On My Non-Belief, Part 3

Continuing excerpts of my current e-mail exchange.

One of your major appeals is to the authenticity of the Bible. You say,

There have been no scientific discoveries or scientific facts that have conclusively proven any statement in the Bible to be false.  It has proven to be the most accurate ancient historical document.  It is considered to be 97% or more accurate today compared to the original writings.  There has never been an archeological find that has proven anything within the Bible to be false.

Even if I grant every one of those points for argument’s sake, they amount to an argument from ignorance. (i.e., “no one has conclusively proven anything in the Bible to be false, so it must be true!”) The fact that the Bible as testimony of a divine personal Creator with a plan for Humanity’s salvation is central to its meaning to Christians, but the mere fact that it mentions places that actually exist (or existed) in no way establishes divine provenance, and the burden of proof for that is clearly upon those who wish to hold the Bible up as authored (or even “inspired”) by a god. On the other hand, I think I can show you examples where the Bible indeed makes false statements about scientific facts (“facts of nature”), where God could easily have not only included correct information, but actually could have included scientific information of such startling correctness that its final verification could only take place using modern scientific methods. Yet the facts of nature we do find in the Bible are either mundane and easily known by primitive lights, or thuddingly inaccurate. While this does not disprove the Bible’s divine provenance, it certainly lends it no support and raises the additional question of God’s many missed opportunities.

I question the standards by which you call the Bible the “most accurate” historical document. What does “accuracy” mean, and how do we judge it? There is textual accuracy, which you place at “97% or more,” but that can only refer to the fact that modern textual scholars have laboriously cancelled out thousands of errors and interpolations introduced by copyists, by comparing the many variant copies we have, none of which are “original.” But that in no way eliminates the possibility that uncounted errors and interpolations remain (indeed there are swaths of the canonical New Testament that are nonetheless widely considered to be interpolations,) and it says nothing about the veracity of the actual testimony of the text itself. Even after all the corrections, the result shows all the signs of folkloric origin, including texts incorporating other pre-existing texts, the inclusion of elements drawn from ancient pagan traditions that would have been widely known at the time, and various embellishments characteristic of “tall tales.” For example, the New Testament tells of major and widespread miracles that would reasonably have been noticed and recorded by secular sources of the time, and we find absolutely no mention of them anywhere outside the evangelical documents. The apocrypha are similar in nature, but were deemed by later church fathers to be too contradictory to be included in the canon. But the canon has its own problems: a simple example that had a strong impact on me when I first understood it is the two discrepant stories of the death of Judas Iscariot. Other glaring problems are the two discrepant genealogies of Jesus and the myriad conflicts in the various accounts of the so called “Easter” story (i.e., the time from Jesus’ resurrection to his ascension.) There are hundreds more, major and minor. I am fully aware of the many, many attempts to harmonize these and many other discrepancies throughout the whole Bible. Amazon.com lists no less than 24 books purporting to “harmonize the gospels,” But unless they all say exactly the same thing, perhaps we need a book entitled, “A Harmony of the Harmony of the Gospels?” And the gospels are only four of the many books of the Bible! In my experience, all the “explanations” for these discrepancies I have studied come off as desperate attempts to save a primitive world view by sacrificing intellectual integrity, and they also end up raising more questions than they answer. On the balance, for me the theory that it is a work of folklore written, compiled, edited, and canonized solely by humans— to human ends— has far more explanatory power than the theory that the Bible is a work inspired by a god.

You say,

Science has, to date, presented two possible scenarios for how life began:  Spontaneous Generation or through the Will of an all powerful being, God.  Science has also determined that Spontaneous Generation is impossible.  This allows any rational and honest human being to deduce that at this time, there is only one scientific possibility for life, GOD.

Science is an investigation into the nature of the universe. And I agree that if God is part of what exists, then God is a legitimate subject of scientific inquiry. Moreover, those of faith make real-word claims about their deity(ies) that if true would have real-world impact on other people. But is what they’re claiming really scientific?

A scientific hypothesis must be testable under controlled conditions and repeatable by others, or it is not a hypothesis, and not scientific. While it’s true that the term spontaneous generation is an obsolete hypothesis, this is because it has been tested, and found to be false. Abiogenesis is not the same thing as spontaneous generation, and it is currently being explored. I think it likely that ways will be found to conclusively test it. The mere fact that we do not have a complete working theory of the origins of life says nothing in favor of any competing conjecture, including the Christian creator God, any more than the lack of an understanding of the electrical nature of lightning supported the existence of Zeus. Even if the idea of abiogenesis ultimately fails, that fact would still not support the idea of God. To do that scientifically, controlled experiments must be constructed to test the God hypothesis, and the results of those experiments must be repeatable. I know of no such studies, and the ones I do know of that could have lent some support to the God hypothesis have been inconclusive at best.

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