Thursday, December 31, 2009

TF - Chapter 3 part 2

The last half of this chapter is a rehashing of things I have covered before on my blog. Instead of posting about them again I will just link to what I wrote before.

The first of these last two sections is on Textual Criticism. Colson is not theologian nor is he a biblical scholar. I would think it is a safe bet that he cannot read ancient Greek nor can he read ancient Hebrew. Colson has a law degree. Yet, in this section, Colson makes no references to any outside materials. The one end note in this section just talks about the date of P52, which is a small fragment of the Gospel of John. Even then he is dishonest with it, not mentioning that it is only a fragment of a few verses. He also doesn't seem to know about textual and higher criticism, which are two separate things. Instead he treats them as if they are the same thing.

The first claim he makes is:

Beyond the archeological discoveries, the truth claims of the Bible are supported by the uncanny coherence and unity of the Bible itself. It consists of sixty-six books, or seventy-three, as in the Catholic tradition, written over 1,500 years by forty people in three different languages, and yet there's a remarkable harmony and consistency in the overarching story. The ancient manuscripts possess an astounding consistency and integrity.

I have heard this claim before and it is ridiculous from the premise. First off it is not really that hard to add to a series that you have read. Fanfic exists for a reason. Also, has Colson or anyone who makes this claim ever looked in the Fantasy/Science Fiction section of a bookstore? In the Star Wars section alone there are several authors who have read the previous work (or at least glanced at it) and created a "coherent" arching story line through it all. Does this mean Star Wars is true now? I can hear the objections already, well that doesn't go over 1,000 of years and different languages (actually it does go over different languages) and the original author is still alive. So let's use the example of the Vedas. They were compiled from 1500 BCE to 500 BCE. That is 1000 years which is close to 1500. They were of oral tradition before that, much like the Tanakh. The original authors are unknown but the Vedas claim to be directly from Brahma. It is highly likely that there were several authors involved in the creation of the Vedas. So why should I take the Bible as truth and not the Vedas?

Next, does the Bible contain an "uncanny coherence and unity"? Let's refer to the skeptic's annotated Bible. They have a list of 442 contradictions found in the Bible (that is not counting the near 1500 absurdities they have listed also). That doesn't seem very coherent or unified to me. Also what is the overarching story in the Bible? I see the claim that the overarching story is the same throughout but no one bothers to say what that story is? Is it Good Vs. Evil in God's triumph over Satan and sin, or is it how God wants to have a personal relationship with everyone, or is it about the prophecies of the end of the world, or maybe something else? What is it? Each of these things I listed are in the Bible and they are each very different stories.

Colson never talks about his claims or present evidence, he just makes the claim and expects to be believed. I am sorry that is not enough for me, especially from someone who has been convicted of obstruction of justice for his actions in the Watergate scandal. That was before Colson was "born again" so surely he has changed now. He would not make any hypocritical responses or show no reason to not be trusted today, would he? If Colson expects to convince anyone of what he is saying, he needs more than words, he needs facts and evidence. This is the problem for most fundamentalist evangelicals, facts and evidence. I am expected to take their word on everything they say because they are speaking for God. Well there are a lot of people speaking for God what makes you so different than the others? I want facts and evidence. If you don't bring those you might as well leave.

For his next claim, Colson compares apples with oranges. He goes on about how there are so many copies of the Bible and not the Iliad or other random works of fiction that are not considered the word of God today. I have covered this before here and here.

He ends his section on textual criticism with the claim:

Why are the manuscript copies of Scripture so accurate? Jewish tradition provides one answer. According to Hebrew practice, only eyewitness testimony was accepted; and when copying documents, the Jews would copy one letter at a time - not word by word, not phrase by phrase, not sentence by sentence.

Again no notes on where he got this information. Is it really that hard to document your sources? I can't find a source for this anywhere. What I have found are talks about how Jewish copyists did things during the Middle Ages and brief overview of Textual Criticism in the Jewish study Bible. If anyone can find where Colson got this information from let me know.

The next part of the chapter is about how the Bible has changed lives. This is suppose to mean that the Bible is true. Ignore all the stories from every other religion in the world of people whose lives were changed by them (here, here, here, here, etc). This line of reasoning makes every religion true and atheism true, which is just not possible. So what does Colson do to show that this is true only for Christianity? Absolutely nothing, instead he goes off on Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris:

The latest wave of atheist literature of the Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris genre ignores the centuries of careful scholarship and evidence; taking verses and sections out of context, these authors argue that the Bible is a dreadful book filled with violence and war, and reflects a mean-spirited God who represses people - a "celestial dictatorship," in Hitchens's words. (The principles of interpretation these authors employ have been scorned even by secular peers.)

The article that Colson is quoting is "An Atheist Responds" from the Washington Post July 14, 2007 (Colson actually cited this source). Here is the quote:

It's uncommonly generous of Michael Gerson[" What Atheists Can't Answer," op-ed, July 13] to refer to me as "intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind," since (a) this might be taken as proof that he hardly knows me and (b) it was he who was so kind when I once rang him to check a scurrilous peacenik rumor that he was a secret convert from Judaism to Christian fundamentalism.

However, it is his own supposedly kindly religion that prevents him from seeing how insulting is the latent suggestion of his position: the appalling insinuation that I would not know right from wrong if I was not supernaturally guided by a celestial dictatorship, which could read and condemn my thoughts and which could also consign me to eternal worshipful bliss (a somewhat hellish idea) or to an actual hell.

Hitchens is calling God's rule a celestial dictatorship, because that is what it is. A dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state. How is that not describing God's rule?

Also point out where they are quote-mining. Show don't tell. Give examples, because I can point to several places in the Bible where what they say is absolutely right (the Book of Judges and Daniel 4:24-26 come to mind).

I also love the appeal to unnamed secular sources at the end. Again I ask how hard is it to list sources or even just names of some of these "critics"?

He follows that up with a list of questions:

I would ask Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and company, if this book is so evil, how has it survived all of these years?

I don't really fall into any of those categories but I can give answers. By force. It survived long enough to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. Then it was mandated to the people. After the fall of the Roman Empire, we have the Middle Ages, where Christianity ruled supreme. The inquisition, the crusades and colonization of the world forced people to accept Christianity or die. After that, most people accepted it as the truth because they never questioned it or looked into it very deeply. Low educational standards helped to keep people from looking into it also. The more educated a country the less religious they are, with the US being the only real exception to that rule and religiousness in America is falling.

Edit: This is not the only way Christianity flourished. I would also say a cult of personality helped it at many times (much like most mega-churches today, that struggle when the pastor leaves or dies), plus many other sociological reasons. It is not a simple answer to give.

Why has it been the bedrock of forming the most humane civilization in history?

I have no idea of what civilization you are talking about. The only civilization ever formed on the Bible was Europe in the Middle Ages, I doubt you would call that humane. If you speak of America, I wouldn't call us the most humane (death penalties, high crime rates, health care for only the elect few, etc) and it would be extreme revisionist history to claim the US was founded on the Bible. Just point to where the Bible or Jesus is mentioned in the US Constitution or even the Declaration of Independence (God and Creator are mentioned in the Declaration but Jefferson's God and Creator was not the Christian God, but it does not specify which God or Creator).

How does it continue, if it is mean-spirited, to spread love around the world and turn hard-hearted criminals into gentle lambs?

Psychological reasons of the human mind. Christians cherry-pick what they read in it and into it. The same reason some Muslims can find peace and love for all things in the Koran and others find justification for killing infidels. The Crusades were a Christian undertaking. The killing of abortion doctors has been a Christian undertaking.

How could reading it have resulted in such people as Augustine and St. Francis?

How could reading the Koran resulted in such people as Benazir Bhutto, André Carson, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This is a retarded question and can support any religion or just about anything.

Why would the Chinese, in the midst of atheistic madness, turn to it as their refuge?

Don't try and load the question or anything there Colson. Define atheistic madness. Mao was power hungry and it had little to do with atheism, except that Mao disliked religion (Christianity was never outlawed in China). Most people didn't turn to Christianity. So how did those people survive?

Finally Colson says that because people have predicted the death of Christianity and it hasn't happened yet, then it must be divine influence keeping it around. Non sequitur much? So by that logic, since people have predicted the death of atheism, then it must be divinely inspired also (possibly even more so since atheism is on the rise)...

That is it, that is all his evidence for the Bible being true and infallible.

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