Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Give Me A Reason

On Faith

I have a challenge of sorts to those who believe with perfect faith in the biblical narrative, especially as it applies to God's personal involvement in the lives of humans. Give me a reason to believe its veracity. By that, I mean provide a reasoned response using extra-biblical sources and evidence, leading to incontrovertible proof. And, remember, tautological arguments citing the Bible itself or biblical commentaries that do so similarly will not work for the same reason that personal memoirs are not themselves sufficiently reliable.

I think you will have a tough time offering any verifiable and consistent proof, since the biblical narratives are full of inconsistencies and dubious assertions. It's hardly a book that has an inner consistency, notably because it had so many authors—40 in total writing 66 books over a period of 1,500 years. Imagine having 40 authors working together, not collaboratively, but at different times and different places, working on one book. Of course, the Bible was compiled and given authority years later, first the Torah (what Christians call the first five books of the Old Testament) during the Persian Period around 400 BCE, and then the Christian New Testament, completed around 150 CE and canonized around 400 CE; and the Tanakh was canonized by 200 CE,

Having thoroughly and critically read both the Old Testament (Tanakh) and New Testament, and many biblical commentaries, I have sufficient knowledge to offer this challenge; I have noted hundreds of contradictions and fantastic claims that go against nature, including the following miraculous stories: In Genesis 1, God created the earth in six days; in Exodus 14:21, Moses parted the Red Sea; in Joshua 10:12, Joshua made the sun stand still; in Luke 1:24,  the birth of Jesus of Nazareth through Mary, a virgin, impregnated by Holy Spirit; in John 11:1-46, Jesus raises Lazarus, who had died three days earlier; and of course the greatest miracle, Jesus being resurrected, also after three days after being horribly killed by the Romans, it of course being one of the central tenets of Christianity.

Bear in mind that I am neither against individuals holding religious views nor am I against religion in general; what I find problematic and somewhat confounding, is the need among the most zealous of zealots to impose such limited views on others, and the insufferable expectation that everyone ought to, by persuasion or otherwise, agree with them. That validation only comes by wide agreement.

Equally important, I have noted in many personal conversations and in reading many Christian apologetics, that many hold a poor understanding of science, most notable among evangelicals and other conservative Christians. Such individuals generally dismiss science's importance in its betterment of human society. This is to their discredit; ignorance is neither helpful nor becoming.

For my co-religionist Jews, I advise you that I have read many fine and insightful works by such noted rabbis as Heschel, Kook and Schneerson; and by such thinkers as Maimonides, Spinoza and Buber; and by such writers as Wiesel and Wouk. All have something noteworthy to say and I appreciate what they have offered to humanity; even so, after many years of thinking and reflection I have come to a personal conclusion, namely, that it's important that I continue to follow the Jewish traditions, and to impart these to my children. This works alongside a deep conviction that it's paramount that humans work assiduously to make this world a better place for humans.

To make it easier, I offer my view, based on almost 40 years of human experience as an adult. My view is closest to that offered by Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish philosopher, who viewed the bible through the lens of an impersonal God, who neither rewards us nor condemns us. In short, in simple parlance, no involvement in the daily affairs of human and of humanity. It's up to us humans to make the world a better, more humane place to live. If we fail, the failure is ours alone. Such is always the challenge, to live a good moral and full life without the need for outside inducements or rewards.

Another note, particularly for Christians, before you put together a reasoned response to my challenge, you might want to read and consider the simple, yet elegant arguments in Bertrand Russell's essay "Why I Am Not A Christian (1927). Consider as well the argument in the New Statesman, where Jonathan Derbyshire writes about the New Atheists: "They separate their atheism from their secularism and argue that a secular state need not demand of the religious that they put their most cherished beliefs to one side when they enter public debate; only that they shouldn’t expect those beliefs to be accepted without scepticism."

It's up to you, now, to prove otherwise; in effect, to make your case in a reasonable manner. I plan to publish the best essay, if it has merit, on my blog.

8 comments:

  1. The strongest arguments against creationism are found in the Bible, which implicitly rejects the idea that the earth is round: "And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so" (Gen. 1:9). Nowhere in the Bible do we read of a round earth.
    There are other passages in the Bible that cannot be believed literally. In Genesis 30:37-39, Jacob and Laban agree that any spotted and speckled cattle that are born will belong to Jacob, who then proceeds to increase his share by placing spotted and speckled objects in front of the animals while they are mating. This obviously could not have worked, and we are not told it was a miracle. What Jacob was probably doing was selective breeding—engineered evolution.

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    1. The last time I did a thorough analysis of the Bible, I found more than 100 contradictions and unscientific findings; at best the Bible is a literary narrative that provides comfort and a means of following tradition to many people. To consider it more, for example, as a book of scientific information or of social policy is to bring ancient ideas into the modern world, something that I find unnecessarily retrograde.

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  2. I love learning about these things. I'll take a look if I have any piece of info. at home and if yes, I'll post here :D

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    1. Esther: I will not post an article written by someone else, since it's protected by copyright. My intent is to publish original work, namely something that you have thought about and written. It has to be a reasoned response, not apologetics or something similar, since I have already read most of arguments. Good luck with it.

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  3. Hi Perry,
    I believe that one unifying tenet our family heritages ( Jewish, Christian, or Muslim) share and implicitly convey is that, it is not so much the veracity of sacred texts that is in itself paramount but rather the veracity of noble human character, lived out.
    ‘You know a tree by its fruit’ is the ultimate universal measure for ‘textual’ veracity, since it reveals what is written on a person’s heart.

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    1. Mark, I couldn't agree more; living the good life, one of helping self and others is what makes a person noble.

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  4. Hi Perry,

    It's an interesting challenge but unanswerable. It's not possible to give "incontrovertible proof" for something of this nature (or for pretty much anything in ancient history, for that matter).

    Also, as you mention, what we today call "the Bible" is really a broad collection of ancient Jewish literature from many genres and time periods -- actually a few different collections, depending on which "canon" one follows. It should be read realistically as what it is, including by those who believe in a single Inspirer.

    That said, I think you are exaggerating the "hundreds of contradictions." Claims for miracles are not contradictions; they just rest on an assumption that you may not share (that miracles are possible in this universe). A miracle that may or may not have happened 3,000 years ago can't be "proven" one way or the other. As for Creation, I expect you're aware that for centuries there have been in Jewish and Christian circles a wide range of views on the intended specific meanings of this text. Without getting into that discussion, I'll just mention that some scientists and scholars see no internal contradiction in the text and perhaps also no contradiction even with the theories of modern science (which themselves are constantly changing). As for the other alleged contradictions, I'd have to know what they are specifically in order to be able to offer an opinion.

    With regard to the comment of Lao Qiao on flat/round earth: I would interpret the evidence in almost exactly the opposite manner. As far as I am aware, nowhere do the biblical books state that the earth is flat. By contrast, they do explicitly state that the earth is round: Isaiah 40:22 (חוג הארץ, the sphere or circle or round of the earth); Job 26:10 (חק חג על פני מים, inscribed a sphere or circle or round statute upon the faces/surfaces of the waters, i.e., limited them to a round or spherical shape); Proverbs 8:27 (בחוקו חוג על פני תהום, in his inscribing a sphere or circle or round statute upon the faces/surfaces of the deep). Some people have also pointed to verses apparently speaking of 'day' and 'night' simultaneously as evidence for biblical presentation of a spherical earth. Perhaps most remarkably, Job 26:7 depicts an earth literally hanging upon nothing, suspended over emptiness in the cosmos (תלה ארץ על בלי מה)! Combined with many verses that speak of God "stretching out the heavens," this picture is almost unbelievably close to current scientific cosmology.

    The absence of a flat earth in the Bible should not be shocking, since in ancient times belief in a spherical earth was widespread, including especially in the Hellenistic culture that heavily influenced Jewish and Christian thought in late antiquity: look up Pythagorus, Aristotle, Eratosthenes, Pliny, Ptolemy, etc., etc. (Contrary to popular belief, most thinkers through the Middle Ages also seem to have believed in a round instead of a flat earth.) But the excerpts cited above are still quite noteworthy: many likely preceded Greek theories of a round earth, and did so in a historical context when several other ancient cultures believed in a flat earth.

    In my interpretation, the Bible offers a wide-ranging accumulation of knowledge and experience with regard to truths of life, including interaction with the Creator. The biblical texts themselves should not be confused with the multitudinous and contradictory religions, denominations, and viewpoints that have called themselves "biblical" in post-biblical times. Is your quarrel with the Bible or with religions?

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    1. Thanks for your comments, but your views are well-known, and unconvincing, at least to me. I have already considered them and others similarly put forward, and I found them wanting. Perhaps this bothers you, but it shouldn't. I do not have any quarrel, as you have suggested, with either religion or the bible. They provide comfort and answers to many, but not to me. You are welcome to hold any views, as I am welcome to hold mine. Tolerance ought to extend both ways. In the end, we probably want the same thing—to make the world a better place.

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