Monday, June 6, 2011
Christian Tap-Dancing on Biblical Contradictions
When one has seen a top notch tap dancer it's truly a spellbinding sight. The art isn't very much practiced anymore, and the only time one's likely to catch it is maybe on a segment for a performer on 'America's Got Talent' or 'So You Think You Can Dance'. Then, it's totally riveting to see the intricate and rapid steps all around. Anyway, in terms of logic, truth and argument, that physical tap dancing often reminds me of the extraordinary tap dancing dishonest Christians do in attempting to defend their good Book from the (justifiable) charge of contradiction. It is as if they let their minds and brains take some kind of religious coke to do any and everything to explain away the charges, even calling those of us who bring it to attention "fools". But just WHO are the real fools here? Those who refuse to call a spade or spade, or those who think all spades are really hearts in disguise?
On one particular website, Andrew Tong et al make a bold and in my opinion largely futile effort investing their intellectual capital in an attempt to justify or rationalize biblical contradictions. Their reasoning is so implicitly flawed that it alone merits being held up to the harsh light of scrutiny as an example of how the Christian is able to craft beliefs apart from any intelligence. Of course there are errors and mistakes in the Bible! The only people who deny the presence of errors and mistakes are those with an overweening ideological commitment to a belief that the Bible is somehow infallible, inerrant, or perfect. The problem is that by claiming this, they end up putting themselves in a rational hammer lock! The reason is that if the Bible (e.g. KJV) is indeed "inerrant" and moreover can be read LITERALLY, then it requires no offering of "contexts", parsing, explanation or hypothetical re-configuring! NONE of these would be needed IF this compilation of 66 books could really be taken literally.
So all the Bible thumpers do, by their extraordinary lengths in "explaining" the contradictions, is disclose their book CANNOT be taken literally! Of course this makes eminent sense! We can find errors and mistakes everywhere we look in the Bible precisely because it's not one uniform book with one author but a collection of 66 separate texts written over 1,000 years and not all of the writers agreed on the contexts, emphases and idioms they wrote. Indeed, most of all they were totally ignorant of things humans have learned since then. So basing truth or current theory on what an ancient sheep herder may have scribbled on a parchment is the next thing to insanity.
Anyway, let's look at some of the arguments Tong makes and have a good laugh. His first mistake is a dead giveaway admission, i.e.:
"I feel the considerations in this document are important not only because they attempt to refute claims that the Bible is contradictory (a cause I have not been convinced is of utmost importance), but also because they are intrinsically an interpretation of the teachings of the Bible"
First, I take issue with his line that refutation of biblical contradictions is a "cause I have not been convinced is of utmost importance". If that were so, why devote over three web pages to it (and lots of obvious thought, contemplation) and enlist multiple authors to assist? Doesn't add up! But this sort of dishonesty is what we've come to expect from the bible crowd. Then, in one fell swoop he concedes the Bible can't be taken literally. Not if it must be subject to any interpretation! So, in his palpable action to "refute claims the Bible is contradictory", say by appealing to his document which he describes as "intrinsically an interpretation of the teachings"...he effectively removes it from consideration of being amenable to direct, simple literalist reading. After all, literal reading means (necessarily) that one doesn't require assistance in interpretation! One needs no footnotes, no endnotes, and no intrusive inserts as explanatory devices.
His next error follows in rapid succession:
"Before we launch into the actual reply, there are several points worth mentioning. First, it would be prudent to speak of the burden of proof. It's a general rule in philosophy that she who proposes must explain and defend. If someone says that "X exists," the burden is on her to provide a case for the existence of X. The burden is not on the one who denies that X exists. For how can one prove a negative? In this case, it is the critic who proposes. He claims that the Bible is "full of contradictions," and often proposes a lengthy list.
Not so fast there! The error here is framing or stating a supposed ab initio claim that isn't truly the original claim! While it is true, as he insists, the one making the ORIGINAL claim has the burden of proof (a little fact I wish more God proposers would acknowledge!) he errs by saying it is the one claiming biblical contradictions. THAT is not the original claim! The original claim is the Believer's claim that The bible can be read LITERALLY! Also, that the bible is the "inerrant word of God". Hence, THESE claims come before any for biblical contradictions, and indeed are what the concept of contradiction is based upon! Since the bible believer is the one making them, for literal reading and inerrancy, then HE must shoulder the burden of proof!
IF the original claim of the Bible believer be false: that in fact it can't be read literally, then clearly there's no basis for any contradictions, NOR to try to explain them! Hence, contextual parsing is expected as well as more detailed explanations of the passages. However, as I noted above, a literal text has no need to be parsed, explained, or contextualized! Since only a text that is impervious to those must be subjected to this process then the issue of biblical contradiction only becomes relevant and germane in the literalist framework. Don’t forget here that biblical literalists don’t tell people to read it in the ‘spirit of the book’, they tell people to take it LITERALLY! (Except they allow they don’t have to follow their own injunctions when they need to address contradictions!) That means no qualifications, but as is. The contradictions I’ve listed in prior blogs can all be verified by any reader and in many cases these are not “minor”. For example, whether Jerusalem fell to Joshua and the Israelites or not, is not minor! If it didn’t occur, then there’s no historical basis to take it seriously. In addition, whether a person shall spend eternity in Hell or it's just temporary, is no small deviation but a major divergence!
Then there is the matter of how a contradiction is defined. According to my Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary:
Contradiction, n. Direct opposition between things compared, inconsistency. That which is inconsistent involves involves variance, discrepancy or even contradiction, especially from the point of view of truth, reason, or logic
Note that the word “discrepancy” above, ALSO means DIFFERENCE!
Thus, the two words can, in effect, be used interchangeably, and moreover there is more than the implication (from the latter extension of the def.) that an assault on truth is involved. For example, consider:
Are we saved through works?
•Ephesians 2:8,9 "For by grace are ye saved through faith . . . not of works."
•Romans 3:20,28 "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight."
•Galatians 2:16 "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ."
•James 2:24 "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."
•Matthew 19:16-21 "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he [Jesus] said unto him . . . keep the commandments. . . . The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven."
Again, these aren't merely "minor problems" as the brain dead Christianoids are fond of portraying! Let's return to Tong and his apologia:
"What is really relevant is whether our explanations show that the point of contention is not necessarily a contradiction. If we succeed, then the critic's assertion that "X and Y are contradictory" is no longer an obvious truth, instead it becomes merely a belief that someone holds."
Again, fair enough but once you must proffer or advance "explanations" then you're conceding your book is not necessarily inerrant (e.g. human foibles of language and context must be factored in) and also that it cannot be taken literally. Once more: a book that can be taken literally doesn't require explanations!
Tong goes on, now begging the question:
"At this point the critic might cry "foul" and note that it is the Christian who proposes. She is the one who claims the Bible is inerrant, thus she should demonstrate this. But how? How does one demonstrate a document is without error? "
But this is elementary, dear Watson. It means simply identifying a single modern scientific fact, finding the analogous reference in the Bible and ascertaining if the good book supports it,..or not. If not, even in ONE instance, then the Bible cannot be inerrant. The trouble is most bible pounders and literalists refuse to go so far as to identify such instances! Even when they do, they try to tap dance around the scientific fact to attempt to make the biblical reference compatible when it obviously isn't.
One clear as 'day' example, no pun intended, is from Gen1:1-3:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light and there was light."
Now, it's clear on reading the passage that the “light” referred to is none other than the SUN. It's also clear from a literal reading that the Earth was supposedly made BEFORE the Sun. (E.g. 'Earth without form, darkness upon face of the deep').
However, this is physically impossible. Hence, NOT true! We know from modern astrophysics that the solar proto-nebula had to collapse first to yield the SUN. (No planets, since they had yet to spin off the collapsing nebular cloud – and it hadn’t cooled enough to allow it). As the proto-solar nebula collapsed it also began spinning and gained angular momentum. This angular momentum was then transferred to regions of the nebula that cooled and separated from the whole, and these regions became separate clouds of dust and gas that aggregated into the planets.
Under a combination of electrostatic attraction (between larger charged particles) and gravity (attracting the whole mass from the center of the cloud) each planet was formed from what we call a “planetesimal”.
As more angular momentum was transferred – the planetesimal’s (each one) acquired their own spin (in a period of revolution) and specific shapes. Thus, the Earth spun off about 1.1 billion years after the solar nebula fully collapsed, and it could not have come BEFORE the Sun. Indeed, the absence of the central mass of the Sun, or ~ 10^ 33 kilograms, would have meant the Earth- if formed with no Sun present- would instantly have been hurled into a direction toward the constellation Hercules at 12 miles per second with no central mass to keep it in check. We can compute this exactly using the basic principles of celestial mechanics.
It is clear from this that Gen.1:1-3 has stated a patent impossibility which violates all known laws of physics and dynamics and is therefore WRONG! If this single statement gets a basic fact of astronomy wrong, we may well inquire how many additional references are in error. I warrant more than enough to fill the pages of the whole New Testament. Hence, Tong's claim that it's not possible to argue the Bible is without error falls on its face. Of course, we must expect that neither Tong nor his uneducated cohort will likely accept the scientific version of truth, just as they prefer the fairy tale of 'Adam and Eve' to evolution. In that case, no more can be said and we must perforce leave them to their delusions.
"the Bible contains 31,173 verses (even more when the OT deuterocanonicals are included). If we were to compare only couplets, where any one verse is juxtaposed against any other, one could write 971,750,000 couplets. Thus, by considering only couplets, there are almost one billion potential Bible contradictions! Surely, it is not reasonable to demand that a believer in inerrancy plod through one billion potential contradictions to prove negatives in every case"
But here he makes a mountain out of a proverbial molehill. As I showed, one need not delve through every "couplet", only find one putative scientific claim or passage, which is taken to be a literal truth, and compare it to modern scientific theory based on modern physics or astrophysics. I showed that above, for Gen. 1:1-3 and how it falls flat. While Gen.:1:1-3 makes a nice little fable, poetic license or a kind of metaphor, one can't take it literally or as a scientifically accurate portrayal of how the Earth was formed, or more importantly when (e.g. before the Sun).
Tong then rides off again, introducing examples of "contradictions" based on what the meaning of 'is' is.
"“Or consider a mundane example. Say that Joe is recorded as saying that Sam is not his son. But elsewhere, he is recorded as saying that Sam is his son. An obvious contradiction, right? But what if one's background belief about Joe and Sam includes the belief that Sam is Joe's adopted son? By ignoring the context this belief provides, one perceives contradictions where there are none.
But again, I have no complaint if one is forced to provide a needed "context" to explain away a contradiction. I am perfectly content with that! However, I then insist you can't claim the book can be taken literally! If it is literal or you insist it must be taken that way, then the inherent truth (if such exists) must be by direct fiat and appearance, reading! There can be no extraneously applied parsing, explanations, interpretations, language moves or anything else! It must stand on its own apparent merits! The problem with these believers is they want to have their cake and eat it too! They want to insist their good Book is inerrant and can be read literally, but they also want to claim that -when needed- contradictions be explained, or contextualized! NO! You can't have both! Make up your damned minds! Which is it? DO we read the KJV in the "spirit of the book" or metaphorically, which permits a wide spectrum of interpretation to eliminate apparent contradictions, OR must we take it literally? If the latter, you don't get to introduce any contexts, explanations or theories of what Sam or Joe or Jesus or Joshua might have done or said!
Another argument that ticks me off is the following:
"The critic sometimes assumes that the Biblical accounts are exhaustive in all details and intended to be precise. This is rarely the case. As such, the critic builds on a faulty assumption and perceives contradictions where none exist.
But this is more question begging and also non sequitur. IF it is argued that the Bible is an inerrant book (as Tong and his ilk claim) then inerrancy is ALSO contingent on a level of completeness to attain inerrancy! If accounts are then only rough or incomplete and not precise enough then it can also be argued they aren't precise enough to make a judgment of "inerrancy" in the first place. Again, the account need not be exhaustive, but must be complete enough to exclude any other interpretations but one. As an example, consider this from Ecclesiastes 1:6
"The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits "
Some biblical literalists have claimed this is an accurate bible account of the weather and wind systems. This is bollocks! This is merely a generic, “cartoon” version. I’ve heard bright eight year olds give their own wind descriptions that are just as good or better. It doesn’t prove anything since it lacks specifics. What about the Coriolis force? What about major hurricanes which don’t follow any prescribed circuits? Stretching this blankish phrase into anything remotely approaching science is the sign of a desperate person seeking vindication. In other words, such a vague passage can't be invoked on the basis of "inerrant" scientific fact. It also leaves itself open for contradiction by its very imprecision! (For example, any observer in the Southern hemisphere would describe the exact opposite directions for wind bearings!)
Tong again, hoist on his own petard:
"Another point is related to the one above, namely, the alleged contradictions are often a function of a particular interpretation. This is clear when one reads how the author of the list presents the biblical teachings in contrast to the actual verses he/she cites. Thus, the "contradiction" exists only if the incorrect interpretation is applied by the author, and this is often not the case ..
Again, he plays right into the skeptics' hands by admitting that proper interpretations are needed to "correct the contradictions". But again, if this is needed, then the bible cannot be read literally! Interpretations are only applicable because wording is ambiguous and CAN'T be read literally without making errors! They therefore serve as a guide to the proper language format, syntax and so on! If a work CAN be taken literally then interpretations aren't required! How hard can this be to grasp?
"The critic sometimes reads contradictions into the accounts. This is often a function of all of the points listed above, but it could be due to plain ignorance. In other cases, it is due to the fact that aspects of Hebrew idiom are not always captured in English translations.
The first point about "plain ignorance" is just the standard argument based on passive silence. Some apologists (like Tong) assert that since the writer of John doesn't explicitly assert or write something then it's wrong to come to the conclusion of contradiction. As an example, there may well have been many more women who visited the tomb with Mary, so it's wrong to accuse the author (John?) of contradicting the other evangelists who say it was a group of women. But this is a non-argument. With this kind of muddied, open-ended thinking, one could claim that the people who accompanied Mary to the tomb included Obama (in an earlier incarnation), Pope John XXIII, Alexander the Great and the Emperor Constantine!Since the writer of John doesn't specifically exclude these people, then there is no way to prove that this isn't true, assuming such pot-holed logic is valid.
Regarding Tong's second defense (pertaining to the Hebrew idiom not always captured in English translations), let me note here that essentially all of the actual contradictions have been carefully studied, and the original languages (Greek, Aramaic etc.) have been consulted when needed. But the critic is justified to ask why this should even be necessary with the "word of God?" I mean, an omnipotent, omniscient deity should have made his all-important message unmistakably clear to everyone, everywhere, at all times. No one should have to learn an extinct language to get God's message, especially an ancient language about which there is much scholarly disagreement. If the English translation is flawed or imprecise, then God failed to get his point across to English speakers. A true fundamentalist should consider the English version of the bible to be just as inerrant as the original because if we admit that human error was possible in the translation, then it was equally possible in the original writing.
The bottom line in all this? The problem is not with human limitations, reading things the wrong way or whatever... as some like Tong claim. The problem is the bible itself. People who are free of rigid ideological or theological bias notice that the bible contains hundreds of discrepancies, major contradictions and logical errors as well as of scientific fact. Does it really surprise us then when such a literary and moral mish-mash causes so much discord if taken seriously? The intelligent person doesn't take it seriously, and certainly doesn't use it as a life guide - unless he's truly trying out for the looney bin! As for my optimal consignment- assessment of this book, in terms of ordering human life and moral injunctions? Check out the image attached and you see it all!