Monday, November 28, 2011

Answering Christian Answers part 1

My brother in humanity and atheism, @DevoutApostate, tweeted a huge article full of questions for us atheists. It’s titled “44 Questions For The Not-Yet-A-Believer” despite the url, which is strange given that there are more than 44 questions here, and most of us aren’t “not-yet-a-believer(s)” but “former believer(s)”. Regardless, I saw this as a challenge. I have decided to answer all these questions as fully and comprehensively as necessary, and in as professional and friendly a manner. After all, while I disagree when the writer says that it takes more faith to be an atheist, I do agree that it’s only fair that we answer questions the religious ask us. Now, some of the questions are clearly loaded, but since I don’t think that was totally intentional, I’ll answer them honestly while pointing out that it’s loaded. Also, I’m going to break this up into multiple posts, since otherwise this would be at least as long as my last post. They’ll all be under the tag “Answering Christian Answers”. I’m also going to issue my own counter questions, though nowhere near 44.
Oh, before I get going, Devout Apostate did answer these questions here. He brought up a few points I didn’t, so do check him out, eh? And his other articles too.
Click the read more link to read more.

1. How do you explain the high degree of design and order in the universe?

Simple put, there isn’t any, as I explain here.

2. How do you account for the vast archaeological documentation of Biblical stories, places, and people?

When Dostoevsky wrote Crime and Punishment, he claimed that he mapped the city of St. Petersburg out so well that one could literally follow in Raskolnikov’s footsteps throughout the book and find everything he observed on the way. Assuming it’s not been burned or demolished and nothing’s been built over it, we may well be able to find the building where Raskolnikov killed Alyona Ivanovna and her sister, Lizaveta, the tavern where he met Sonia, or the tiny apartment Raskolnikov lived in centuries from now. Furthermore, the novel references and is affected by real life events, such as a massive heat wave that hit St. Petersburg during the time the novel’s set.
Does any of that mean that Crime and Punishment is true? No, it just means that it recorded some aspects of history correctly. It’s important to look at the parallels between the bible and this Russian classic. For example, Raskolnikov, Petrovich, Svidrigailov, Marmeladov, Sonia, and almost all other characters in the book didn’t exist, and thus the actions in them didn’t happen. We can actually look through St. Petersburg’s records and find that there’s no mention of a Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov committing double homicide of a female pawnbroker and her sister in St Petersburg in the early 1860s. Likewise, the Egyptians took good care of their records and, well, there weren’t any Hebrew slaves. Oh, sure, there were slaves who built the pyramids, but none who were Hebrew. That’s simply one example of a clear failure of the bible’s historical record.
So basically, the bible has some historical truth, like Crime and Punishment does. However, it’s not a complete history by a long shot.

3. Since absolutely no Bible prophecy has ever failed (and there are hundreds), how can one realistically remain unconvinced that the Bible is of Divine origin?

Firstly, yes, some bible prophecies simply have failed. YouTuber ProfMTH has documented some of the more important ones here, and has cited his argument very, very well.
Secondly, most prophecies are so vague that anything can fulfill them, essentially, biblical prophecies included.
Thirdly, the new testament writers had at least some access to the old testament. They could have easily written Jesus’ life story in such a way that it fit better with a supposed group of prophecies to solidify his claim to Messiah-hood.
Fourthly, uh, the entire book of Revelation is a series of prophecies that haven’t come to pass.
Fifthly, well, if it was true all biblical prophecies, including the new testament ones, came to pass, why haven’t the Jews all converted?
So, that’s why I can realistically remain unconvinced that the bible is of divine origin.

This is the first of many unnumbered questions. I won’t answer all of them, but some deserve an answer. This is one of them.

Explain David's graphic portrayal of Jesus' death by crucifixion (Psalm 22) 1000 years previous to crucifixion being established as a form of capital punishment?

Firstly, the best dateline of David’s life has him dying around 970 BCE, while crucifixion was a very popular form of execution circa 600 BCE, though it possibly began before then. So, at best, there’s just under 300 years difference. Secondly, the verse in Psalm 22 that suggests crucifixion is verse 16. The oldest versions of this text says they maul, dig at or gouge the speakers’ hands and feet like a lion meaning that, well, this is another example of one of your prophecies failing. That one, amongst others including the others you listed between questions 3 and 4, is covered in the video series I linked. I implore you to watch it all. It’s roughly 40 minutes long with an additional 9 minute reply to an attempted rebuttal of his first video, and it’s too important to miss.

4. How can anyone doubt the reliability of Scripture considering the number and proximity to originals of its many copied manuscripts?

The number of manuscripts means nothing but that they were multitudinous at one point, and well preserved, though there really aren't that many copies left and no original manuscripts. Proximity? Sort of. Nothing was actually written within Jesus’ lifetime, and the closest we have is roughly 20-30 years after Jesus’ death, and those are Epistles and not the more important Gospels. Those shouldn’t be given much credence given the timeframe and recording capabilities of the time. They only had their memories, and human memories are notoriously unreliable, especially a generation or more removed.

5. Are you able to live consistently with your present worldview?


6. Wouldn't it make better sense, even pragmatically, to live as though the God of the Bible does exist than as though He doesn't?

No. I’m guessing what your implication there is that we can’t really have a decent moral compass without some sort of religion (specifically, yours) but I can and do follow a very strict moral code without any religion. It’s a moral code based on my own conscience, and logical reasoning regarding what is best for society. And frankly, since my moral code allows for accepting people unconditionally if they don’t do anything to hurt others, it means I’m fine with people of different belief systems, as well as LGBT people…meaning I’m actually easier to get along with than most christians. Pragmatically, it makes sense to live as I do, which doesn’t harm anyone and in fact helps many people. When I was a christian, I judged as most christians do, and I know for a fact my words and actions, which I thought were helping people see the light, actually hurt people very deeply. So no, it makes no sense to live as though your god is real.

7. In what sense was Jesus a 'Good Man' if He was lying in His claim to be God?

Firstly, we don’t know what he really said about anything for certain. It’s quite possible he never said that, despite what’s written. In fact, in Mark 10:18, Jesus asks a man why he calls him “good,” stating “no one is good-except god alone.” That seems to suggest Jesus wasn’t really god…but even so, plenty of good people have done horrible things. Within your own bible, you have Moses the murderer and David the adultering murderer who might have been gay. But even in more modern times, our saints have skeletons in their closets. Abraham Lincoln wanted to forcibly ship all black people back to Africa, Martin Luther King Jr. cheated on his wife and plagiarized a part of his doctoral thesis, Gandhi was a raging racist against black people (at least at first), Winston Churchill was a drunk and a bit of a warmonger…I could go on. None of that truly diminishes the fact that these flawed men were good people. So yeah, Jesus could have lied about his claims to godhood and still have been a good person.

8. Do you think that Jesus was misguided in affirming the truthfulness of Scripture, i.e. John 10:35, Matthew 24, Luke 24:44?

Sort of. “Misguided” isn’t the right word, really. He lived in a more primitive time, so he didn’t know what we now know about the world. He presumably held many of the false beliefs at the time, like geocentrism, that were entrenched in the bible but that science in his region hadn’t been able to challenge. I guess he’d be misguided now, but in the context of his time, he’s just wrong.

9. If the Bible is not true, why is it so universally regarded as the 'Good Book'?

It isn’t. In fact, almost no non-christian would call it that with any amount of seriousness, unless they were afraid of repercussions for slighting the bible in some way.

Here are 2 more unnumbered questions, answered at once!

Are you aware that the Old Testament alone claims to be God's inspired word at least 2600 times?
Did you know that the Bible has been the number one best-seller every year since the 1436 invention of the Gutenberg printing press?

For the first: So what? That doesn’t make it true.
For the second: Not quite. While there’s a probability that, due to its longevity, it’s the best selling book ever (or at least close) it certainly hasn’t been the #1 best seller in recent years. In fact, as wikipedia puts it, “Religious books, especially the Bible and the Qur’an, are probably the most-printed books, but it is nearly impossible to find reliable sales figures for them. Print figures are missing or unreliable since these books are produced by many different and unrelated publishers. Furthermore, many copies of the Bible and the Qur'an are printed and given away free, instead of being sold. The same goes for some political books, such as the works of Mao Zedong or Adolf Hitler. Thus it is impossible to determine either the number printed, or the proportion of those printed that are sold.”But even if it is the best selling book ever, it only means it’s popular, not that it’s true.

10. From whence comes humanity's universal moral sense?

Evolution. Being in a group is beneficial for survival, thus the species more prone to gathering in groups (social animals) flourished. Rules are needed to keep the groups functioning. We see a basic set of rules and morality in all social animal species. Ours has developed more due to our more complex and powerful brains, but essentially, every rule we’ve ever come up with supports, maintains and strengthens social cohesion. Thankfully, our “group” is becoming the whole of humanity, and thus it’s even become immoral to harm people of other “tribes” without just cause.

11. If man is nothing but the random arrangement of molecules, what motivates you to care and to live honorably in the world?

I am one of those arrangements of molecules. I depend on the other random arrangements of molecules for my well-being, and they depend on me. So, if we all care and act honourably, and all of us flourish. The fact is, stating it the way you do tries to diminish our humanity, which is actually a wonderful and beautiful thing. I honestly don’t know why you’d do that.

Part 2 is here.

1 comment:

  1. "The number of manuscripts means nothing but that they were multitudinous at one point, and well preserved, though there really aren't that many copies left and no original manuscripts."

    While it is true that there are no extant autographs, the sheer number of manuscripts which we do currently have (around 5000 for the New Testament alone) makes a strong case for us having what the New Testament authors wrote. And sheer numbers do make a difference when it comes to textual criticism. It is impossible for us to know whether our one extant copy of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is what the Gawain-poet actually wrote or if there were numerous additions to the text. But due to the number of New Testament manuscripts, we can have an extremely good idea of what the New Testament writers wrote.