• Using the Bible as Evidence in Religious Discussions

    I’ve been having a couple of discussions with Christians lately.  Some are fundamentalist nut cases and some are totally reasonable people, except for one consistent delusion.

    The delusion is that the Bible is an accurate and true history of God’s influence in the world.

    It’s quite funny to me to see someone arguing about  a particular interpretation of the Bible.  For example, a recent discussion involved whether Thomas, while in the upper room, claimed that Jesus was God and Jesus didn’t correct him.  That’s “evidence” that Jesus was God.

    Of course, no one has ever established that the Biblical Jesus ever lived, that the apostles ever lived, that Jesus died and rose from the grave, that he appeared in the upper room (or even the room existed), and that Thomas ever said those words.  To me, it’s like arguing whether Bruce Wayne really was having a sexual relationship with Dick Grayson.  It’s an interesting discussion, but it’s still utterly meaningless.

    There are a number of problems with using the Bible as evidence of an event or claim.  The first is simply, Is it true?

    The whole thing hinges on the Bible being true.  I think everyone will admit that there are elements of real, historical fact in the Bible.  There really was a Judea and an Israel.  There really was a Roman named Pontius Pilatus.  There really was (is) an Egypt and pharaohs.

    But elements of truth do not mean that the whole thing, in every last particular, is true.  I’ve used this example before, but just because there really was a ship named Titanic that sank after being struck by an iceberg doesn’t mean that the movie Titanic is 100% accurate historical fact.

    We know that there are claims in the Bible that are not correct.  There are many, many statements in the Bible that are known to scientifically and/or historically incorrect. There wouldn’t have been a census under Herod, for example.  The stars are not pinpricks in the tent of the heavens.

     The question is, how do we know what’s true in the Bible?  We know that some things are true, because there is a significant amount of additional evidence to support them.  Egypt… well, I just saw some stuff in the news about it.  I can travel there and see artifacts from a long time ago.  We know, from Roman records, how the census was conducted.  Things like that.

    The Bible is not, what is called, self-authenticating.  What the Bible states is not true just because it’s the Bible.  

    Now, I know some people who disagree with this.  They claim that the Bible is self-authenticating.  If the Bible says it, then it’s true.  Of course, that’s what they claim up until the point when they are asked about something that contradicts what they have said.  Then it becomes metaphorical.  

    The second point is that, if the Bible is self-authenticating, why isn’t the Koran or Dianetics self-authenticating.  The response is usually because the Bible is God’s Word.  

    Let me get this straight.  The Bible describes God, his actions in our world, and his plans for our world.  We know that the Bible is true because it is God’s Word.  We know it’s God’s Word because it describes God, his actions in our world, and his plans for our world.  Makes perfect sense to me, he said sarcastically.

     The second is, is it accurate?

     Well, we’ve touched on this a bit already.  Are the claims in the Bible accurate.  I don’t think most Christians would say that the Bible is 100% accurate in all particulars. But which parts are accurate and which parts aren’t?  That’s a fairly important question.

    It is often said that history is written by the victors.  What if (presuming the whole thing really exists) the angel Lucifer really was a freedom fighter, trying to prevent the tyrannical Yaweh from imposing his insane plan on us unsuspecting humans?  How do you know that what God said happened really happened?

    You can’t.  No more than you can trust a politician to keep campaign promises.  We only have the words in a book.  A book written some time (we really don’t know when), by some people (we really don’t know who) that has been edited, translated, changed, modified, added to, and deleted from for nearly 2000 years. 

    I can’t trust some creationists to not quotemine someone who is still alive.  How can we possibly trust the accuracy of this document?  Not many Christians know that there are other versions of the Bible.  The various other versions have many books that aren’t in the standard Protestant-based Christianity version.  Why?  Who decided?  And why wasn’t the Gospel of Thomas included?

    The obvious answer, which I think is historically supported, is that the Bible never was the Word of God.  It was a book specifically designed to control a group of people.  Pieces of the document that emphasized the non-literalness of the Biblical stories (like the Gospel of Thomas) were removed.  

    The third is, is it literal or metaphorical?

    This is where we start having some fun.  Even if the Bible is 100% true (and it can’t be) and it’s accurate, so what? It’s probably metaphorical.

    One question I like to ask fundamentalists is “Which part is literal truth, which part is metaphorical and how do you know?”

    I got a great response yesterday. “If it has the word “like”, then it’s metaphorical. A day is like a thousand years. That’s metaphor, so the OEC is plainly wrong.”

    So. all the other things in the Bible are literally true according to this process. Jesus really did curse a fig tree because he got in a snit. God really did order the deaths of thousands of people and he did directly cause the deaths of millions in the flood.

    But if those things are metaphorical, as some would suggest, then what else is metaphorical? Was Jesus rising from the grave metaphorical as well? Were the creation accounts metaphorical? Were the ten commandments metaphorical?

    This isn’t just an atheist asking a stupid question either. This is a fundamental issue for Christians. One they should seriously think about before using the Bible as a discussion point or support for an argument. Someone may decide to “interpret” parts of the Bible, but as soon as they start doing that, then they must justify everything else as correct or interpreted.

    What Christians want to do here is have their cake and eat it too. They want to have all the good parts (that they can morally and ethically live with) and discard the bad parts (that they feel are morally repugnant) and still get to proclaim the glory of their god.

    Finally, Is it relevant?

    This is a conundrum of Christians. Is the Bible actually relevant today?

    The immediate reply is “of course it is”. But is it really? As Ed Clint has pointed out (and shown above), the entire world tends to take the bits that they want out of the Bible (or the Koran or The Hobbit) and leave the rest. They are, in effect, creating their own religions. Then they get together with people who have the same thoughts as they do and form a church.

    Why else would there be some 30,000 sects of Christianity?

    And much of the stuff that is directly used by Christians as their guiding principles were in existence long before the Bible was even talked about as such.

    But the morals and ethics of the Bible are mostly irrelevant. Slavery as an accepted culture practice is dead. Most places have (or at least express) equal rights for men, women, foreigners, and children.

    In other words, most people on this planet have their morals derived, not from the Bible, but from their culture. Obviously, in countries that are heavily religious, it is difficult to tease apart the difference. But in others, it’s obvious.

    Countries like Norway, Sweden, Japan, and the UK have high standards of living and are considered some of the best places to live. Yet they have very low religiousness (yes, it’s a word. I just used it.)

    In those countries, the moral and ethical fabric is quite possibly based on religion, but it isn’t important to them now. (All have 73% or better of respondents saying religion was unimportant.) And yet, they have not fallen into massive immorality and a totally chaotic society. Whereas a country like the US or Iran and Saudi Arabia are heavily religious and are (in my opinion) much less moral than others.

    Indeed, I think it arguable that religion creates an immoral society. Look at the efforts of the religious in the US to prevent equality from taking place.

    Religion is just not relevant… the Bible is just not relevant in our modern society. We don’t sacrifice living things, we don’t keep slaves, and most of us want an actual equal society.

    Should we not kill and steal? Sure. But those are religion based concepts. Those are common sense to any society larger than a small family unit. Even a small tribe with multiple family units will enforce a no killing and no stealing system. It’s the only way to survive as a society.

    Will it still happen? Sure. But the society determines what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Religion tends to prevent the society from determining acceptable behavior in favor of ancient rules that just don’t apply to modern civilizations anymore.

    An interesting example. My new oven has a Sabbath mode because some leader of some religion determined that a light coming on when the stove door is opened is “work” and work is forbidden on the Sabbath. Someone had to determine how the rules interacted with modern technology. I’m fairly confident that there is no holy text anywhere on the planet that says “Thou shalt turn off lights on cooking devices on the Sabbath.”

    Are morals and ethics relevant in today’s society. Of course, I’d never suggest otherwise. But our morals and ethics do NOT come from the Bible (or any religious text). They come from our society, our parents, and our friends.

    When talking to others about religion or god or anything else. We should all understand what’s going on. The Bible is not self-authenticating. It is not accurate. It is not historical. It is not the font of all morality and ethics. Any argument that depends on any of these things being true is simply wrong.

    Category: AtheismCultureReligionSociety


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat