Is the Bible Imperfect, or Was God Unable to Create it Perfect?

Dave, an atheist on Twitter, was arguing with Man-E, a Christian who blogs here.  The subjects were many, but one thread had to do with inspiration.  Dave poses this seemingly unanswerable question:

This is what we in the business call a “false dichotomy.”  The reason?  A serious misunderstanding of divine inspiration.

God is not a suit-and-tie executive and the 40+ authors of Scripture weren’t beleaguered secretaries trying to take dictation.  It was, unfortunately, a little less precise.

It was more like God gave an author an idea, and left that author to write his own expression of that idea.  So the essence of what the Scripture reports is perfect, but the method of that expression is fallible since it was man who committed it to writing.

To complicate matters, we have copies of copies of copies.  While these have proven very reliable as we uncover older and older copies, some variants have creeped in and that hampers us.  Further complicating it is the cultural gap that exists between the ancient Israelites of the second millennium BC or the early Christians of 2000 years ago, and the average 21st century citizen.

So what we have is that God is capable of creating a perfect Bible.  However, the task of writing the law was given to man and the task of preserving and teaching the Word of the Lord also to man.  The textual variants, the cultural gaps, and all of the other barriers to understanding that Word are man-made, but not insurmountable.

To overcome it, you either need to roll up your sleeves and study ancient culture and customs.  Or crack open a good Bible commentary.  I personally have a concise commentary and a Bible dictionary, both of which help me understand things in the Bible that aren’t immediately clear.  There’s even an online Bible, the NET Bible, which helps with translating the ancient languages (in case that question ever pops up; but unless you blog on apologetics it rarely will).

If you’re not the solitary, bookworm type, there are people that have studied ancient culture and customs and own those resources I mentioned.  They might even have better ones than I do!  The Bible, in fact, mentions that not everyone is called to be a pastor or teacher (see 1 Cor 12, esp vv. 27-31) — and it is only through using all of our spiritual gifts as a body that we can grow and prosper.

To me, Dave is neither making an argument, nor a very good point within the context of a larger argument.  All Dave is doing is whining that God expects him to work to understand things.  And who wants that?

I think J.P. Holding is on to something here:

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Defeating Religion in One Easy Step, part 4

Part 4 — Explanatory Scope

Luke Muehlhauser, the proprietor of Common Sense Atheism, has proposed that we can defeat religions in one easy step.  To do so, he takes a broad look at different arguments for God and notices what they all have in common: They all posit God as the best explanation for something.

Luke identifies the following four criteria for a good explanation:

  1. It’s testable and it passes the tests we give it.
  2. It’s consistent with our background knowledge and experience.  (What philosopher Tom Morris called The Principle of Belief Conservation).
  3. It’s simpler than the alternatives.
  4. It has good explanatory scope — in other words, it explains a wide variety of data.

I’ve already argued that God creates a testable hypothesis and that this hypothesis passes that test.  I also argued that God doesn’t violate Morris’s Principle of Belief Conservation.  Yesterday, I argued that God’s own complexity doesn’t mean he isn’t a simple explanation.  Today, I will talk about the explanatory scope of God and make my concluding remarks. Read the rest of this entry

Defeating Religion in One Easy Step, part 3

Part 3 — Simplicity

Luke Muehlhauser, the proprietor of Common Sense Atheism, has proposed that we can defeat religions in one easy step.  To do so, he takes a broad look at different arguments for God and notices what they all have in common: They all posit God as the best explanation for something.

Luke identifies the following four criteria for a good explanation:

  1. It’s testable and it passes the tests we give it.
  2. It’s consistent with our background knowledge and experience.  (What philosopher Tom Morris called The Principle of Belief Conservation).
  3. It’s simpler than the alternatives.
  4. It has good explanatory scope — in other words, it explains a wide variety of data.

I’ve argued that God creates a testable hypothesis and that this hypothesis passes that test.  Yesterday, I argued that God doesn’t violate Morris’s Principle of Belief Conservation.  Today, let’s find out if God, as an explanation, is too complex. Read the rest of this entry

Defeating Religion in One Easy Step, part 2

Part 2 — The Principle of Conservation of Belief

Luke Muehlhauser, the proprietor of Common Sense Atheism, has proposed that we can defeat religions in one easy step.  To do so, he takes a broad look at different arguments for God and notices what they all have in common: They all posit God as the best explanation for something.

Luke identifies the following four criteria for a good explanation:

  1. It’s testable and it passes the tests we give it.
  2. It’s consistent with our background knowledge and experience.  (What philosopher Tom Morris called The Principle of Belief Conservation).
  3. It’s simpler than the alternatives.
  4. It has good explanatory scope — in other words, it explains a wide variety of data.

Yesterday, I argued that God creates a testable hypothesis and that this hypothesis passes that test.  Today, we are going to move on to what philosopher Tom Morris calls “The Principle of Belief Conservation,” which he sums as follows: Read the rest of this entry

Defeating Religion in One Easy Step, part 1

Part 1 – Laying the Groundwork

Luke Muehlhauser, the proprietor of Common Sense Atheism, has proposed that we can defeat religions in one easy step.  To do so, he takes a broad look at different arguments for God and notices what they all have in common: They all posit God as the best explanation for something.

The problem?

How does saying “God did it” explain any of these things? How does “God did it” offer a solution to any of the problems that philosophers and scientists are working on? When you’re confronted with a difficult problem, you can’t just say “Well, I guess it was magic.” That doesn’t solve anything!

“Poof! Magic” is not an explanation.

How is he going to argue that God isn’t the best explanation?  He begins by listing reasons that an explanation would be good:

  1. It’s testable and it passes the tests we give it.
  2. It’s consistent with our background knowledge and experience.  (What philosopher Tom Morris called The Principle of Belief Conservation).
  3. It’s simpler than the alternatives.
  4. It has good explanatory scope — in other words, it explains a wide variety of data.

Luke argues that “God did it” fails all four of these criteria: Read the rest of this entry

Shermer’s Summary of Christian Belief

I’m dumbstruck by the number of former believers, people who say that they were passionate Christians — read the Bible, prayed often, and even engaged in door-to-door evangelism — that can’t seem to articulate their former belief system correctly.

They are atheists because they believe that the God they once served never existed.  And that’s a real possibility.  Based on Michael Shermer’s summary of his former faith, I can confidently say that that god doesn’t exist.

This is Shermer’s summary from the forward to Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists:

  1. Christians claim that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenovolent — all knowing, all powerful, all present, and all good, creator of the universe and everything in it including us.

  2. Christians believe that we were originally created sinless, but because God gave us free will and Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, we are all born with original sin as a part of our nature even though we did not commit the original sinful act ourselves.

  3. God could just forgive the sin we never committed, but instead he sacrificed his son Jesus, who is actually just himself in the flesh because Christians believe in only one god — that’s what monotheism means — of which Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just different manifestations.  Three in One and One in Three.

  4. The only way to avoid eternal punishment for sins we never committed from this all-loving God is to accept his son — who is actually himself — as our savior.  So …

God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.  Barking mad! [p. 11-12; ellipses and emphasis in original]

Let’s take it one at a time.

There seems to be little to with which to take issue in (1).

(2) is basically right; however, original sin represents the propensity to sin rather than an actual sin itself.  Sin taints the whole earth and everything in it, including mankind.

So we are born with a sinful nature, and that is abhorrent to God.  If we remain on that course, we will sin and we will move further and further away from God.  The solution can’t, therefore, come from ourselves and must come from God.

(3) has two problems with it.  First, I hesitate to say that God can’t simply forgive sin.  What God cannot do is behave inconsistently with his own nature, because God is perfect.  So I’d prefer to think of it as God won’t simply forgive sin; but a price or a penalty must be exacted first.  In the Old Testament, we see a sacrificial system in place to make propitiation for our sins.

Why?  Because there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.  God killed a bear to cover Adam and Eve’s shame — the example we draw from!  The High Priest would make propitiation once per year by making an offering and entering the Holy of Holies by the blood of it.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

The second problem is the description of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as “manifestations” of God.  There is only one essence of divinity in Christianity, and this essence is simultaneously shared by God the Father (the Creator, described in the OT), God the Son (the Savior), and God the Spirit (the Helper).

Characterizing these Persons as “different manifestations” of God is heresy.  The Athanasian Creed, one of the three foundational creeds of Christendom, defines what the Trinity is and is not, and it doesn’t leave room for modalism:

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.

Each Person of the Trinity shares the power, glory, majesty, and titles with all other members.  However, each has different roles not shared with the others:

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

As for (4), it suffers from the fundamental error identified in (2): sin is both action and nature, and the fact that we have a sin nature is itself abhorrent to God.  But, left on that path with no aid, we will sin.  So we’re born sinful, we follow that nature — no surprise there — and God punishes us.  Not for sins we didn’t commit, but for ones we absolutely did.

The way out is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  This recreates our flesh anew and removes the sin nature; it removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.  We are regenerated.  We are no longer enslaved to sin, and so we are able to choose life instead of inevitably following the path that leads to death.

The conclusion suffers from all of the problems I identified — misunderstanding of the Trinity, misunderstanding of sin, misunderstanding of what the Savior does for us when we accept him as such.

So good for Shermer in not believing in this god.  He clearly doesn’t exist.  The God described by the Bible, however, does exist!  Let’s hope there’s an argument against him somewhere in the rest of the book.

We Have a Major Theological Crisis!!!

by Andrew Corbett

We have a major theological crisis. It’s really bad. In the public square we hear it, read it, and are shaped by it. Most of the proponents of this bad theology make the most amazing statements about their ‘god’ and then make the outrageous assertion that they are describing our God. For those introduced to God, it is easy to detect this bad theology. Truthful theology presents God as the Sovereign, All-Wise, All-Knowing, All-Good God who demands, expects and deserves our utter devotion and submission. Deceptive theology presents its god as the one responsible for our happiness and existing to grant our requests. Even the youngest Christian with an elementary understanding of the Bible can spot the difference. And you can easily tell the difference for yourself between those who hold to Truthful Theology and those who hold to Deceptive theology: their response to tragedy.

I frequently see an argument framed thus:  How can there be an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God if there’s all kinds of tragedy in the world?  There’s some variation of it on every atheist gathering place the Internet has to offer.

I think Andrew Corbett nails the answer:  Bad Theology!  People create a false idea of who God is, and then they mad at their false god, and they decide he doesn’t exist.  Of course he doesn’t exist!  But don’t mistake him for the real God!

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Did the divinity of Jesus emerge slowly after many years of embellishments?

Skeptics often say that the stories of Jesus were embellished upon for years. They speak along the lines of books like The Da Vinci Code, which (though fictional) proposes that Jesus was voted a god at Nicea. Before that council of the early church, no one believed that he was divine.

Fellow apologist, the anonymous but wonderful Wintery Knight, defends the notion that Jesus was considered divine from the get-go.

WINTERY KNIGHT

How early is the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus?

When I answer this question, I only want to use the earliest, most reliable sources – so I can defend them on historical grounds using the standard rules of historiography.

The 4 sources that I would use are as follows:

  • The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, and 1 Corinthians 1
  • A passage in Philippians 2
  • Two passages from Mark, the earliest gospel
  • A passage from Q, which is an early source of Matthew and Luke

So let’s see the passages.

1 Corinthians

I’ve written before about the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which skeptical scholars date to 1-3 years after the death of Jesus, for a variety of reasons I covered in the previous post. Here’s the creed which definitely makes Jesus out to be more than an ordinary man. Ordinary men don’t get resurrection bodies after…

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Dr. Moreau & Why Christianity is Different

I’ve been asked, “What makes Christianity different than any other religion?”

Answer: it addresses a fundamental problem of human nature in a way superior to all other religions.

The problem in question is ontological — can we overcome our natural inclinations through sheer willpower alone?  Can we train away our very selves?  Or, put another way, can nurture overcome our nature? Read the rest of this entry

Another Take: Pregnancy is Like a Traffic Accident

In this post, I argued that pregnancy is like a traffic accident:

If I needed a ride home from work, and one of my employees was kind enough to offer a ride, does that means I consent only to the ride home?  Well, actually, it means I give tacit approval to whatever happens on the ride home — whether I like it or not.  In other words, I can’t roll a d20 against my intelligence and disbelieve something I don’t like away.

For example, if the employee ran a red light and another car crashed into my side of the car, paralyzing me from the waist down.  A grim outcome to be sure, and I can seek monetary damages against the employee for medical expenses and rehab.  But I can’t wish the paralysis away.

In a way, abortion is the magic disbelieve roll.  “I’m not ready,” or “I don’t want to be a parent yet,” or any of the other excuses (and they are excuses) one manufactures.  The fact of the matter of is sex is tacit consent to pregnancy, since pregnancy is a possible result of sex.  We are taught in grade school that that is the case, so there isn’t an excuse for not knowing.

Agree or disagree with my analogy, I’m not the only one who uses it.  Here, Clinton Wilcox argues along similar lines, but I think he phrases it a little bit better:

When someone drives a car, they are taking on certain risks, such as the possibility of getting into an accident. Now, if you do get into an accident, you should not necessarily be forced to live with pain, injuries, etc., that may result from it. You also may not be at fault for it as the other driver may be. Or in some cases no one may be at fault for it.

So while you don’t necessarily have to live with the consequences, the person at fault does have to make it right by paying for the other person’s medical bills, paying to repair their car, etc. (or having their insurance do it, if they’re insured). They can’t just walk away and say, “Sorry, I consented to drive my car but I did not consent to get into an accident. You’re on your own.” Read the rest of this entry