God 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 misconstrued or overlooked key points of the site and its individual sections, so I feel it my duty to retract some of my past statements and clarify others to be fair to Mr. Armstrong.

First, I want to express my thanks to Mr. Armstrong for two things: 1) keeping me honest about what I write and 2) reminding me that there is another person on the other end of entries like the one I made. I don’t generally have as much of a problem with the former as the latter, but I will admit my faults and try to make amends. (I hope there will be some reciprocity in regards to the latter as well.)

I also think it fair to thank – in a very small way – John for putting together this page that sort of catalogues the different references he makes to different Christian apologies or apologists. He did so obviously at my request, although I must admit that it was my fault the first time around for noting that he does at least address some of the objections to his points against the Bible. When I left a comment about this, however, I was under the impression that there were parts of the site devoted purely to answering apologists, which is why I didn’t catch what John was referring to at that point. Either way, I’ll take responsibility.

So now I’ve gone back for a second look, with the help of some of John’s links, and I will make a few more comments.

Despite misconstruing some of the things that John said, I still think that a large portion of the E-book consists of attacking straw men. For instance, John looks at my mention of this page which discusses the existence of unicorns in the KJV and points out that we are in agreement that ‘unicorn’ is a mistranslation in that version but that he was specifically directing his argument against fundamentalist Christians. This is all true, and I did overlook a qualifying statement of sorts before his sardonic mention of the fundamentalist parody church Landover Baptist. Unfortunately, it seems as if the vast majority of the arguments against Scripture have to do with a literalist/infallibilist view of Scripture. In fact, most of the apologists referenced in the page John created at my behest are some of the mildest defenses to what I would call “reasonable Christianity” that I could possibly imagine: Kent Hovind, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel (who I would hardly consider an apologist; he’s more a collector of others’ apologies), and Pat Robertson. That’s one “creation scientist” (who has consequently been found guilty of tax fraud), two mainstream apologists (one trained, one not), and…well, Pat Robertson. I don’t think I have to explain any further how this does not, in and of itself, constitute strong evidence against Christianity any more than gaps in the fossil record constitute strong evidence against Darwinian evolution.

These sorts of straw men constitute the greatest number of errors, but there are others. We have the ubiquitous Jesus-myther fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, “evidence” of anti-Semitism in the Pauline epistles (Armstrong must either not realize Paul’s background or think that Paul suffered from some serious cognitive dissonance, especially given what he says in Romans 11), and a touch of threatiness directed to “liberal Christians”:

Let the liberal Christian beware. As you invest in the Bible any credibility as the “Word of God”, that same credibility goes directly to these fanatics and helps their cause. [source]

Was I unfair on many counts? Undoubtedly, and for that, I wish to offer sincere apologies to John Armstrong. But I stand by my criticisms of the work as a whole. It may not be quite to the level of absurdity, but it certainly does not attain the level of rationality that it presumes.

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2 Responses to God vs. the Bible: More thoughts

  1. Dear Brody,

    Thank you for your updated review.

    You’ve now focused on one criticism that I can’t deny: that my focus is on the more conservative and fundamentalist elements of Christianity.

    In fact, I will admit that when someone says, “Christian” to me, the people I immediately think of are the types that I quoted in my ebook (Pat Robertson, Kent Hovind, Jack Chick, Roy Moore, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell) and others I didn’t quote (Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps and Albert Mohler).

    This is not because I’m ignorant that there are more liberal Chrisitans out there (ones who don’t get as much media attention). Indeed, my own sister, her husband and many of my coworkers are among their ranks. The problem is that the liberal Christian doesn’t seem to enjoy much scriptural support. When I read the Bible, it reminds me of Fred Phelps instead of Joe Phelps (the latter, if you haven’t heard of him, is a Christian minister who promotes social justice issues).

    To me, liberal and moderate Christianity seems to be a watered-down version of the original faith. Scriptural teachings with such Christians are tempered by conscience, modernity and wishful thinking. I applaud their idealism but where are the scriptural bone fides? Wishful thinking is not sound theology.

    I have mixed feelings about liberal and moderate Chrisitans. On the one hand, I’ve found that many are good people who want to believe they serve a good god. On the other hand, I do wonder if they’re enabliers to the fanatics (as I mentioned in the passage you quoted). Were I to role-play a fundamentalist, I might ask you why you hold the Bible to be the “Word of God” and yet you don’t always agree with it.

    In a variation on that old saying regarding wishes: be careful what you call the “Word of God”; people might believe it.

    Perhaps there’s something I’ve overlooked in my own reading of scripture. I would be happy to find that there’s a scriptural basis for a more rational and compassionate Christianity. I look forward to your future posts where you’ve said you’ll present your reasons for thinking the Bible is a revelation of God’s will and how exactly you’re able to reliably separate all the human error from what you believe are the truly divine parts.

    Yours in Reason,

    John Armstrong

  2. Brody says:

    You know, in a lot of ways, I can’t blame you for that image of Christianity, as it seems that the vocal minority (which I truly believe – or at least hope – people like Fred Phelps and Robertson are) skew the public perception of what Christianity is and especially what it has stood for in many ways. It’s the same sort of thing that makes me sad for Muslims who have to live with Al-Qaida and fundamentalist clerics ruining everyone’s perception of them as a potential terrorist lying in wait to kill all infidels. Nobody deserves that sort of stereotyping.

    Now whether or not liberal Christians (I would prefer the term “less conservative,” personally, as I really don’t think myself that liberal in my theology) “enjoy much scriptural support” is a whole different matter and one that I (of course) find contentious. In my opinion, the main difference between more conservative Christians and those less so (either moderate or liberal) is in 1) how one goes about the exegetical process when reading Scripture, 2) what sorts of things (if any) count against the factuality of Scripture, and 3) how much flexibility one is willing to give to Scripture for factual errors (like the apparent support for geocentrism or uninformed cosmology in general). For ultra-conservatives, the answers seem to be 1) as literal as possible, 2) nothing, and 3) none. This contributes to a perceived war between religion and science when in fact it is between Biblical literalism and science. Liberals and moderates seem to be less literal in exegesis, more willing to accept that Scripture has some factual errors (albeit generally minor ones), and less likely to be inerrantists when comparing Scriptural knowledge to that of other disciplines like science. That’s just my observation.

    I also have heard the line about moderates being “enablers” before; I believe Sam Harris has put that forth? I don’t buy it, either; it’s the same sort of mentality that causes people like Dawkins to label some atheists “Chamberlainites” for not taking a hardline against fundamentalists (or even religious people in general). It’s not only slightly demeaning and unfair (why should I change my views just because someone else might take my support of Scripture as warrant to do unreasonable things in its name?) but, in my opinion, not a good inference from the data.

    You’ve helped me raise quite a few questions to ponder, so again, my thanks. I’m glad we at least have some clearer understanding of each other now.

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