the whole thing odd, especially since only Moses and God (who describes himself in an unusual way) were present. And, if I understand your position, neither of us are convinced that Moses existed. Is Exodus 34 a point to get hung up on or a reason to doubt the Bible? Not at all. I just thought it worth bringing up when discussing the divinity of the perfect ethical system I thought you were proposing. In retrospect, it wasn’t. The goodness of any set of rules will stand or fall on its own. 🙂

So why did I mention the Exodus 34 version (I couldn’t remember the verses) at breakfast? It was all off the top of my head in response to why I doubt the divinity of the 10 commandments. I don’t spend time thinking about this stuff, but I have a sense of some things that cause me, as a skeptic, to doubt the Bible. From that point in the conversation I felt like things derailed a bit because the focus was on who taught me the Bible wrong.

The issue with the law of the covenant is a bit dubious to me. The way the story is told does not support the hypothesis that this religion in question is reporting the truth – but rather that they are trying to justify their laws using a divine authority. That’s my personal assessment and I hope it doesn’t upset you. I as myself why God would change the commandments (or make it seem as if they’d been changed) between those two passages? Do the differing versions support the hypothesis that it is divine? If we didn’t already believe in Christianity (pretend it was another religion we were being introduced to) would there be any obvious way to distinguish the 10 commandments and subsequent laws, as far as divinity is concerned, from the many other societal laws such as the Code of Hammurabi and the Egyptian 42 Commandments called the MA’AT – Right and Truth, (see my post called Who Was Right for a refresher)? In each of these other cases we would probably put the weight of evidence on the side of the laws not being divine. In other words, it would seem more likely that the rulers were either, mistaken or intentionally using divine authority to give weight to the laws. And those laws seem to have predated the Jewish ones. There are many more laws for other cultures developed since then that also claim divine inspiration. Even some modern constitutions do. I need to know what sets the Jewish laws apart in such a way that the weight of evidence is actually on it being divinely inspired, especially if we don’t know who wrote the books and can’t find much of the evidence that we’d expect to find if the claims were true?

Moving on. We can discuss this more later (J just cut out 1000 words of this). 🙂

Great verse!

Isn’t it better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt?

Haha. Yes. When I read this I immediately thought, Proverbs 17:28. It was one of my memorized verses, along with the verse before. Here they are together in NIV (the version I grew up with).

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.

I spent many many hours praying for wisdom, patience, humility, the fruits of the spirit and an even-temper. Perhaps it has shaped me and perhaps it’s my nature, but I managed to end up with the last one, at least. 🙂

The 10 commandments – a good place to start or the Best set of ethics?

We talked about ways to live and why I thought the ten commandments provided a good start, acknowledging that the anchor of authority was the Hebrew God.

Ah. See, I think I misunderstood you at breakfast. What I thought I heard you say was the the 10 commandments were more than just a good place to start, but were the best set of ethics. That’s why I felt the need to provide an explanation for why I doubted their divinity and ultimate superiority to some other systems. If you just meant to say they’re a good place to start when evaluating how to live, I’m fine with that. 🙂

You said there were two incompatible versions of the ten commandments.  I blanched.

What I meant to say (and what I remembered saying, but I could definitely be mistaken) was that there seems to be more than one set of verses that appear to be the 10 commandments, and that casts doubt on the ultimate superiority of the rest of the laws which are already in question (including the main 10 and the rest of the Bible – it’s all on the same foundation).

Russell, who taught you the Bible?!?!

I asked who had taught you how to study the Bible.  I truthfully admitted that I had not been taught and suggested that the same might be true for you.  And then we left.

Haha. Yes. I do remember hearing, “Russell, who taught you the Bible?!?!???!” a few times after I mentioned the second set of the 10 commandments. 🙂 At the end you did suggest that you might be projecting. I answered this above, so we’ll leave it at that. 🙂

N.T. Wright – Simultaneously a fan and Not a fan

You quoted him again in your last post and he’s come up in a few others. I’m partway through Wright’s book called Surprised by Scripture, which you just finished. Immediately after you recommended him I read his book called Scripture and the Authority of God (hoping to find a way to justify trust in the Bible). I did not. I’m finding the first few chapters of Surprised to be very full of logical problems. I respect Wright very much. His writing, intellect, faith, and calling are all high-quality. I want him to be right (giggle). Right now, I can’t find the justification I’m looking for in his reasoning. I think he is right to believe as he does, just as I think you are, but his reasons, unfortunately (at least so far), are unconvincing to me. Despite his scholarship and renown, he seems to be somewhat (and by self-proclamation) unexercised in formal science and doesn’t appear to have a firm grasp on many of the subtler logical fallacies that plague us and our first century counterparts. I’ll save this for another time, but I appreciate you pointing me to him.

Scratching the surface of biblical doubt…

The second chapter is titled, “Do We Need a Historical Adam?”  From the faith perspective that I grew up in, even the question is disrespectful.  To doubt a literal Genesis and a young earth was to doubt Jesus, the resurrection and everything else precious.

This is part of the dichotomy that I now see as false.  If Genesis is not literal, can scripture still be inerrant, infallible, God-breathed (inspired) and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness?

I think we’re getting to it now. 🙂 This is exactly where I and many of our readers are. But it’s much more than your statement is pointing to. It’s not about Genesis, and specifically not about YEC. Bringing up YEC is effectively pointing to a strong position that many don’t support. What you seem to be saying, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that not only is it not “literal” in the traditional since, it’s metaphorical to the extent that Adam and Eve did not exist as the first humans. That leaves a lot of room for questions to creep in. Many of us have found that once you get there, those issues are just the beginning. You doubt that a man named Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. You haven’t responded to my and CC’s questions yet, or Howie’s follow-up comment, but you may doubt that at least some laws and conquests recorded in the Old Testament were actually commanded by God. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

I would never say that inerrancy vs non-divine is a true dichotomy. God can make a book that errs. I completely agree that the Bible could still be true, inspired, and some version of the God we read about it in it could exist. I just can’t muster confidence in such a God if significant and foundational Bible claims are false.

Does wisdom provide compelling evidence of divinity?

1)  The scripture was useful to me in recognizing, but not acting upon my anger in sin.  I was able to find solace in 1 Corinthians 13, reminding me that love is patient and kind.  If I dwelled in anger, that would work against the call to love.

2)  The scripture was useful to me in correcting my errant path.  I turned back (repented).

3)  The scripture was useful to me for training in righteousness.  Training implies a perpetual preparation.  I am hopeful that I’ll become more like Christ with age, maturity, and constant use.  Scripture will be my measure.

I completely agree with this. You are extremely Christ-like and easy to love. However, I found that scripture being useful does not demonstrate that it is divine or infallible in its entirety. I don’t think anyone is saying that none of it is useful to us in the ways you’re mentioning, but nothing in your response makes Biblical claims stand out from the claims of any other religious text regarding how they shape the way we live. Not that saying this diminishes your character or my appreciation of you by one iota.

You are braver than I

4)  I don’t believe in a literal Adam or a six day creation.  That is not surprising for my skeptical colleagues, but what about for the loved sisters and brothers with whom I’m about to fellowship?  It would be very surprising, perhaps threatening, for some.  Like our Taco Tuesday, it could provoke anger.  I should be careful.

I admire and respect you so very much for this.

Metaphorical language

5)  I think in metaphorical language.  If Genesis is the story of transition from prehominid woman to humans in recorded civilization then what value does it have?  Is there still a creation?  Yes.  Is there still a creator?  Yes.  Does the creator communicate with his creations?  Yes.  Can these creations worship themselves as in Romans 1?  Yes.  Is there a Problem deeper than a generalized misunderstanding of logical fallacy?  Yes.  Much deeper.

I think the issue I have with this interpretation is that it casts doubt on the narrative. Not that it disproves it. It makes it less likely for various reasons we can go into later (many of them are referenced in the other 42 reasons I listed in Why I Am Not A Christian). I’ll leave aside what you might mean by “creations worshiping themselves” once again. I touched on this before but I don’t think I heard an acknowledgement or response from you. I probably buried it in a long post. Essentially, I think Paul is redefining worship to mean something other than what we express to deities, so it feels like a caricature. I, as I hope you know by now, completely agree that there is a Problem deeper than a generalized misunderstanding of logical fallacy. I’m not sure we’ve connected here yet, despite our multiple conversations about it. This comment seems to imply that you think I’m saying logical fallacies are the root problem of nature. I’m still a little doubtful that I’ve successfully communicated my position with the problem I mentioned. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Let’s talk Multiverse! Now I’m happy! 🙂

6)  You know that I love studying science and even practice it in an applied manner.  The m-verse doesn’t solve a problem for me. The m-verse doesn’t expand the denominator of time to infinity where anything can happen.

Yes. You know science well, my friend. I would never question that. You even sat through a few of Sean Carroll’s videos, posts and books. I’ve loved accompanying you on the journey. I’m still one audio course behind and have about thirty related videos and blog posts to share with you at some point. 🙂

As for the multiverse, I’m not sure which multiverse theory you’re referring to. We both know there are several categories of Multiverse theories. I don’t think any of them require the universe to be ultimately discrete. In other words, the quantum math works within the framework we set upon it based on observations and theory. The universe can definitely be continuous (ultimately infinite) despite our inability to measure below the plank-length. Based on what I understand right now, I don’t think anyone can assert that we don’t have (or can’t imagine) plausible hypotheses that expand the denominator of time to infinity where anything can happen. I’ll try to find some for you if you like. 🙂

The m-verse can not redefine nothing.

There is an assumption that we have the correct definition of nothing. From my readings and lectures on infinity and nothing, the concept (like most concepts) is profound and much more nuanced and complicated than we imagine. The truth is, we simply have no frame of reference for it. What is the default state of nature? That is the question. We cannot assert it is the absence of all possible relationships, states, fluctuations, etc. We just don’t know that.

Quantum fluctuation is not nothing.

Actually, it’s as close to nothing as we know to exist and it might actually be the empty set of all possible states that could possibly exist. I’m not claiming one way or another. Anyone who is, is doing so to fulfill a need to support their world-view. Nothing can’t even be described except for the absence of all things. Virtual particles in a quantum foam don’t exist, they just have potential. I’m not arguing that this is the ultimate nothing. Far from it. I’m just saying that we can’t say otherwise with any authority. This may not satisfy our philosophical rhetoric about nothing that we’ve been taught, be we have no reason to think such a nothing is possible in the default state of some ultimate reality, much less what the rules might be that would govern such a state, or if our paradigm of rules and sequences even makes sense in that reality.

Also, on this point, here’s another thing that isn’t nothing. A God; a supernatural environment that this God exists in; etc. A being is not nothing so the argument is vacuous in my assessment. What is more likely? A random fluctuation that led to our universe, or a complex, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being with a will and desire to create a universe for us? With this question, we cannot make an assertion that is backed up by evidence, but Occam’s Razor supports the former (not that I have complete confidence in Occam’s Razor applied to logic outside our universe, or even some places inside of it). If something must be eternal, there’s not a compelling reason to think that thing must be a complex mind rather than a default state of existence that has the potential to be in some kind of fluctuation (enter the quantum foam as one possible state of this that we can observe).

I find it intellectually coherent to say that our observable universe began with low entropy because God created it with order.

Low entropy is not order. Low entropy is disorder. If it had zero entropy it would be order. It also would never evolve. It needed some disorder built into the system to form what we see today. As far back as we look, we see or infer entropy. There are both order and disorder in the universe now, just as there were both as far back as we look. This doesn’t conflict with the concept of a God; nor does it support or require a God of Order to explain it – at least to me. 🙂 (This sentence was a train wreck that J fixed with a semicolon. Grammar genius) (She added that part).

I still find it compelling that a beginning begs a beginner.

I agree that it is compelling, which, as you know, is one reason I’m on the fence about the existence of something we might consider a God or prior mind (should I mention it now? Why not… iMultiverse :)). However, if we take this further and say that a beginning demands a beginner, we’re committing the composition fallacy. That’s the false notion that you can apply to the whole of a system what is required by parts of that system. It may be the case, we can’t know one way or the other and we have no universes we can definitively compare ours with.

Ex nihilo nihil fit

First, our universe may yet be flat. The world of cosmology is ever-changing on these topics and I’m doing my best to keep up with the multiple hypotheses. A zero state universe would not violate Ex nihilo nihil fit. Second, neither God, nor the description of the Universe in Genesis 1 represents the philosophical nothing that many assume must have existed (something we can’t really fathom). Third, nothing comes from nothing is not very relevant for convincing me to Christianity for two reasons.

  1. A creation event doesn’t directly and exclusively promote the Biblical claims; it could be any kind of previous state (another God, the God described in some version of the Bible, a multiverse, a simulation, and on and on we could go).
  2. Nothing comes from nothing is honestly irrelevant to me as a philosophy for demonstrating the truth of a God-claim because we don’t need a good understanding of the ultimate first cause. All we need is an explanation for the cause immediately prior to our state of the universe. You know I’m going to point to iMultiverse here, too. 🙂

So, I’m not challenging your belief here. I think you are right to find it compelling that a beginning begs a beginner if that works for you. I’m just saying that it isn’t compelling to me and want you to have a little hint about why that is. If someone believes, they can use Ex nihilo nihil fit to promote their existing belief. If not, it often doesn’t help get someone to belief, although I’m sure there are exceptions. I could be a deist. 🙂

The untruth behind myth, or when trust becomes unobtainable

7)  So my view of scripture has changed.  It no longer bothers me to consider that the creation story in Genesis was a myth (story to teach truth:  not a fiction).

Okay. This is where we differ. The first definition I find for myth in Google is, “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.” The second is, “a widely held but false belief or idea.” In neither case is the story likely to be true. Useful, perhaps, but useful for what? Eliciting a cultural behavior of some kind, usually. I actually loved Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. It was fascinating and really resonated with me. I’ve long believed in a transcendent that is similar to how he describes it in the book and there is a sort of truth there. However, I didn’t feel that the stories were true beyond the meaning they had for the people. With the Bible and our conversation now, we’re talking about justifying belief in an ultimate reality. That is an issue wholly separate from the meaning we might get from such a belief. It may resonate within us, but it may be no more real than any of the beliefs in the Power of Myth.

If someone tells us a story as if it happened, but the events behind that story did not actually happen, the story they told us was, in fact, a lie, or perhaps a misunderstanding – but not a truth. They were untrustworthy about their story and their future trust is in question. There may be truth in the metaphor, but it should be clear that it is a metaphor. If some of the Bible authors weren’t who it lead us to believe they were and if some of events they claimed occurred didn’t actually happen, how can you and I be confident in which ones are right? How can we gain enough confidence to believe the supernatural claims that, without the assumption of divine authority, are more likely to have been mistaken, made up, etc.?

Did God supernaturally intervene to create Eve from Adams ribs? Sounds like that was probably a metaphor. Did God supernaturally flood the world to kill everyone except Noah and those on the Ark? Was it metaphor? Did God supernaturally harden Pharaoh’s heart and send plagues on Egypt? Metaphor? Did the Exodus happen? Metaphor for the small band that left captivity and want to shape their history and consolidate their wisdom and community through story? Were the laws and commandments supernaturally given by God to Moses on a Mountain? Metaphor? Were the killings commanded by God? How much scripture is better interpreted as a metaphor, or something that is important for story but didn’t actually happen, and what impact does it have? Where does it end? What can we trust?

You’re Wright quote from Surprised by Scripture was good, but didn’t include the answer. His answer seems to be that we can’t know, so we should just trust. Asking too many questions and looking too closely at the tapestry may reveal the work of an unskilled artist who learned as the ages passed, but couldn’t start over afresh. What should we trust if we weren’t brought up in the religion but instead evaluated it now as people who are new to these claims from another religion? These are what I ask myself. I cannot trust. Perhaps I could if it weren’t for the other 42 random but mostly independent reasons I’ve listed in Why I’m Not A Christian. But I can’t make those go away either.

Missing the threads for the tapestry (like missing the trees for the forest)?

You quoted me saying “N.T. Wright seems to be saying that if we start discussing why the Bible can be trusted, we’re missing the point of scripture. That is not a satisfactory answer. We must each make up our mind. Is the Bible without error, or might it have some error (in the intent of the original writings)? We must acknowledge the problems listed in the Inerrancy? post. It is not a distracting topic that misses the point. It is the foundation of trust for the whole Bible.”

I disagree with you.  I’m not angry and I don’t plan to revisit that place often.

Okay. That’s fair. But that’s my key issue. If I can’t trust the Bible, I can’t believe what it says about Jesus. That’s it. I’ve explained why. I’m not upset at all. I just want to be clear where that leaves me. I need an answer for the Inerrancy? post and related issues.

I feel that you have been counting threads and missing the tapestry.

If someone came to you and said this tapestry they loved was directed by God, would you look at it closely? If you saw perfection, it may validate the perfection of the one that created it. If not, it doesn’t mean there’s no way that the creator was perfect, but it also does not give evidence to validate the claim that its creator was perfect. Please don’t misunderstand. Again, I do not believe I have missed the tapestry. I’ve been staring at this tapestry for years at many different levels. I can see why you think I’ve missed it since I see it differently than you, and it’s certainly possible that I have. But I agree that we disagree here. It sounds like you still think I’m reading the Bible wrong because I wasn’t taught how to read it. Maybe. Show me what it’s supposed to look like that I haven’t seen.

In the scientific method, the question matters.

Well said. 🙂 What, in your opinion, are the right questions that Buddhism missed? I want to make sure I’m asking the right questions as well.

Why hold that the Bible is trustworthy?

You quoted me saying: “If you believe the Bible is without error in any sense (the meaning or letter of the original authors’ intentions, etc.), do you have a reason that doesn’t depend on the Bible’s claims about itself?”

My non-biblical reason is pragmatic.  With scripture I have the tools to criticize my own heart, to overcome my own biases and to change.  I have the tools to turn (repent) when I’m wrong and the instruction to pursue humility and patience – – difficult character traits.

I want you to know that I deeply respect and identify with your answer. However, I also want you understand that, to me, it doesn’t answer why you think the Bible is without error. It can be meaningful and cause self-evaluation and a heart-change without being wholly true or divine. So I’m not connecting the dots. If you’re willing, please take the time to explain how this answers the question, or rephrase it in a way that might be better for me. The question is driving at how we can trust the Bible so much that we take its word in supernatural claims. It’s not about whether the Bible has some use in how we see the world or govern our ethics. All religious beliefs provide that and we don’t think they’re all divine.

Another possible misinterpretation of The Problem?

You also quoted me saying, “How certain are you in your belief and can you justify your level of certainty in the face of The Problem and what other believers say about their sacred texts?”

I don’t elevate the problem you reference above to The Problem.  On that we fundamentally disagree.

I’m not sure how you interpreted this, so I can’t confirm that there’s a disagreement here. I want you to know, as I tried to explain in Small Bites (response) and Clarifying “The Problem”, that what I’m talking about isn’t the root of all evil. Human’s are perfectly capable of evil regardless of their worldview or meta-cognition. We both knew this before we read The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology and The Lessons of History. I only capitalize The Problem because it’s a blog post title, not because it’s the only problem plaguing us. 🙂

I just think our logical fallacies and cognitive biases (especially those I highlighted in The Problem) are so deceptive, pervasive, and hidden that it’s worth highlighting whenever possible. If we’re not walking around continually aware of them, we’re subject to them without knowing it and we’re digging our own grave in terms of objectively justifiable (and more likely true) beliefs. I actually suspect we are in complete agreement about the problem I mentioned. It seems that you (due to your faith) just posit an additional problem that I (due to my skepticism) think is unwarranted and unnecessary to explain things. I mean that in the most general and nicest and possible way.

We know for certain, as well as we can know anything, that the problem of hidden, unintuitive logical and cognitive biases dealing with perception I’m referencing exists. Christianity adds to that by declaring there is an additional problem of fallenness and a curse from God due to the sin of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve who we think might have been a myth. I think that problem may exist, but I would need a compelling reason to believe that it does exist. The forces of natural selection and our resulting hidden fallacies (bread for survival and reproduction rather than truth) are sufficient to explain our nature without requiring a curse from God. We both agree that the problem I’m referring to exists, right? And the biblical fall might exist. I could be wrong and I don’t want to speak for you, but I think you’d agree with those two statements. In any case, I think you’re trying to apply The Problem to more than I’m trying to apply it to. Does that make sense?

As our favorite historian says, “Every vice was once a virtue.” Our evolution bread us for self-preservation. The Moral Animal taught us about familial circles and the genetic drive to favor preserve and protecting those with a larger Hamiltonian R value (more closely related). Couple those qualities with those hidden fallacies (and motivated reasoning) and you have all the ingredients necessary for man-made woes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more, but I’m not personal drawn to the conclusion that a supernatural curse and a fall from a state of perfection (a state that doesn’t look like ever existed) is necessary to explain our nature. Unless you’re only running off of photosynthesis, historical records show you were eating, evolving, adapting, competing, and killing to survive all the way back to single-celled life – much earlier than the hominids that would have received the curse and subsequent “fall.” The natural explanation makes more sense to me.

Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills is still the book I think is most essential for understanding me and is most descriptive of what I mean by the problem. Chapter 12 is a great 30 minute review if you ever want a refresher. 🙂

How to muster confidence that supernatural Bible claims are true?

You quoted me saying, “If you believe the Bible has errors, how do you have confidence in which parts are true? Why trust it in claims regarding the supernatural?”

If I believe God created, and have no dissonance in accepting mechanisms of a bang, abiogenesis, and evolution writ large, then cognitive resonance and coherence results.

Hey! I have no dissonance there either! Yay! 🙂 If we could stop there at deism I would be whole. I can’t quite make it there, though, and the world pushes us further – towards a specific God-claim. To claims like the set of those made in the Bible, which lead to many problems. I guess you know I’m going to say that your response doesn’t seem to explain how to have confidence about which parts to believe. You seem to believe (please correct me if I’m misinterpreting) that God created and communicated his Word in the Bible, but much of the Bible may not mean what it appears to say (either through the corruption of man, carelessness, misinterpretations of God’s will, or other methods, errors may have slipped in). Some major themes are written normally but science has forced us to believe they are allegorical. How can I know which parts to trust, and how can I justify trusting in any of the supernatural claims (resurrection, etc.)?

Hey! Just over 8000 words! I. Am. So. Sorry. I’ll give an air hug to anyone who actually reads all this. 🙂

I hope this post didn’t upset you too much, other than the length, of course. I’m very much looking forward to time together. See you at Détente!

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Skeptics Annotated Bible from skepticsannotatedbible.com – image public domain from Wikimedia Commons

Is The Bible Trustworthy?

Hi Pascal and friends!

Short summary

Pascal, would you be willing to take another stab at Inerrancy? and my comment on When to give, Where to stand?

Long version for Pascal. I won’t ask anyone else to suffer through it. Sorry, Pascal. 🙂

Thank you for your last post, Wrestling With Russell’s Reasons – – 1. I have deep respect for the steps you’ve taken to listen to and understand the skeptical point of view about the trustworthiness of the Bible. The lengths that you’ve gone to do validate what I wrote of you in Why I Respect Pascal. Seriously. Thank you.

Thank you for providing a rough sketch of where we are on this issue. As I recall, the bulk of the posts on “biblical trust” occurred in May and there was a comment you were going to consider before responding. However, your last post doesn’t pick up from that comment so I wanted to bring it back up. For context, here’s my outline on where we’ve been.

What we’ve discussed regarding the trustworthiness of the Bible

  1. In How Trustworthy Is The Bible (a question, not an answer) I tried to ask whether you think the Bible is trustworthy, why you believe your answer, how certain you are in your belief, and what (if anything) you wish were different about how the Bible was formed. I may have worded it poorly (I probably shouldn’t have mentioned inerrancy or infallibility since it tends to bring up a different conversation), but I was really interested in why you trust the Bible and where that trust comes from. I’m not asking because I want to challenge your position. I’m asking because I want to believe but I don’t know how without first finding a path to trust in the Bible.
  2. In your post called Inerrancy you responded by saying that you support the view of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and you agree with John Piper’s conclusions that the Bible is inerrant, which he discusses in What Is Inerrancy? In that post you said “The [Chicago] statement made sense to me and helped me to reconcile my love of science with my love of scripture. It helped me to attain the cognitive resonance that you desire.” You also said you are open to different evidence and changing your position on this issue. I admire that humility. Thank you, again, for the references.
  3. After listening to Piper’s audio and reading the full Chicago Statement you linked to, I responded with a post called Inerrancy? It was long but I felt it was crucial in explaining why I distrust the Bible. The Chicago Statement contains many logical problems, and to me, isn’t supportable. It demonstrates the type of reasoning I see being used when many believers (my previous-self included) try to justify their support for the authority of scripture – which only makes me more skeptical. Piper explains (in the clip you linked) that he believes the Bible is true in the authors’ (including God’s) original intent, if only we could properly understand it. In the Inerrancy? post, I also responded to his claims and the issues that prevented me from accepting his conclusions. Piper’s reasons, like those of the authors of the Chicago Statement, seem fatally flawed. At that point I was looking for some other way to justify trust in the Bible that didn’t suffer from what I viewed as obvious biases and logical fallacies.
  4. In When to give, Where to stand you wrote a response to my concerns over Piper’s view and The Chicago Statement. You offered that Piper’s arguments are circular and may not be as convincing to a skeptic. Then you pointed to N.T. Wright as one who may be more helpful.  You quoted Wright discussing a sentiment that I’ve seen quite often. It’s something like this. “When we focus on examining the Bible for accuracy we are being distracted from its meaning.” Examples that follow usually include phrases like strong rationalism, fundamentalism, post-modernism, Epicureanism, Protestantism, the Enlightenment, naturalism, literalism, science and the imagined limitations of science, or some other label that we like to place on a cultural worldview. After that the reader is usually led to imagine the worst aspects of those world-views and then encouraged to believe that these bad ideas are what led to either an unnecessary and unreasonable skepticism of scripture or an “insistence” on infallibility or inerrancy. I see this approach of “blaming bad philosophy X for the insistence on being critical of the Bible or overly trusting it” as a distraction, and every time I hear it I feel sad. It is definitely useful to consider history, philosophy and context, but there is a danger of missing the underlying question. It’s easier to knock down the straw men on the edges than to clear up the muddy waters in the middle of an issue. Your Wright quote concludes with, “Such debates, in my view, distract attention from the real point of what the Bible is there for.” From where I stand, the question of the authority of scripture is the primary issue. Debates about the cause for the questions are the distraction. Later you said Wright’s quote represents your heart more fully than the Chicago Statement. This is an example of the ambiguity I’m noticing. I understand some of the reasons you don’t want to commit, but please commit as far as you feel comfortable here for clarity. Are there parts of the Chicago Statement that you disagree with? You said you want to pretend that Romans is true. What does that mean? How confident are you that it is true? In the end, you asked me to “start by listing my objections to Romans 1… and if scripture is unreliable, perhaps it will be self evident.I provided several posts that followed from Romans 1:1-7. I believe the result after discussing these issues was that you trust the Bible for the same reason you believe in Jesus – because you’re in love, the same way you’re in love with your wife. CC and I responded to this. I respect it. It just doesn’t help me. I can’t love my way into a belief that my mind thinks is more likely to be make-believe. I mean no offense by that. I say it in envy, not in mockery.
  5. At the bottom of When to give, Where to stand I wrote this comment. That’s where we left things when you said you were going to think it over and get back to me.
  6. Your last post was largely a restatement of the position you mentioned in When to give, Where to stand, and was not a response to that comment. Here are a few points from my comment that are equally relevant to your last post.

N.T. Wright seems to be saying that if we start discussing why the Bible can be trusted, we’re missing the point of scripture. That is not a satisfactory answer. We must each make up our mind. Is the Bible without error, or might it have some error (in the intent of the original writings)? We must acknowledge the problems listed in the Inerrancy? post. It is not a distracting topic that misses the point. It is the foundation of trust for the whole Bible.

So what are you giving? Where are you standing? Is the Bible inerrant or not? If so, how are you getting past the objections raised in the Inerrancy? post? Are you willing to take a closer look at those claims and justify your own position? That really would help me. Even if you don’t support the Chicago Statement fully, the objections in my post still apply. Until you attempt to confront those objections it sounds like your answer is something like, “Inerrancy doesn’t really matter, let’s move on.” I don’t think that’s what you believe…

…If inerrancy doesn’t resonate with you, what about concepts like “reliable, trustworthy, truthful?” It all seems to end up in the same place to me. I want to be able to trust the Bible, but I find I only really could when I thought the whole thing was inspired and trustworthy. Maybe there’s a way to trust it and acknowledge errors. I think some have done this. Maybe there isn’t but full biblical reliability is [still] somehow justifiable, even in the supernatural claims. I just don’t see how. Please teach me. Show me where my questions are misguided or my answers are unjustified. Show me the right way to consider this topic, but please back it up with reasons that are objectively meaningful. I appreciate your time and willingness to confront these very difficult topics.

Ultimately, it’s not about labels like “inerrancy,” “infallibility,” “biblical literalism,” “post-modernist rhetoric,” etc. It’s about trust. As I mentioned in The Real Reason I am not a Christian:

The real reason I am not a Christian is that the Bible has errors. Therefore, the Bible is either not divine or the divinity behind the Bible is deceptive. In either case, I do not find it possible to trust the Bible’s description of God or Jesus. It is not a choice. I’ve tried trusting it after becoming aware of these issues. Despite my best efforts and desire, I simply cannot believe something I don’t believe. With the cracks I found in the Bible, the faith that would have been required to overcome doubt became diminished to the point that it is now insufficient to push me from doubt to belief.

In your last post you said that after hearing my reply in Inerrancy? and reading more more, you reconsidered. You seemed to indicate that you changed your mind. However, this is where your position seems ambiguous again, and where I’d like clarification. You quoted 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as your new stance, but I’m pretty sure that was also your old stance. It’s confusing because it is the primary verse that the church uses to support inerrancy, infallibility, Biblical trustworthiness, truth, etc., insert your term. Right away, it sounds like a difference without a difference. I’m not sure what you believe now that you didn’t believe before, or vice versa. Then you said:

I was answering the wrong question, but it was the question posed by the fundamental American Christianity that Russell and I knew so well.

I’m trying to see this another way, but I honestly feel that, like Wright’s comments, it’s more of a red herring than anything else. Where the question came from isn’t as relevant, and my deeper question, “Why should we trust the Bible on supernatural claims,” is not limited to American fundamentalism. You mentioned that you’ve taken a stand on a different hill, but I’m not sure your feet ever moved. It looks more like you erased the name, “Inerrancy/Infallibility Hill” and wrote “2 Timothy 3:16-17” in it’s place (which is what is claimed to justify inerrancy/infallibility/trust/etc.). Read your definition of infallibility from your last post and then read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. You also said:

What is the consequence of arguing inerrancy or infallibility?  Romans 1 can be about debating genealogies instead of about how Christ followers should treat gay people.  I find the former approach less helpful and the latter more relevant and profitable.

I agree. It’s also less fun. 😦 It’s not about inerrancy or infallibility, though, and I apologize for letting us get onto that train. Those terms are justifications for believing that the Bible is ultimately trustworthy, and the fact that it is without error or that it is wholly true are sufficient reasons to trust it. As we know, when we’re talking to skeptics, biblical trust must be established before the assumed authority of divine edicts can be meaningfully applied to how we love our neighbors. I don’t see it as “arguing inerrancy or infallibility” but as “justifying why we doubters should believe what this book says.” It looks to me, right now, as though one can’t get there unless they start there. If we’re not brought up in Islam, or if we come to it already aware of logical fallacies and the tricks our mind plays on us, we’re unlikely to believe that what the Quran might say about its own perfection is true, just because it says it. The same goes for the Bible. These texts need to demonstrate they are free from error by actually being free from error. If they are not, we lose the safety net at step #3 that I’ve described in Same Verses, Different Conclusions. Essentially, despite its claim, I see no quality that the Bible possesses which would justify my desire to take its word on seemingly contradictory or very unlikely claims.

Later you said,

So, what am I saying?  I’m not going to marry myself to the terms inerrant or infallible.

I am inspired by your change of heart. However, I’m not sure where, exactly, you changed. What does it mean to say you’re not “married to the terms?” Is that just another way of saying, as Wright does, that you don’t think the Bible is not inerrant, but you do think that talking about inerrancy misses the point? You said:

For the interested I’ll present a link to an interview with N.T. Wright in which he addresses his beliefs on Biblical inerrancy.

I read it. In short, Wright was very dodgy on the issue. Rather than answer why he doesn’t think the Bible is free from errors, he takes the common approach of saying that he’s not not an inerrantist, and the question of inerrancy came out of this and that motivation which has these problems. None of that addresses the fundamental questions with which I began this enterprise in How trustworthy is the Bible? According to Wright, he never claimed that he’s not an inerrantist and he appreciates what people who claim that label are trying to do. He just doesn’t engage in that debate because he thinks it’s ill-formed. So where does that put you? Do you believe that the Bible is error-free in any sense? If so, in what sense, and why do you believe that? How can I believe it? How, specifically, has your stance changed?

Inerrant, infallible, authority, trustworthy, it doesn’t matter. Insert your word. It’s easy to get caught up in the words – words which seem to have such heavy baggage that the bags get more attention than the question. Let’s leave the labels aside for a moment because I really think they’re confusing the issue.

Why does inerrancy and infallibility matter?

When I wrote that the Bible is neither inerrant nor infallible as my first reason, what I meant was, “Since the Bible obviously contains some errors (which decreases my confidence in the Bible), how can I trust it enough to believe it is accurate when discussing the supernatural?” And I do want to trust it.

If the answer is that one of the early follower’s claimed that everything he considered scripture was “breathed out by God…,” that just isn’t enough evidence to justify trust in supernatural claims, especially given the apparent errors or misleading concepts in the Bible that seem to discredit his claim.

The assumption of implicit trust in the Bible colors everything, and it is fundamentally why we disagree. I outlined this in Same Bible Verses, Different Conclusions. What you’re claiming is that the Bible is trustworthy. I’m asking you, or anyone else, to help me see it. If someone can justify why we should trust the Bible, and trust it enough to believe that we can accept what it says about supernatural, one time, non-repeatable events in ancient history – I will give my life back to the Christian God in that moment. Until that happens, for me, an exegesis of Romans is barely relevant. I do want to talk about how to live without a God-belief, if I must, while trying to carve out some meaning in life – but I’d much rather return to the simple answers to those questions which I once firmly held.

If the Bible was without error, that would be astonishing. It’s such a vast and complex book full of so many claims. The odds that none of the ones we could test would be false is very low. If we could find no issues, that would indeed be strong evidence for what is claimed – that some guiding hand was behind it. That would give us higher confidence that we could trust it, perhaps even in supernatural claims. If it does have errors, is there any way to avoid losing some confidence in the other claims of the Bible and sliding into deep uncertainty?

Questions

  1. If you believe the Bible is without error in any sense (the meaning or letter of the original authors’ intentions, etc.), do you have a reason that doesn’t depend on the Bible’s claims about itself? How certain are you in your belief and can you justify your level of certainty in the face of The Problem and what other believers say about their sacred texts?

  2. If you believe the Bible has errors, how do you have confidence in which parts are true? Why trust it in claims regarding the supernatural?

Pascal, I know that you care and you really want to help me (and other’s here) find the way back to belief (if they’re interested). I think it would be more helpful to focus on the challenge of helping us justify trust rather than focusing on distancing yourself from the baggage driving the inerrancy doctrine. If you can find a way to explain a) why it’s reasonable to assume that the Bible is ultimately trustworthy, and b) how to logically maintain that belief in the face of apparent errors (and copied themes), I will join you in faith. Since you know that biblical trust is the main stumbling block for me and some of the skeptics here, I wonder if you’d consider revisiting Inerrancy? and this comment, then clarifying your position on biblical trust?

See you soon! 🙂

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Wrestling With Russell’s Reasons – – 1

512px-Rembrandt_-_Jacob_Wrestling_with_the_Angel_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Dear Russell & Friends,

Today begins an attempt to reply to Russell’s reasons for not following Christ.  The icon above is a Rembrandt circa 1659 entitled Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.  It depicts the biblical story from Genesis 32.  That story about Jacob’s life has always had meaning for me.  God allows us to, even encourages us to wrestle with him.  He did not create automatons and your intellect does matter.  I have wrestled with many things in faith.  Sometimes I win the match.  Sometimes I lose.  I always come out better for the struggle, and like Jacob, I still limp.  Russell and I talked yesterday and agreed on a general format for going forward.  I’ll try to reply to one reason each week.  As the reasons unfold you’ll see that we could spend a year on each one or even an academic career.  That is neither feasible nor desirable for our purposes.  There are, however, scholars on both sides of the argument who have spent substantial time and effort in producing works for the interested and the curious.  Whenever possible, lets lead each other to those works.  Without further ado:

Reason 1:  The Bible is neither inerrant nor infallible.

That was a great place to start.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have four cornerstones for belief that are also stumbling blocks for the skeptic:  supernatural, scripture, saints, and saviour.  Russell started with scripture and began with the specific language of the churches that he and I grew up in.

Inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible is without error or fault in all its teaching.

Infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true.

Some equate the two terms and some don’t  There are subtle differences that the equators find irrelevant.  One point of agreement, however, is that the belief in inerrancy and infallibility is not the same as the belief in biblical literalism.

What was Russell arguing and why was this a good place to start?  He responded to a common American fundamentalist evangelical teaching – – something that we both grew up with.  I wrestled with his first reason in several ways (and continue to do so):

  1. I studied inerrancy by reading a small book on my shelf then posted the reflections here.  This document would certainly be representative of the church to which I’m going this morning and in fact of all the churches that I’ve attended since childhood.
  2. Russell replied with a detailed analysis of my thoughts and of the statement.
  3. I started reading again, primarily Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright.  Both are accomplished New Testament scholars who come to completely different conclusions.  I’ve only read one Ehrman book, but I must read more.  It is difficult for me because his attempts to constrain sarcasm sometimes seem half-hearted.
  4. I began to realize that my reading had in fact been narrow.  What about the context of scripture in the landscape of sacred texts and world history?  That’s when Russell introduced me to Audible books and I turned off NPR during the commute.  The bookshelf page is an attempt to chronicle my reading with Russell and before him.
  5. I continued to run and think and sleep, realizing that so much happens in my subconscious before I have the thought accessible in the frontal lobe and available to write here.
  6. I realized that I might be fighting on the wrong hill.  What exactly does scripture mean to me?  Should I defend the terms inerrant or infallible?  That’s what Russell was trying to get at with his very patient reply to me.  I accepted the terms initially and was prepared to defend them.  I had grown up with them. As I studied more, it appears that American protestants for the last two hundred years had grown up with them.
  7. I reconsidered.  My experiment in defending the terms inerrant and infallible yielded a negative result.  It did not increase my love for Christ or my love for others.  It was not a sure and sufficient reason for my skeptical friend.  The scientific method cherishes negative experiments.  They teach you as much as the positive ones.  However, there is a publication bias that over-represents the experiments which validate the initial hypothesis.
  8. Where do I stand now?  Here is the best description of my regard for scripture:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete,equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

I was answering the wrong question, but it was the question posed by the fundamental American Christianity that Russell and I knew so well.  What are the consequences of taking my stand on a different hill?  I suppose that you could view this as a retreat.  But, if I’m arguing the wrong thing in the wrong spirit, then I should retreat.  This represents a healthier way of representing what scripture actually means in my life.  That is why I’m going slowly through Romans.  What is the consequence of arguing inerrancy or infallibility?  Romans 1 can be about debating genealogies instead of about how Christ followers should treat gay people.  I find the former approach less helpful and the latter more relevant and profitable.

So, what am I saying?  I’m not going to marry myself to the terms inerrant or infallible.  After a year of reflection I believe that I was wrong to do so.  For the interested I’ll present a link to an interview with N.T. Wright in which he addresses his beliefs on Biblical inerrancy.  I confess to being swayed by his scholarship and opinions.  I confess that my confirmation bias kicks in much stronger when I read him as opposed to Ehrman.  However, this is a change of mind for me and a difference in how I’ll approach the crucial subject of scripture.

The brief interview is here.  In the comments section below the interview we learn by negative example what tone to avoid in our own dialogue.  Your conversation is welcome here as Russell and I continue to wrestle with reasons.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another Year?

256px-Calendar_Vienna_1780

Dear Russell & Friends,

Another year.  Another year?  I remember us sitting at this table the Friday night before our first post setting up the parameters of the blog.  It leaked into Saturday morning.  We had picked our pseudonyms a week before.  No one has mentioned the connection to Ender’s Game.  Perhaps we have forgotten too – – am I Demosthenes or Locke?  I can’t remember.  I do remember the hesitation I had in titling my first post Why I am Not a Christian.  Would anyone get the irony?  It felt like an opening move in chess.  Then two weeks later, your post Why I am Not a Christian.  43 reasons.  Damn.  At least drop one and claim to have the answer to life, the universe, and everything.  Have I understood at least one of those reasons better?  The question has significance.  I used to argue. In honest truth, I enjoyed it – – probably still do.  What changed? Maybe years have added maturity.  I’m 42 now.  I do have the answer to life, the universe, and everything, so why flaunt it?  But I don’t think maturity is the answer – – maybe part of it, but not the answer.

You are the answer.  After two years of meeting we are becoming friends.  It takes time and we’re spending it. The more I know you, the harder it is for me to be irritated when I disagree.  You have no idea how much I disagree.  That’s not true – – I think you know very well.  But I see your motives, see your family, see you (African sense) and I’m not offended anymore.

What of our others – – those who join to read and write?  Where did they come from?  Our first other is your first other – – CC.  I hate that name, but love her.  She is an authentic doubter, not a Counterfeit Christian.  CC writes and thinks like me but with a woman’s perspective and with more talent.  She wanted me to befriend you, hoping I would change your mind.  That may never have been the goal – – we’ll have to ask her.  She loves you and wanted you to have another friend besides her.  I hope you know now that she’ll never leave you even if you never come back to faith – – and neither will I.

Why have others joined?  She brought some.  In the longest tail called the internet we have found an eclectic micro-niche of people who may wish to understand each other and build bridges.  We have called for and tried to model humility from both skeptical and believing perspectives.  Others just came.  You thought it was my posts on Romans.  Good gracious.  You could paper the walls of Grand Central Station with commentaries on Romans – – it was written almost two thousand years ago.  You may be right – – I’m just not sure.

Regardless of the reason, I have to balance my unattractive tendency to rejoice in growing statistics with a deeper and more noble desire to share what we’re building here.  I look forward to your post today.  It may be (insert sardonic smile) longer than mine.  It will be you – – someone I have grown to love.

Your brother,

Pascal

–1:16

 

photo credit:  old calendar, wikimedia commons, public domain