Absurd anti-religious site of the week: God vs. the Bible

The lovely system of tubes that we have grown to know as “The Internet” is a fascinating place, filled with a wealth of information. It would be hard to get along without it these days, but that doesn’t mean that everything that passes through these tubes is worthwhile.

So, in an attempt to update this blog more frequently and give whoever reads this a glimpse into the dark underbelly of the Web, I am going to introduce something I like to call “Absurd Site of the Week”.

My good friend Tim is apparently a fan of finding absurd sites as well, and he pointed me over to the interesting (and poorly designed) site godvsthebible.com. From seeing the URL, I knew it would be different, but little did I know just how different.

First reaction

If your initial reaction from skimming the home page of the site is that the author is probably obsessed with deism, you wouldn’t be alone. In fact, you’d be right, as explicit references to deism are scattered throughout the site. The banner contains a photo and quote from Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason” is quoted at length, and the first “chapter” in his E-book (which I discovered, to my horror, can be purchased in book form as well) is titled “A Self-Evident Truth” from Jefferson’s famous quote. [Consequently, all this chapter did for me was to show that, in fact, all theological arguments are not created equal, which brings me to my next point...]

Straw men vs. mainstream Christianity

This is what I think the real title of the site ought to be. There are several key points that the author (John Armstrong, for future reference) makes that I think illustrate this quite well:

  1. In the beginning of the aforementioned chapter one, Armstrong asks the question “If we are to believe that the Creator also wrote a book (such as the Bible) shouldn’t we expect this book to contain an accurate understanding of how Creation operates?” I think this is a fair question, but wait a second – God wrote the Bible? Who actually believes this? Certainly not inerrantists; even the most conservative adherents to this theological stance are willing to admit that the people who wrote down the Bible were humans like Moses and Paul. If we charitably grant that Armstrong is saying that God provided the inspiration the Bible, then I can agree to it, but it provides problems for his next point: that “errors” in the Bible show that it could not have possibly been authored by God. This is of course a gross distortion of inerrancy as well and one that I personally reject (but that is a topic for another time).
  2. In this same section, Armstrong partakes in one of the most insidious of practices: quoting out of context with the use of an ellipse. (See here for such another example.) Here Armstrong misquotes Malachi 2:3 as an example of the God of Scripture being “an obnoxious ill-mannered brat” – the reader is of course free to read the passage and see if Armstrong does it justice.
  3. Armstrong pulls something that I honestly could not have expected: he claims not just that the Bible is not the revealed Word of God but that it cannot be because of what revelation means. I almost did a double take. He cites the Webster’s definition as “God’s disclosure or manifestation to a man of himself and his will”, which I don’t have a problem with. He then says that “hearsay” is inadmissable as revelation because “God is no longer speaking” and “[w]e’re under no obligation to believe such a message.” Without going into detail as to why I think this is patently absurd, I will note that an additional definition is “something that contains such disclosure, as the Bible” (emphasis mine). In other words, secondhand evidence can count as revelation, despite Armstrong’s claims to the contrary.

Much of the rest of the “book” is the same way, taking positions primarily that Armstrong himself concocts from his reading of the Bible (with few exceptions, like quoting the fictional fundamentalist church Landover Baptist on the Bible’s claim that unicorns existed, despite the fact that even Isaac Asimov rejected this notion) or that are not the mainstream views of Scripture. He also repeats objections that have been repeated far too often as it is, quoting Brian Flemming, creator of the DVD The God Who Wasn’t There, and propagating the Jesus-myth throughout.

After digging through pages and pages of the same old objections (with no substantial rebuttals to existing apologetics, mainly hand-waving), we get a setup for the grand finale; Armstrong touches on the deism of the Founding Fathers in chapter 11. But wait, I thought the site was about how Bible isn’t a good representation of God? That’s the premise, yes, but Armstrong seems to have an ulterior motive. The payoff comes in chapter 14: deism is formally presented as a worldview and juxtaposed against other competing systems like atheism, agnosticism, and pantheism (and Intelligent Design? Huh?).

This is of course not to say that Armstrong doesn’t ask some important questions, but it seems that he is doing his own sort of picking and choosing in his own beliefs (the very thing that he criticizes Christians for in differentiating between literal and metaphorical readings of specific passages). The problem is that these objections are not new, and Armstrong does them little justice. If you want a good chuckle, check it out, but I wouldn’t drop what you’re doing for it.

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10 Responses to Absurd anti-religious site of the week: God vs. the Bible

  1. john says:

    Brody,
    Nice post. I don’t quite understand how this web page actually provides an argument worthy of consideration. I enjoyed your criticism of the web page. Perhaps you should send him a email…
    John

  2. Dear sir,

    Regarding point #1, I’d some clarification from you. Is the Bible the “Word of God” or isn’t it? If it is the Word of God, than we should expect that it would be free of errors.

    Regarding point #2, the ellipse was for the sake of brevity. The part about corrupting the seed wasn’t relevant.

    Regarding point #3, “revelation” must be first hand. It can only be the matchless honor of speaking to God directly. Otherwise, we’re under no obligation to believe it. Can I assume you don’t believe the Muslims when they claim their Koran represents the will of God?

    The KJV does say unicorns exist (and I specifically identified Landover Baptist Church as a parody site). I also pointed out that more modern translations omit “unicorn” in favor of “wild ox”.

    Jesus most likely never existed. There’s no proof that dates to the time of Jesus’ alleged life that suggests he really lived. Also, can someone please explain to me why human sacrifice makes anything better?

    I do present apologist arguments. Did you miss all the subsections entitled “Lee Strobel Tries to Explain”?

    Yes, this is a book about deism as much as it is about debunking Christianity.

    Yours in Reason,

    John Armstrong

  3. Brody says:

    John, thanks for the comments.

    On the “Word of God” – Suppose I give you a general message to relay to the public (perhaps you’re my media liaison). You write a speech and preface it by telling those attending the press conference, “This is the word of The Christian Cynic” (since I’m egotistical and love to be referred to by unofficial title rather than name). But you botch up some minor details in the message in the process. Does that still mean that you didn’t give my message? Obviously not. The doctrine of inerrancy (which I’m not a proponent of) sets forth the idea that the message is God’s and that He directed those relaying the message to give it accurately, but one would have to assume God is a perfectionist to say that His messages would necessarily have to be 100% factually correct. I like to think that the existence of humans is good evidence that God’s not a perfectionist.

    On the Malachi quote – Brevity seems like a rather pedantic excuse (it’s only a handful of words more to include the preceding phrase), but even granting you that, the way you portray the passage smacks of quote-mining.

    On revelation – This is not how the word is normatively used, and your definition seems to be question-begging in that regard. As far as obligations, I agree insofar that obligation is far too strong a word to use for evidence that is given secondhand. For that, you have to gauge the reliability of the witness and a number of other factors, which is consequently part of the reason that I accept the witness of Scripture but not that of, say, Joseph Smith or Mohammad.

    The “evidence” of unicorns in the KJV is still a matter of amusement to me: Did you happen to peruse the link I gave concerning Isaac Asimov? He even concluded that the “unicorns” in Scripture were not actually one-horned creatures like the mythological beasts of that name but that there was a long progression of translational errors that led to the use of that word, despite its lack of connection to the fictional animal.

    Re: Jesus never existing – That’s a subject that would take too long to discuss even in several blog entries. Suffice it to say that I think the level of certainty for your claim is debatable.

    Also, I am afraid I have missed all of the Lee Strobel links, and I cannot find them even with an additional scan of the site. If you could link to one or any of them, I will be happy to retract that part due to limited information.

  4. Dear Christian Cynic,

    It sounds like our primary area of disagreement is over what can constitute the “Word of God”. This is a topic I touched on in chapter 1. We have to be very careful what we call Divine revelation, because the consequences of getting it wrong are most dire.

    If God did inspire the prophets and watched over them carefully to be sure they related the message correctly, then you are claiming that God wrote the Bible. In this case, the prophets were steographers.

    If God gave only general inspiration to the prophets and the prophets wrote a book that was partly the Word and partly their own perspectives, then the book is contaminated by human error and prejudice. How then are we supposed to know what parts are divine and what parts are not? If we can’t know what parts are divine, then the whole Bible needs to be thrown out as mythology. If in doubt, throw it out.

    On the other hand, if you are going to be so bold as to claim that you can tell which parts are divine revelation, then what do you need the Bible for at all? Since you know God’s mind so well, why do you even require a book?

    This is why I propose that there are only two possibilities regarding what the Bible is:
    1. The Bible is the Word of God
    2. The Bible is not the Word of God

    There is no “sort of” the Word of God. This is the one matter on which I wholeheartedly agree with Christian Fundamentalists.

    Now, it’s difficult to positively prove that a book communicates the will of God (without God directly telling us it is so) but we can disprove that claim by citing self-contradictions and errors. That’s what my book does.

    Now that I’ve provided my case, can you offer me any reason to think that the Bible is God’s Word? Let me say in advance that I’ve already read Strobel, Lewis and McDowell. I’ll provide links to where they’re arguments are mentioned as I have time.

    Yours in Reason,

    John Armstrong

  5. Brody says:

    Please, call me Brody. The comment about being egotistical was merely a joke.

    I think I agree on our disagreement as well. For one thing, I do not think that the epistemic axiom “If in doubt, throw it out” actually promotes any sort of open or inquisitive attitude towards knowledge for even human reason fails us some of the time. If we abandoned everything that had the potential for anything less than certainty, we’d never be certain of anything. Certainly, deism would be no more tenable a position than theism, were that the case – only pure agnosticism would suffice.

    As such, I don’t buy your disjunctive statement about how bad a situation we’d be in if the Bible had some factual errors. I have never maintained (and likely never will) that the errors in the Bible are due to God’s misinformation, and so I will accept that there is a degree of human corruption in the Bible. That’s just a matter of reality. However, I think there is a middle ground between the poles of your false dilemma – it is possible for God to ensure the overarching truth of His message even while little errors pop up. That’s why I made my comments about God being a perfectionist; while it might be amusing to think of God watching over the shoulder of Moses or the apostle Paul and going, “No, no, I didn’t really create the universe in six literal days” or “Foolish Saul, there aren’t really three heavens,” I don’t see any good reason to maintain that God would have had to do it this way for the Bible to be reliable at all. With anything in reality, one must always exercise thought about what is reasonably true, and that goes for the Bible, the witness (using the term loosely) of science, or what-have-you. The fact that the Bible, the Qur’an, etc. claim to be revealed truths does not exempt them from this reality.

    Rather than put forth a case here for the probable truth of the Bible, I will give it some consideration and post on that individually in the coming week or so.

  6. Dear Brody,

    Following up on your request, I’ve posted a page that provides links to every part of my ebook where Christians were quoted and/or their apologies cited. There’s 25 different quotes, some of which refer to such apologies as the sixth day elaboration.

    http://www.godvsthebible.com/christians.htm

    As I mentioned on that page, I actually agree with your assessment of unicorns in the KJV (that it’s a mistranslation). If you re-read what I actually wrote, you’ll see the criticism is directed against those who claim the KJV is the best translation available.

    I think a dash of agnosticism is always healthy regarding spiritual matters though I didn’t say the axiom “if in doubt…” always applies. I did argue, and still do, that it applies regarding the understanding of God’s will because the consequences of getting it wrong are so dire.

    We can just agree to disagree here though I still can’t comprehend how you manage to separate the true revelation from the human corruptions in what you regard as the “Word of God”.

    Yours in Reason,

    John Armstrong

  7. Brody says:

    John,

    Thanks for the link; I’ll take a look at it sometime soon.

    The clarification on unicorns in the KJV is helpful, but I still think that the inclusion of that in your E-book sets up a straw man against those who consider KJV to be the best (or in more radical cases, the only true) English translation rather than Christians in general. Just a bit of constructive criticism.

    I think we also agree on being skeptical (maybe that’s what you were getting at by agnosticism? perhaps not) when it comes to revelation, and believe me, I take those claiming to have the revealed word of God (or Allah, etc.) with a fair amount of skepticism because – as you pointed out – it is rather important.

    Thanks again for your comments; they’ve actually been more helpful than you might imagine.

  8. [...] vs. the Bible: More thoughts This is in response to comments left by John Armstrong, creator of the site God vs. the Bible. I confess that in many ways, I have [...]

  9. Roger Kreil says:

    Hey Brody and John Armstrong,

    First of all, I find it funny that Christians need apologists if their god is the real deal. And yes, I used to be a Christian. I went to church for 22 years. Looking back at it, I see it as being hollow. My parents still go to church though and my roommate does too. If Jesus is the real deal, then why doesn’t he just resurrect a whole bunch of people who died prematurely, heal a whole bunch of severely disabled people, blind a whole bunch of skeptics such as John Armstrong and myself, and give his followers accurate visions of the future on a regular basis? I do not see Christians running around with that kind of authority. So I have to wonder what is going on.

    Also, I just wanted to say that what the world really needs is love. Love will unite and heal the world. Jesus has no desire to prove anything. So love is the message that I will advocate. You can learn more at http://loveistheonlysalvationmessage.wetpaint.com. If you criticize my website, you will be criticizing a pure attempt to lead humanity a little bit closer to paradise. And John Armstrong, I really like your website. Keep up the good work.

    May you both and anyone who reads this embrace and be embraced by love today and everyday!!:D:D:D

    Roger

  10. Brody says:

    Roger,

    I question whether or not Christians (or Christianity) need apologists, first, but more than that, I think you’ve made quite a baseless assertion concerning what God “would” do. Actually, what you have there is a fallacious argument from incredulity.

    That lack of substantial criticism aside, what you’re left with is a case of shameless self-promotion (and the part about “criticizing a pure attempt to lead humanity a little bit closer to paradise” is a piece of rhetoric that is absolutely antithetical to the spirit of skepticism, oddly enough). I’ll leave the comment as it is, but I have no respect for coming onto someone else’s blog to promote like this.

    Comments are now closed here.

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