Lord Spiderman

The-Amazing-Spider-ManImagine, if you will, two thousand years in the future. Human civilization has collapsed and recovered, and a few scraps of literature from the early 21st century remain. They tell of a young man in New York who was bitten by a spider and gained superhuman abilities. A small group of people take these precious ancient scraps of paper and put together the story of Spiderman, claiming he was the incarnation of a god who used the spider to infuse a man with his power.

How might these people defend their holy scriptures? Let’s adapt some actual arguments that Christians have left on my blog. The only meaningful changes I have made are replacing God with Spiderman and the Bible with the Spiderman Chronicle.

“The Spiderman Chronicle is evidence of events; but you want evidence of the evidence to verify its truth. What I assume you are seeking to verify, are the claims made in the Spiderman Chronicle. Like any other historical document which is given as a recount of events – the text itself is the data upon which one infers a conclusion, or learns about the events and forms a judgement. You have to work with the data you have got and make an inference to the best explanation. The event occurred – and then was written into what would then become one of many writings of the Spiderman Chronicles. Just like any historical text; the event occurs, and is subsequently written. That is what history is based upon.”

“But what are the available body of facts / information (evidence) for the occurrences & events of Spiderman? That is what the Chronicle is. You are committing the fallacy of special pleading, essentially asserting “Okay, the Spiderman Chronicle is a historical text regarding said events; but let’s not use it as evidence of the events”. So you then ask for evidence of the evidence. Well; one can search for it; but to reject the claims of the Spiderman Chronicle because there is little evidence outside of it; that is simply an unfounded epistemological position regarding evidence, and making an inference to an explanation. You do know the Spiderman Chronicle is a compilation of evidence, right?”

“By your logic, you require an external source to the primary source of an occurrence, as the basis of accepting the primary source. But then it is inexplicable why not then also seek another external source of the second external source of the Spiderman Chronicles, etc. You are essentially looking at the data and asking for something other than it, in order to verify the first set of data regarding an event.”

“Much of what’s in the Spiderman Chronicle would have been very verifiable. Many cultures have myths and legends that may or may not be true, but there’s no way of checking. Either they’re very vague (like ancient Greek and Roman myths), or they rely on “Take my word for it that I saw a vision when I was alone” (like Islam and Mormonism). It’s not hard to imagine how an untrue idea could spread in either of those instances. But that’s not what’s going on with the Spiderman Chronicle. The events were public, and filled with details about time and place that would have made them easy to verify—or discredit.”

“First of all, the Spiderman Chronicle isn’t written like fiction, or myth, or legend. Apparently even the grammar of the English indicates that. There’s a different sentence structure. (I don’t know English, but that’s what I’ve heard.) But even apart from that, the level of detail sets the Chronicle apart. What ancient legends get so specific about time and place? That’s always very ill-defined in ancient myths. Also, you never get the impression that they’re written by eye-witnesses or to anyone close to the situation. The Spiderman Chronicle writers almost take it for granted that the readers will know something about what they’re talking about, even to details like giving the name and location of real places. Why would anyone bother making that up? And what would be the point of making up little details just to “sell” some big story?”

“I believe there’s ample evidence that the Spiderman Chronicle was written by who it claims to be close enough to the time to be reliable.”

“You can’t expect to get at the truth if you use strictly empirical methods to examine something that is by definition outside of our sensory grasp. Sure you can deny there is a world of “spirit” because you can’t see it or test it and you can claim there is no Lord Spiderman because he won’t dance a jig in front of you in your living room but you can’t prove your beliefs because Spiderman is neither provable nor un-provable by the means you limit yourself to.”

“Anything that seems too obviously false, like verses about Spiderman fighting a big green alien, can’t be false, because if it really meant that, someone would have noticed it long before now. The people at the time evidently understood it and similar passages to mean something other than what a cursory reading could suggest.”

All hail Lord Spiderman!

Obviously the point here is that all of these arguments are worthless if the document in question doesn’t actually portray real events. When I wrote my post about the simple reason Christian apologetic arguments fail, perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough that the arguments break down because they’re all predicated on the assumption that the bible is a reliable source of history.

What if that assumption isn’t true? When a document claims that impossible things happened, I’m not going to believe it unless there is sufficient evidence that those impossible things really could and did happen. The alternative, that people embellished the original story, is much more reasonable. Why? Because it happens all the time. You can observe it happening right now all over the internet…real stories are shared with fictional embellishments, or outright hoaxes are spread, and people believe them.

Even Christians will use this same argument against every other religion, somehow oblivious to the fact that it stands up against their own just as well. If you want me to believe the claims made by the bible are true, you have to first establish that the bible is a reliable source of truth, and you cannot do that while using only the bible as evidence.

Image: ScreenRant

 

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26 responses to “Lord Spiderman

  1. Of course the way something is marketed doesn’t affect its truth value. But my point is that it does affect the way we interact with it. If something isn’t true but people believe it is, then anyone who wants to demonstrate that whatever thing isn’t true needs to deal with the reason that people believe it. It might not be a good reason, but it’s rather insulting and condescending to be like, “Oh, that’s total fiction, just like Santa Claus.” It just makes sense to have a dialogue centered around, “so, why is it that you believe this?” Otherwise, it just makes the person who disbelieves it look ignorant for not being able to tell the difference between made-up stories for fun and things that are meant to be believed–even is the person is actually right.

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      • No, I’m talking about general principles. Like the very foundational idea that not everything untrue is pure fantasy. And we have to look at different things in different ways. I don’t believe the book of Mormon and I don’t believe in Barney the dinosaur, but, though I view them as equally untrue, I wouldn’t put them in the same category. I wouldn’t disprove one in the same way I would disprove the other. They’re so different from each other that it would silly to apply the same reasoning. That seems to me like a pretty basic concept.

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      • I know…but that’s not what I’m talking about. In my previous article, I objected to arguments made by apologists that assume the bible is a true and reliable source of history. I know Spiderman comics and the bible are rather different sorts of documents. But that doesn’t matter in this case…if you think either one is a true and reliable source of history, you have to provide evidence of that claim.

        If you make an argument about the bible that assumes the bible is a reliable source of history, but you haven’t established its reliability in the first place, that argument is worthless. And that is the entire point. I can make the point with Spiderman comics because anyone claiming they are true would face the exact same problem of establishing their truth, and you know that. It seems ridiculous to you for someone to apply those arguments to Spiderman comics, because you know the comics aren’t actual history. They are just as ridiculous when applied to the bible if you haven’t yet established that the bible is actual history.

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      • It depends on who the argument is directed at. If someone believes the Bible is a nice book of fables, but that nobody ever meant for people to take it seriously, then pointing out that it’s written like history makes for a pretty good argument–and distinguishes it from something like Spiderman, which is presented in a fictitious format, that is, a format in which readers expect to find fiction. If someone is coming from the perspective that, like with all religious books, the author(s) intended for people to believe it but they were lying or misguided, then you’re correct in pointing out that “it’s written like history” cannot, on it’s own, prove the veracity of a document. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think the idea of some of the arguments is to first establish that the Bible is meant to be taken seriously, to prevent things like people comparing it to Spiderman. Only once that’s established can the conversation then move on to questions like whether the authors were telling the truth and/or whether they even knew what they were talking about. As I said before, in the case of fiction, questions like that aren’t even relevant.

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      • The intention of the writers isn’t that relevant to establishing the truth of a document when it was written thousands of years ago. In fact, the only way you can know anything about the intention of the writers after they’re dead is to read what they wrote…but how do you know that their writings accurately represent their intentions? You don’t. You assume it. That, again, is my point. What is the basis for the claim that the bible was meant to be taken seriously? The bible itself. Someone two thousand years in the future could make the same claim about Spiderman comics and it would be no less logical (that is to say, it would be just as illogical).

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      • How is the intention of the writers less relevant for establishing the truth of a document written 2000 years ago than it is for a document written two days ago? Either way, if something is presented as fiction, you (at least usually) know it’s not true. If something is presented as true, it may still be false, but it makes sense to at least seriously consider the possibility that it may be true. In fact, operating on the assumption that most people are neither compulsive liars nor imbeciles, the onus is really on the person who disbelieves a document to explain why they do. As you’ve pointed out many times, people say and write things that aren’t true all the time. But there’s always a reason. It never just happens. It’s not the default state of the written word; people don’t just randomly decide to say things that aren’t true just for kicks.

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      • It is, however, the extremely common state of religious mythology to contain outrageous claims of supernatural beings backed by no direct evidence. You can’t tell me you aren’t biased in this respect. You reject the truth of all religious mythologies except one. Yours is equally impossible, equally unverified by evidence outside of the holy book, and makes equally unhistorical and supernatural claims, many of which have been disproven by actual evidence, and others are generally considered impossible and have never been shown to be real things that can happen.

        In that way, the bible is very much like Spiderman comics. The actual evidence available shows it to be little more than a partially historical document embellished by centuries of oral tradition, and subjected to the nearly ubiquitous human trait of exaggerating until finally written down.

        But I don’t think that’s what you mean by considering the way in which it’s presented. You don’t think of Christianity being presented in the same way as Greek mythology. The bible should be subject to the same skepticism as all other mythologies…I don’t believe the supernatural claims of the bible for the same reason you don’t believe the supernatural claims of any other theistic religion.

        You don’t approach any other comparable religious document with the assumption that it is a 100% accurate historical document, nor do you hold your own scripture to the same standard of evidence that you hold any other. I know this because you reject other beliefs with arguments that can just as logically be used to reject Christianity.

        That said, the entire point of this article and the preceding one is that most apologetics makes the assumption that the bible is a reliable historical document without sufficient evidence. Therefore, addressing their arguments is a waste of time when the simple matter of the document’s reliability hasn’t been established. It cannot be assumed based on any part or trait of the document itself, as only external evidence can prove the truth or falsehood of claims made in writing.

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      • “…only external evidence can prove the truth or falsehood of claims made in writing.” Really? So what’s the external evidence for that? You did, after all, write it down.

        Besides, by that reasoning, we would have virtually no history. Because one document couldn’t prove another document because that would be in doubt without further evidence, and the evidence couldn’t be another document because that would also be in doubt, ad infinitum. How exactly do you propose proving *any* historical event? Archaeological evidence alone?

        And I don’t think of the Bible as being presented in the same way as Greek mythology because it *isn’t* presented as Greek mythology. Especially in the New Testament, the Bible contains people that we know from secular sources actually existed, like Pontius Pilate. That doesn’t prove the Bible is true, but it does distinguish it from mythology that has no “hook” as it were with things we all agree on.

        Besides, when I think through the idea of people just inventing or embellishing the Bible, I’m having a really hard time coming up with why anyone would come up with detailed laws for sacrificing animals, and washing the innards, and sprinkling its blood and all those things, if there was never a nation in the desert who actually followed those laws. Sure, someone could make it up, but why? And what about those long lists of names? Why would someone make that up? And when?

        That’s another thing: time. The Bible has time indicators. It doesn’t automatically mean those indicators are accurate, but at least they’re there, which is more than you can say for Greek mythology.

        Anyway, there are philosophical reasons for not believing in polytheism or pantheism, so that takes care of Greek mythology right there without even having to get into the history of it.

        And that leads into another point (my last). We can’t use one form of reasoning all the way through. Some things are complex enough that there’s a process. Science can take the reasoning so far, and then philosophy takes over, and then historical evidence, and so forth. Any one of those by themselves might not be enough, and it’s probably bad reasoning if people sound like any of them are enough alone, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad reasoning to use one of those lines of thought along with some others.

        (By the way, I’m not sure why I can’t reply directly underneath your latest comment, but I don’t see a reply button there.)

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      • Okay, let’s back up and look at the word “prove”. I do not use it in the sense of establishing something as absolute truth. When I talk about proving something, I simply mean ruling out all the possible explanations we can think of except one, in order to narrow down the pool of possibilities to what is most likely to be the truth. In that sense, only a few historical events can be “proven”, because we have physical evidence of their reality or multiple independent and detailed accounts that confirm each other and are consistent with what we know of the real world…for example, they don’t make claims of impossible things like people rising from the dead after three days.

        Sure, you can use another document as support…a separate written source that verifies the first one is external evidence for the first one. However, it’s unlikely to be able to “prove” it in any sense because both could be false. You need further evidence to rule out the possibility that they’re both false, or at least show it to be less likely than both being true.

        So yes, history is difficult that way, but certain things are more likely to be true than others, especially when you have more than one source for them. Unfortunately, you only have one source for the supernatural claims made in the bible, and that’s the bible itself.

        Again, your lack of imagination is hardly evidence the bible is true. Why would anyone come up with detailed laws for sacrificing animals? IDK, why would anyone come up with detailed laws for anything? Other religions sacrifice animals and other religions have detailed laws. You don’t assume they are true because of that. You just keep proving how biased you are.

        What about those long lists of names? Well, I can put together a family tree for myself that goes back to Marc Antony, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. It just means I connected people together who may or may not be real or actually connected. The bible’s genealogies may be, for the most part, actual lists of people who lived. Or they might be someone’s attempt to assemble family histories out of oral tradition. Which would be a reasonable explanation considering the two almost completely different genealogies given in the New Testament for Jesus.

        Also, the inclusion of real people or places in the story is never evidence that every claim made by the story is true. Again, Spiderman comics contain references to real places…does that distinguish it from fiction? There are other mythologies that reference real people…do you apply the same credulity to them that you do to the bible?

        The bible’s time indicators are vague and don’t match up to archaeological evidence. Speaking of which, there never was a huge nation of Israel in the desert, or in Egypt. The Exodus story as told in the bible did not happen. Such a large number of people would have left evidence and there is none where it would be if the story was true. The most reasonable explanation is that it started as a true story about a small number of people, and through many centuries of oral tradition the population numbers and supernatural elements got exaggerated.

        Just like every other religion that makes the same sort of claims. I’m not unfairly targeting the bible here. I’m applying the same standards to it as I do to any religious scripture. I think this conversation is simply spinning in circles because you continue to give the exact sort of arguments my articles were objecting to in the first place. You still have not provided any evidence, just conjecture based on your biased view of the bible. Your objection to my arguments is comprised of precisely the same sort of unsupported claims that my arguments are all about…which is kind of funny, honestly.

        The maximum number of nested comments on my blog is limited to prevent them from getting smushed up into narrow and extremely tall columns of text. When there’s no reply button just scroll up to the parent level and reply to that comment.

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      • My intention at this point isn’t to prove conclusively that the Bible is true. At this point, I’m just trying to demonstrate that it’s different. It’s different from Spiderman comics, Greek mythology, or other religious books. I’m not trying to say that the fact of it being different somehow automatically proves that the Bible and the Bible alone is the Word of God, but that because it’s different, it’s not a logical flaw or an inconsistency to view it differently and to apply different reasoning. As far as the Spiderman thing, we intuitively understand the difference between, say, a comic and a newspaper article. Or a Disney musical and a documentary. We view those things differently, even if neither one is actually true. That’s a difference, a legitimate difference, and it’s frankly rather silly to act as if that difference doesn’t exist. Likewise, the vagueness of Greek mythology stands in sharp contrast to the specific details of the Bible. Greek mythology, even when it was written, would have been impossible to verify. That’s not true of the Bible, regardless of when you think it might have been written. Again, that’s not proof that the Bible is true. But it makes it different from common ancient mythology. So, again, it’s simply not accurate to put it in the same category. Likewise, the Bible is written about public events, not taking the word of a self-proclaimed prophet with a self-proclaimed relationship to God. That makes the Bible stand apart from other modern religious books. Does that prove the Bible is true? No. Is it possible that the Bible was based on a true account that got embellished over time? With what we have on the table now, yes. But it nevertheless demonstrate that it’s appropriate to put it in a different category. And just as a side note, as far as the sacrificial system, I can believe that someone would just make up a sacrificial system for a group of people, and claim it came from God. What I can’t believe is that someone would bother to write down a sacrificial system for a group of people that never even existed! That’s what you’re proposing by saying that there never were thousands of people in the desert. Again, that’s a difference that we can’t ignore. Or not without looking silly, anyway.

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      • Of course the bible is different…in its details. However, we’re not talking about the details, we’re talking about how common apologetics arguments fail to establish the truth of the bible. So stop trying to derail the conversation by shifting to another topic.

        My analogy is a future time in which people do NOT have an intuitive knowledge that Spiderman comics are fiction, and don’t know for sure where they came from. I structured the analogy in that way precisely because I’m talking about how we deal with claims that an ancient story is true, when that story includes elements that are obviously false—like men coming back to life after being dead for days or obtaining supernatural powers after being bitten by a spider.

        So of course the bible is different from other mythologies. But you could say that about every mythology that exists. They’re all different in their details. What they have in common is uncertain origins and claims about supernatural events, two elements also shared by the Spiderman Chronicle in my analogy.

        I never said that the nation of Israel never existed, that’s a very obvious straw man on your part. I said that the population numbers and locations given are inconsistent with archaeological data. The nation of Israel existed, but it did not exist in the size and location claimed by the bible. And we’re not talking about thousands of people in the desert, we’re talking about millions.

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      • When I say the Bible is different in its details, I don’t mean the details in the Bible are different from the details in other documents. As you said, that’s true of every document that was ever written. I mean the *level* of detail is unique when contrasted with ancient mythology.

        I’m not trying to defend any and all or even most apologetic arguments. Believe me, I’ve heard my share of bad ones, not least of which is the one that goes something like “the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it’s the Word of God and God doesn’t lie, which we know because the Bible says so.” It’s an embarrassingly circular argument. I get that. I really do.

        But you can’t prove that an apologetic argument is bad by setting up false parallels. There are broad common sense principles at play here that you can’t—responsibly—ignore.
        I think I’ve told you before that I think and reason in questions and answers. So when I hear, “people 2000 years from now will think Spiderman is a true story” I think, “why would they assume it’s history?”

        Now if I understand you correctly, you’re saying , in essence, “then why assume the Bible is history?”

        My answer is, “well, one thing I know is that it isn’t fiction in the way that Spiderman is, because fiction like that didn’t exist then.”

        Now I know that doesn’t prove the Bible is true and accurate history. My point is that it’s not an honest dealing of the facts to put it—or any other ancient document, for that matter—in the same category as modern fiction. It’s not just “oh, the details are different.” It’s a major fact of the history of literature that modern fiction is modern, that fiction of the kind we have today didn’t exist even 1000 years ago. Again, I know that none of that proves that the Bible is the Word of God and accurately records events, but first things first. How can we discuss whether a document is portraying real events if we can’t even reach agreement on whether it makes a difference if a document is even *claiming* to portray real events? I mean, that’s about as basic as you can get.

        A good apologetic argument shouldn’t end with “the Bible says it’s the Word of God” but it does have to start there. If it doesn’t, then your Spiderman analogy would be accurate and the simple fact of a document having internal consistency would somehow be intended as proof of divine origin, even if in reality someone was just making up a story for fun. We both agree that that’s absurd.

        But if a document claims to be true, you can’t dismiss it by saying “it’s like Spiderman” without sounding ridiculous. You could dismiss it with “a true account got embellished over time”, or “the writer was lying to gain power” or “the writer thoughts such-and-such happened but he was mistaken” or a host of other things. But you can’t dismiss it with “it’s just fiction made up for fun.” That’s just nonsensical, even if you’re talking about 2000 years ago or 2000 years into the future.

        And I’m going to leave the Israel thing alone for now, since it’s not the main point.

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      • I think you’re still missing the point by arguing against my use of an analogy rather than actually addressing the point made by the analogy. I intentionally set up a theoretical world in which comparing the two is NOT a false parallel, for the purpose of the analogy.

        These are the characteristics of the bible that I am considering:

        -Most of the original authors are anonymous and their intent is in question
        -The circumstances of the book’s origins are unknown outside of what can be found in the book itself
        -The book makes claims of supernatural and impossible events that are not corroborated by any outside source of evidence

        Now, if you’d actually imagined the theoretical future world I set up in my analogy, you would see that I framed it in such a way that the Spiderman Chronicle has those same exact characteristics. That way, I’ve put it in the same position as the bible, where the truth of the content is concerned.

        The question I’m addressing is this: How do you establish the truth of a very old document, with anonymous authors, unknown origins, and supernatural claims? So I imagined a future world where the Spiderman Comics are held in the same regard as the bible.

        And that’s where you get lost, because you object to even imagining such a world. Of course it’s almost certain to never happen and it’s kind of ridiculous, but that’s not the point. The point is that if it DID happen, would the given arguments be convincing? I think you know they aren’t, but acknowledging that would necessarily acknowledge the failure of those same arguments when applied to the bible because the logic still works the same.

        You said, “One thing I know is that it isn’t fiction in the way that Spiderman is, because fiction like that didn’t exist then.” This makes it obvious you’re getting the wrong point from my analogy. I am not dismissing the bible as fiction. I am dismissing the arguments in favor of the bible’s truth on the grounds that they utterly fail to actually establish that it is true.

        I thought an analogy would help to make it clear why those arguments fail. Apparently not, since you won’t even accept the basic premises of my analogy.

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      • I suppose we could argue till doomsday about whether the problem is that I don’t always “get” analogies—and I don’t always, perhaps because I tend to be very literal (just ask my long-suffering mom, who home-schooled me)—or whether the analogy wasn’t a good one; however, that’s probably not the most profitable discussion to have. For whatever reason, I honestly don’t understand how the Spiderman situation you’ve set up is similar enough to make the point. But since it could very well just be me, I won’t belabor that issue any further.
        So, thinking about the points you’re raising, while many of the original authors are anonymous, many—and the vast majority in the New Testament—are not. And the stated intention is usually quite clear. The question is more whether the people who claimed to write the document actually did, and whether the book does accomplish what it says it does. It’s not just a big unknown (like a lot of Greek mythology); it’s a question of the truthfulness of the writer(s). Are you operating from a position of assuming that people are lying unless they can point to something outside of themselves to prove their honesty?
        You said we don’t know the book’s origins outside of appealing to the book itself. Um, isn’t that the normal way people determine a book’s origins? What are you suggesting instead? How would you go about proving the veracity of a book that claims to record historical events, that was written by someone who’s now dead, and that was written about events that happened long ago enough that nobody alive today actually saw those events? There are lots of books that fit that description (the difference being that most of them don’t claim to be the Word of God). Do you doubt all of them?
        As far as supernatural events, that just depends on our presuppositions. For people who already believe in miracles, there’s ample “evidence” that miracles are occurring even today. The person who doesn’t believe in miracles will always find another “more likely” explanation for supposed miraculous events. Whether miracles are possible is really a separate question. It goes back to whether God is real, personal, and interacts with His world. Obviously, if you don’t believe that, then you can’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but that’s *really* a separate question. Eventually I want to get back to that, but at this point it would just be a random tangent from the conversation we’re having now.

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      • The authors of all four gospels in the New Testament, and Acts, are anonymous. It’s likely that quite a few of Paul’s epistles were not written by him. Hebrews is anonymous. And the Old Testament wasn’t just written by anonymous authors…it was written and edited by numerous authors over the course of several centuries. At least, that’s what the examinations of the text and supporting evidence has yielded, according to scholars who are almost all Christians themselves.

        You are absolutely right that we try to determine a book’s origins by examining the book itself (along with any related evidence that might help). In the case of the bible, all evidence says it is the work of humans, not a god. But we still don’t know much about its origins, because examining the text itself can only get you so far. The fact that it claims to have come from a god does not prove that it did.

        And yes, I doubt every book that fits your description. If it makes claims of things that are known to happen in the real world, and doesn’t contradict anything already established as true, then my doubt is small…I may not know for sure that it’s true, but at least it’s possible. However, if the book makes claims of things that are impossible according to our current knowledge of the universe, or that contradict established truth, then my doubt is large, because those claims are much less likely to be true. You do the same thing. You doubt the supernatural claims of all mythologies except one…I doubt the supernatural claims of all mythologies, period.

        As far as miracles go, all you have to do is provide verifiable evidence that they actually happen. Nobody has done that yet. Someone even offered a large sum of money to anyone who could prove supernatural ability or phenomena to scientific standards. Many people tried, but nobody even got close. Are you trying to say it is more reasonable to suppose that impossible things happen, than to suppose that people who THINK impossible things happen are mistaken? Because there have been a huge number of fake miracles that people have believed, not to mention all the mysteries of nature previously attributed to the actions of gods that science has uncovered and shown to be natural.

        Furthermore, every piece of verifiable evidence I’ve ever found, and my entire life experience, and the life experiences of many other people, all support the idea that miracles don’t happen. If you want to claim that they do, you should at least provide some evidence, instead of just insisting that your assumption is equal to my lack of assumption. I do not assume that supernatural things or miracles absolutely do not exist…I simply think the specific claims of specific religions are utterly lacking in evidence. I’m making no specific claim about the supernatural, I’m just denying your claim on the basis that it contradicts what I know to be real, and I’ve never been given a good reason to believe it.

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      • Like I said, there’s a difference between something being anonymous and not believing that it is where it came from. What we call Paul’s epistles begin, “Paul, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now obviously anyone could write that so it doesn’t prove that the Apostle Paul wrote it in the first century. But since most people aren’t compulsive liars, I think the burden of proof lies on the person who wants to say that Paul isn’t the author.
        I’d be very curious to know some details of this supporting evidence that the OT was edited by numerous authors over the course of several centuries—especially in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which demonstrated that over the course of a thousand years, there were no significant changes to Scripture.

        And it’s one thing for someone to be a “Christian” scholar; it’s another thing for someone to be a history scholar. Many so called “Christian scholars” have no expertise in how to tell if a historical document is reliable. They’re theologians (and pretty bad ones at that, if you ask me) which is a totally different field.

        What type of evidence are you talking about that says it’s the work of humans, not a god? If something was written by a god, how would you expect it to be different from something written by humans?

        Of course if something claims to be from God that doesn’t mean it is. Anyone could make that claim. Here’s the thing, though. If what the Bible says is true about the proof—if there really were millions of Israelites who conquered the nations, if there really were many miraculous events, if Jesus Christ really lived and died and rose from the dead—that’s pretty good evidence. The problem of course is that that’s the very thing in question.
        *Does* the Bible make claims of things that are impossible according to our present knowledge or that contradict established truth? For one thing, we live in a very relativistic age, in which very little is “established truth” simply because there’s always someone doubting something. For another, “impossible” is a strong word, and it’s hard to prove that something couldn’t possibly happen.

        It sounds good on paper to say “just provide verifiable evidence”, but that doesn’t play out so tidily in real life. Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes “verifiable evidence.” And a miracle by definition is something outside of the ordinary. And science by definition has to be something repeatable. So it’s not even a fair question to expect someone to prove it scientifically, just like you can’t scientifically prove the existence of George Washington or of your great-great-grandmother, or what you had for lunch yesterday, or a host of other things that we don’t typically doubt.

        What I was trying to say about miracles was that to the people who believe in them, that belief is more reasonable than doubt. Most people find personal experience to be pretty powerful evidence. On the other hand, skeptics typically find someone else’s personal experience to be rather unconvincing evidence.

        And to be honest, I side more with the skeptics. I do believe in God and in miracles, but when I hear an account of a modern-day miracle, I’m more inclined to disbelieve it and look for a natural explanation, though I don’t rule out the possibility that a miracle could have occurred.

        But my point is that you can’t determine the Bible’s reliability—or lack thereof—by the miracles. If, apart from the miracles, the Bible is unreliable, then miracles won’t somehow make it more reliable. But if, apart from the miracles, the Bible shows every sign of being a reliable document, the presence of miracles can’t, on their own, legitimately discredit that reliability. That’s the point at which skepticism is harder to believe than miracles.

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      • I wasn’t talking about the opinions of hack theologians and apologists, I was talking about legitimate historical scholars…like, the sort of research I learned about at the Christian college I attended, from a very accomplished author and professor whose research was backed up by the work of many other respected scholars. What they’ve found is that the first five books of the Old Testament were probably written and edited between about 900 and 400 BC by four different authors. If you want to know more, there are plenty of resources available online.

        I wrote a series of five articles specifically citing reasons the bible is not consistent with claims of divine origin. I’ve also written plenty of other articles on the subject, so if you want to continue the discussion of why the bible is obviously human in origin, feel free to read and comment on those.

        “If there really were millions of Israelites who conquered the nations”…well, there weren’t. I think archaeology has pretty thoroughly established that the population numbers and heroic exploits of the early Old Testament are typical exaggerated legends, like you find in most mythologies. Not only were the stories written hundreds or thousands of years after they supposedly happened, but they make testable claims that are demonstrably false, as well as geographical errors. Not that I think the authors intentionally lied…rather, they likely were just recording oral tradition that had been passed down for generations.

        Providing “verifiable evidence” of miracles should not be difficult. I’ve written about this before…the bible makes specific testable claims about supernatural forces that supposedly exist right now. That should be far easier to demonstrate than the reality of George Washington (who can be verified through numerous sources to a much higher level of certainty than Jesus can). For example, near the end of the book of James we are told that if elders anoint a sick person with oil and pray for him, he will be healed. If this were true, Christian elders would be curing far more sick people than science has. Again, I’ve written plenty about these things in other articles.

        It’s true that most people give more weight to anecdotes than rigorously tested data. I recently read an article about a study on that very subject. But the confirmed answers for mysterious phenomena have never turned out to be supernatural. So if anyone claims that magic or the supernatural is the correct answer to a question, they are proposing a solution that has never worked, as far as we know. Investigation of specific supernatural claims has repeatedly turned up natural causes. We are now capable of directly causing plenty of phenomena that used to be attributed to gods.

        Like I already said, I’m not saying the supernatural absolutely doesn’t exist. I’m saying it has never been demonstrated, while natural explanations that disprove supernatural claims have been demonstrated countless times.

        The bible does not show any sign of being a reliable document, even apart from miracles. Some details can be confirmed, but it has plenty of errors even if you overlook the claims of the supernatural. Of course, an error or ridiculous claim in one part doesn’t mean the entire thing is all false, any more than the truth of some parts would mean the entire thing is true. And, as always, you reserve a much higher level of credulity for the bible’s supernatural claims than you do for any other book that makes supernatural claims. If you applied your reasoning consistently, there are plenty of other mythologies and religions that meet the same standard to which you hold the bible.

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      • I’ve read several (perhaps even all) of your other articles. I’ve avoided commenting on them because it could be confusing if we’re discussing slightly different elements of the same thing on several different posts. Also, I don’t want to be that annoying person who always crops up disagreeing. But since you suggested, I think I’ll take you up on the offer. : ) Just to comment on the passage in James, though, if you look at the context, and the Greek word used in James 5:14 it’s not referring to someone who’s physically sick. The word would be better translated “discouraged.”

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      • And there you have a case of bible interpretation ambiguity. That same Greek word is used throughout the New Testament to refer to physical ailments, such as when Jesus heals the sick, and it’s also used to refer to physical or moral weakness. In the next verse, another Greek word is used that describes the sick person as “he who is weary”, a term for someone being exhausted to the point of sickness or collapse.

        So which is it…physical or mental weakness? You can read it both ways. Which one did your god intend? Can I ask him and get a clear answer? If a number of people ask and think they’ve got answers, are they all going to agree? I doubt it. Either way, the point stands, since prayer still fails in cases of mental illness.

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  2. Hey, some of that looks very familiar. Not that I’m going to get into the whole long thing here, (because I’m still working on our previous conversation in those rare moments when I actually have a significant amount of time) but nobody could say that there wasn’t much detailed fiction in the early 21st century. And we can tell by the style of something whether it’s meant to be believed or not. It doesn’t tell us a thing about whether or not it’s actually true, but it does make it reasonable to make a distinction between things like comics and novels as contrasted with newspapers and religious texts. I suspect we share a skepticism concerning the accuracy or truthfulness of what’s in the news but that doesn’t mean we would put it in the same category as the Twilight series. And I think any historian would tell you that one can evaluate the reliability of a document by internal evidence, such as internal consistency, as well as by external evidence like whether an independent source verifies it.

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    • Interesting you mention internal consistency and external evidence…when the bible is very inconsistent internally, and all the external evidence can do is say that certain places and people mentioned were real. Spiderman is set in New York City, and external evidence would verify that it’s a real place. I haven’t read the comics but I think some of them mention real people and events. Of course, it’s obviously fiction. It’s about a man who can climb walls and shoot giant spiderweb out of his hands. Nobody has any evidence that such things are possible, let alone that it actually happened.

      Kind of like the gospels are about a guy who walked on water and rose from the dead after three days, despite nobody having any evidence that such things are possible, let alone that they actually happened.

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      • Again, there’s style as well, though. We know the things in Spiderman didn’t happen because they’re comics. They weren’t written to be believed. And if you think about it, without scientific advancement and genetic tinkering, some of those things just might be possible one day! You never know. But that doesn’t make the Spiderman comics true. Because they’re comics.

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      • We know the bible didn’t happen because it’s religious mythology that has little basis in fact, but rather the imagination of people…just like every other religious book. Not all of them can be true. The Christian thinks all the others are false and theirs is true, I think all the others are false and theirs is false as well.

        Now explain why that argument shouldn’t work just as well on the bible as on the koran, the sutras of Buddhism, or any other religious scripture. The Spiderman Chronicle analogy is sort of a reductio ad absurdum, to take the worship of false scriptures to an extreme to show how illogical the arguments in favor of it are.

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      • At this point, I’m not even trying to get into whether the Bible is true, just whether it’s reasonable to put it into the same category as Spiderman. It doesn’t make sense to put something that’s actually marketed as fiction in the same category as something that’s marketed as being true. I don’t believe in the Koran any more than I believe in Spiderman, but that doesn’t mean I put the Koran in the same category. The Koran was written to be believed; Spiderman wasn’t. Since most people aren’t compulsive liars, when someone claims something as true, it’s only fair and reasonable to ask, “does the author know what he/she is talking about?” and “is the author honest?” If something is marketed as fiction, it’s ridiculous to go through that process; we’re actually supposed to disbelieve it, and that doesn’t impugn either the credibility or integrity of the author.

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      • But fiction is advertised as truth all the time. The fact that something is marketed as being true has no bearing on whether or not it actually is true. The fact that something is marketed as fiction has no bearing on whether or not it is true. That’s the point. You can’t simply argue something is true because people thought it was true, or because the thing itself claims to be true. I’m trying to say the fiction vs. nonfiction is irrelevant, the arguments are worthless either way.

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