That’s One Way to View It

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That’s One Way to View It

Re: OWIRAA {E} The Bible, Part 1: Absurdities

Ben has written his second response, titled, Is the Bible Believable? For a history of our discussion, see God at the Helm?I See Your Expectations and Raise You an Open Mind, and An Open Mind and an Open Heart.

In his latest post, Ben analyses my stated expectation that the bible ought to be believable—lest its authority be questionable.

In my introduction to biblical absurdities, I roughly define believability as that which is compatible with the reality that we inhabit, that which is not divorced from our understanding of the world.

This “believability expectation” is preceded by my stated expectation that the Bible ought to be unambiguous and straightforward to understand together with my case that the Bible should be taken at face value—that it should not be read as allegory except in cases where it’s evident that the author used metaphor for an obvious purpose.

What I failed to mention in my post is that my introduction assumes theism. As in, if I were to step into the shoes of a believer, my expectations of the Bible, and how it should be interpreted, would be as stated. As an atheist, my perspective is entirely different. But that’s neither here nor there.

Here’s an example of what I meant with believable: In the Gospel of Matthew, it’s written that—immediately after Jesus’s death—the saints rose from their graves and walked into Jerusalem where many people saw them. Is there a good reason not to accept Matthew at face value? No, there isn’t. Is the story compatible with the reality that we know? It is not. Is the event divorced from our understanding of the world. Absolutely. Therefore, it’s not believable. And given that Matthew is the only source for this extraordinary event—the other Gospels say nothing of it and there are no secular accounts either—this story is well and truly unbelievable.

Ben broadens the definition of believability more than I had intended—or needed—for my post:

If belief in some thing, some story, some event, some characters, requires hard, irrefutable evidence supported by facts and corroboration from objective, reliable, third-party sources, much of the Bible cannot be “proven” as believable in the realm of confirmation by evidence.

That is true.

Ben seems a bit taken with the word, irrefutable. Belief, for it to be justified, requires good supporting evidence, evidence to show that the belief is likely true, not absolutely true. It’d be great to have the evidence Ben describes; it would launch our confidence levels through the roof. But we rarely have the luxury of such irrefutable evidence, especially when it comes to historicity.

Ben continues:

But, in terms of believability, are we to dismiss any and all things ancient because there is a lack of reconciliation to what we “believe” is necessary to validate events and “stories”?

If our belief in what is necessary for validation is reasonable…absolutely. Of course, yes. To do otherwise is to abandon reason and to turn your back on scepticism. Be convinced when there is good reason to be convinced, otherwise reserve judgement.

It looks like Ben thinks the answer to his question is, no, and as proof, he offers the following anecdote:

I have met several people who continue to firmly believe man has never stepped on the moon. Validation? I offered what is available, briefly, and their skepticism was ironclad: “You can never prove to me man every landed on the moon!”

It almost seems like Ben is arguing that some ancient stories can be believed despite lack of sufficient validation because some people don’t believe recent stories for which there are sufficient validation. But that’s being a bit facetious. What Ben is likely saying is that scepticism can lead one to reject propositions that may in fact be true, and that is undoubtedly the case.

However, Ben’s example leads me to think that we have a very different understanding of what scepticism means. In our discourse, I’ve defined scepticism as the view that beliefs ought to be proportionate to supporting evidence.

Now, when it comes to the moon landings, we have a plethora of good evidence. Rejecting this evidence and disbelieving is not scepticism properly applied, and it’s certainly not reasonable; it sounds much more like the person fell prey to a cognitive bias such as selective perception. Deniers of things like the moon landings are more likely people who believe in conspiracy theories as a result of not using enough scepticism than people who disbelieve as a result of using too much scepticism. The problem is not that people are too sceptical as rule, it’s that people believe too easily…

Before I continue, it’s worth noting that not all claims are on equal footing and the evidence required to make each claim believable can be different. If someone tells me they own a cat, I’d probably just believe them and that would be a perfectly reasonable position for even a sceptic to hold. People own cats, it’s a thing. People generally don’t lie about such mundane things—nothing important depends it. But, if I know that the person is violently allergic to cats or if the truth of the claim is an important point in a legal case or some other context, then the evidence required to make the claim believable goes beyond the person’s word.

So too, historians have criteria that determines if events in antiquity likely happened or not. Often, the only evidence we have is ancient writing and if we’re lucky we have archaeological corroboration. The historicity of ancient documents are also determined by criteria that make it more or less believable. For example: counting in favour of an ancient text‘s believability are things like the author identifying himself and his credentials, citing references and his methodology, etc.; counting in favour of an ancient event‘s believability are things like multiple independant, reliable sources that corroborate one another.

Now, after Ben makes the case that scepticism can lead one astray, he asks me again:

In that regard, my question to Jaco remains: “Can you be open-minded enough to objectively consider a different perspective on the existence of God?”

And my answer remains the same: yes, but open-mindedness doesn’t mean accepting things on bad evidence, which Ben understands:

He has answered this question, reminding me of the same, and his belief he is open-minded in regards to learning and discerning from tangible evidence whether there is or is not a God.

But then Ben says this:

The key point to remember is Jaco is expecting the Bible to prove God’s existence, God’s reliability, God’s trustworthiness, God’s intentions leaving not a shadow of a doubt.

Um. No. This is a misunderstanding that needs clearing up. I have said no such thing, and if I’d implied it somewhere, I’d like to know where I did so, so that I can fix where I misspoke. “Shadow of a doubt” is Ben’s expression by the way; I try to avoid dealing in such absolutes.

Here’s my position. There are propositions put forward by Christians: God exists and the Bible is his holy book. I’m saying that if these claims are in fact true, there are certain things we can expect from the Bible. I’m saying that the book could be one line of evidence for the existence of God. But one of the things that we find is that the Bible is chock full of absurd, unbelievable things. This is just one reason why I can’t take the book seriously as one line of evidence in support of God’s existence. Note that even if the Bible were without absurdities and 100% believable that is hardly evidence of God, it’s just not evidence to the contrary.

Ben continues to say (emphasis is his own):

The Bible is a testament, a revelation, of assorted spiritual journeys gathered over thousands of years pointing to a God, Yahweh, as the Creator of the universe, but [it] will always fail to prove the existence of Yahweh in purely evidencial [sic] proof.  The literal characterizations of God differ in the Bible.  They conflict.  They do, especially when taken in a literal form. Even in metaphors and allegorical stories, parables, the clarity of pointing to and cementing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, proof positive there is a God, a Yahweh, is lacking.

The Bible does not, on its own, prove there is a God, Yahweh. 

Now, I don’t agree with all he said there. For example: the Bible doesn’t point to God; it points to the fact that people believed in God, and Ben seems set on this idea of irrefutable proof. However, I appreciate his honesty. Few Christians would admit this, and I think it’s laudable.

Ben sets out to explain why he believes the Bible anyway. This is what he says:

But, let’s be clear. The Bible, in its written form, points to a God, Yahweh, but does not prove the existence of God. The Bible does not intend to prove but to point. In doing so belief is forged in the fires of doubt, not evidence.

His answer, then, is faith. But that’s not really answering the question, is it?

Belief in God is not hinged on proof or evidence, but on faith.

“Wait a minute, Ben, that’s a cop out!” I can almost hear my friend Jaco respond.

Yes, Ben. You called it.

Why do you have faith, Ben?

The rest of Ben’s response, to validate his necessity for faith, is essentially the argument that science changes and that it’s “slowly catching up with many ancients.” I think it’s implied that belief in science requires faith.

I’d like to quote something I wrote to Ben before we started our “official” response blog posts. This from a comment I made on, “Do Not Be Afraid” : Listening to Atheists:

Allow me to preempt [sic] a possible stumbling block. There is this incorrect notion held by some people that science keeps on changing its mind with the blowing winds, and that it’s not trustworthy for this reason. However, our scientific understanding is generally *refined* with new information, which is done by doing more science. I.e. our models of the world get more accurate as a general rule. It’s rare indeed for an established scientific understanding of something to be abandoned and superceded [sic] by something brand new and wildly different. Also, there are things in science that’s *very* unlikely to change in any significant way. For example, we’re not going to discover that the earth is not a sphere. The standard model of particle physics is not going to go away; we’re just going to understand it better with thought things like quantum field theory. We’re not going to discover that evolution does not in fact occur in nature. The quality and quantity of the evidence for these examples make a different understanding extremely unlikely. Big shifts in understanding generally happens on the fringe, not well understood, new science. In other words, we can have confidence in science because it works. It’s our job to adjust our beliefs accordingly..

Belief in the effectiveness of science doesn’t need faith. Science doesn’t deal with “truth” and the fact that it allows for correction and refinement of explanations is the key to its success. Science changes. Thank God it does (sorry, couldn’t resist). I agree with Ben, the understanding that we’ve gained through science evolves, but that’s because the process of science has no place for faith, preconceptions, and bias.

Needless to say (well, maybe it is needed), the fact that our understanding of some things will change with new information—that nothing is ever certain—doesn’t mean that we’re free to have the type of “open mind” that allows for the acceptance of propositions for which there are no good evidence.

As for Ben’s examples that science is catching up with “ancient knowledge”…well, I was a bit surprised by some of the things he said.

Ben does pretty well on evolution. It’s encouraging to hear a Christian that accepts the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. There is, however, a misconception to address:

Many Christians and other religious people will run from discussing evolution. Darwin is a curse word for many. But, the truth is Darwin’s “theory” has continued to change and evolve. While survival of the fittest remains a core belief in the theory and truth, as we know it today, the concept of what it takes to survive has changed over time.

Survival of the fittest means survival of the lifeforms that are the best at adapting to change. Darwin, as far as I’m aware, didn’t believe that cruelty or selfishness was necessary for evolution. And I don’t think the concept of what it takes to survive has changed much. Instead, our understanding of how we adapt has changed and matured.

Ben tackles the quantum world next. Everything is deeply connected, he says:

Is the possibility we are all part of a field, connected to the expanse of the universe, supported by the fact our genetic codes bear extreme similarities from humans to apes, to insects, to fish, to trees and the composition of our bodies are “star stuff” suggest we are something more than an accident? Not separate creatures but part of the whole of the universe.

Ben assures us that this is not New Age teaching, but science. But, I’m not a physicist. I don’t understand Quantum Mechanics. Here, I must defer to the people who are expects in the field. Turns out that the people who are knowledgeable in the area don’t think that life and everything is connected. It’s generally the amateurs who make these types of leaps, and that’s telling. This frustrates physicists, naturally:

Ben mentions Einstein. It’s from him that we get the expression, “spooky action from a distance,” referring to quantum entanglement. It’s interesting to note that Einstein rejected the idea; the “weirdness” of quantum mechanics didn’t sit well with him and his notion that the universe is ordered.

Ben concludes his venture into the quantum with this:

This points to a universe with very deep connections at the deepest of levels. Quantum entanglement untangles cause-and-effect and points to a much more deeply connected universe where:

Everything is connected. Nothing is separate.Something the ancients taught and knew.

Imagine. A fabric of reality where the threads are not “visible” but resting on a structure of interdependence and connection, held together largely in humans by thoughts and emotions.

That is science slowly catching up with many ancients.

I’m afraid that that is the kind of woo that drives physicists to rant on YouTube.

Ben’s next claim is one I’ve never heard before:

But now, science has proven the heart sends 95% of the senses, the stimuli we connect with in life, to the brain. In doing so the brain sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. The heart is the gateway of sensory perception.

When was this first discussed? In ancient times. The importance of the heart as the center of a human was first expressed thousands of years ago.

The heart was the “boss” then and science is now catching up with what the ancients “knew.” The heart is not just about emotions, it is smart and more. The heart’s magnetic field, a measurable reality, as given off by each of our hearts helps to predict what the immediate future holds, called “pre-feeling.”

What does a 3 to 5 second intuitiveness give a person? Greater ability to survive. Possibly in our age of looking at cell phones more than the traffic or world in front of us, we are willfully blind to our own heartfelt instincts.

The heart, in almost every ancient culture, was seen as the gateway to a higher self consciousness, and science is now confirming what the ancients said was indeed correct and true.

This is more woo, I’m sorry to say. See Brain Cells in the Heart? and Heartmath Considered Incoherent.

Because I’ve not heard this particular claim, I asked him the following:

Hi Ben, before I respond to this post, can you please provide your references for your scientific claims about the heart and senses.

He responded:

Jaco, I wasn’t aware of the need to be fully documented with footnotes, but if this helps, here off the top of my head are some of the sources, not inclusive of Einstein, Darwin (The Descent of Man & Origin of the Species) ; on the “heart” one of the best sources is Dan Moore of the HeartMath Institute, another reading/source is The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe (2003) by Lynne McTaggart and
The Sacred Balance (2007) by David Suzuki to name a few. Hope this helps.

To which I said:

Hey Ben, there wasn’t an agreement about documentation. So far, I felt I could adequately respond to your writing. But here you make—what I think, is—a dubious scientific claim about the human heart, and it’s one that I’ve never heard before. To respond sensibly, I’d like to know where you get your information from. As I have little time to read entire books (I’ll check them out anyway), do you have a scientific paper you can point me to for review. I don’t need info on the quantum stuff.

Now, it seems to me that Ben got very defensive, which took me by surprise:

The point is that science evolves, it changes. If you want me to wipe out everything I wrote and simply say that can we agree? That was the point.

You can spend a lot of time attempting to refute something that points to the real intention of the segment and that is the evolving reality of science. But why do that? Life is too short to be mired in details in what I assumed was a respectful discussion.

Now, I don’t feel I was being disrespectful. Also, I think it’s disingenuous for him to say that it’s not worth spending the time to refute his scientific claims. For one thing, pointing out pseudoscience, when it rears its head, is always worthwhile. Furthermore, if you’re going to claim that science evolves and then proceed to list examples which turn out to be false, that doesn’t look so good. But more than that, Ben’s “intention in the segment” wasn’t just that sciences changes. He asserts that science is catching up with “ancient knowledge” and by extension that it’s getting closer to God. It’s sure as hell worth refuting such dubious claims.

Getting close to the end of his post, Ben says:

Now, let’s connect to some of the Genesis story Jaco dissects in his essay.

However, he fails to mention any of the absurdities that I actually mentioned in my post. Instead, he writes about how humans are a social species that work well together and who “do not need to rely on superstitions or myths and miracles but can survive and thrive together.” I’m somewhat at a loss at how to respond other than to say, “I agree!” But Ben also believes that the Garden of Eden and Tower of Babel stories points to this truth. That’s one way to view it.

I hope Ben addresses specific absurdities in his next post. However, given his view that the Bible is allegory and a collection of not-so-perfect interpretations of God, there can be no real absurdities. I don’t know where that leaves us, as I remain unconvinced of his position. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed my discourse with Ben. Would that we could chat over a beer.

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2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Imagine That | themilitantchristian

  2. Pingback: Why Do I Even Bother? | Amber Restorative's

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